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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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5 Steps To Highly Effective Meetings

There was a meeting I used to attend that consistently went over it’s designated time.  It was frustrating and I found myself resenting the leader.  I was not alone so we addressed them.  They had not been aware of the issue and were thankful for the feedback.  That very next meeting…we still went over.

Running a meeting is difficult because the amount of pressure people put on you for using their time.  If you waste it  people are not going to be happy.  To avoid wasting people’s time and energy in a meeting you need the right steps to run it effectively.

Here are five steps I use to make sure tasks are accomplished and people feel like I’ve used their time wisely:

STEP 1: Set an Agenda

Meetings that have no direction are the most painful ones to sit through.  By creating an agenda you give people a framework of what to expect.  If the conversation goes off on a tangent you have a path to get people back on task.  Before your next meeting:

  • Take a few minutes to develop one.
  • Share it ahead of the meeting with the attendees. 
  • Ask for their feedback (i.e. what they would like to add).

STEP 2: Stay True To The Time

If a meeting starts late you will rush through important material.  To make sure you maximize your time, start when promised (even if everyone isn’t there) and be prepared.  If you promise people an end time then keep to it.  If you start to go over make a plan to continue at another time or ask people if it’s okay to go over.  When people see that you use their time wisely, they’ll trust your leadership.

STEP 3: Allow Conflict

In order for a meeting to be productive their needs to be conflict.  That does not mean fighting and yelling; however, tension can be good.  It allows people to express their thoughts which could lead to better ideas and outcomes.  If someone disagrees with you and holds that back they are doing you a disservice.  Also, unaddressed conflict can turn into resentment.  In the end it might feel uncomfortable, but it will allow everyone to be honest and authentic.

STEP 4: Conclude With A Plan

Your team needs to know what’s next at the end of a meeting.  If you do not develop action steps to take care of the topics of discussion your meetings will become repetitive and redundant.  Delegate responsibilities with tangible steps.  Write them down and review them at the conclusion of your meeting.

STEP 5: Follow Up

Doesn’t matter if it’s in an email or with another meeting, follow up is important.  It’s a way of holding other accountable and making sure deadlines are reached.  If your team accomplishes the goals that you have set forth then morale will increase.  Everyone loves being set up for success.

Make meetings worth it by putting effort and energy into the preparation.  Communicate the meeting’s expectations and allow feedback.  When people see that you care about their time, they’ll give you grace when you mess up.  They’ll also honor the time and energy you pour into becoming a leader.

What other steps would add to creating a highly effective meeting?

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The 12 Rules for being a Youth Ministry Hero

I’m not particularly fond of the word ‘rules’, but I loved this fresh perspective on how to succeed as a teacher. And is it just me, or do most of these rules apply to being a youth ministry hero as well?

Think about it, what would the 12 rules for being a youth ministry hero look like?

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10,000 Hours

Last week I was sitting waiting for a student to arrive, so we could go and grab a soda together and catch up on life.  I turned on the calculator on my phone and started crunching some numbers. I added up all the hours that I have spent as a volunteer and as a paid Youth Pastor.

To my surprise, that number was over 10,000 hours which if someone was to be in full time youth ministry for 5 years, you too would find yourself with 10,000 hours under your belt. I now recognize that most people reading this spend some of their time at work doing things other than ministering to students, so it might actually require 6-8 years to attain those hours, but still it begs the question:

What do all those hours add up to?

If you have read Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Outliers” you will discover his theory that it takes roughly 10,000 hours of doing something to be considered a master at it. He looks at those that are highly successful in their field, skill, sport, talent etc and found that those that were at the highest level most shared the commonality of dedicating a minimum of 10,000 hours to their craft.

Many, including myself, would argue that there is no way to master anything related to ministry.  We are serving the One who is ultimately in control but I think that after this much time it’s fair to say when I meet others who are the same, are much further in their tenure.  We can agree, however, there are some things we are pretty confident about:

1 – Mistakes Happen – I have made tons of mistakes, too many to count and some of them horribly foolish.  However, if there is one thing I have learned, it is, to not make the same mistake twice. We owe it to our team, to our students that we never waste the opportunity to learn from something that went totally sideways and also to never willingly do it again. There is forgiveness from parents, Grace from God and understanding that dealing with high schoolers is not predictable in any way shape or form. You will look back and wonder sometimes, “WHAT WAS I THINKING?”

2 – You’ve Seen A Lot – I talked to my leadership team this past weekend about being 10,000 hours in and I said that while I hadn’t seen it ALL there were few scenarios that we hadn’t faced at some point. While each instance in itself has its own unique challenges, I am thankful for all that I have seen because now when a leader comes to me with something that they feel is way over their head, I can reassure them that this is a situation we have dealt with before. That being said, if you are new to ministry, please take the time to find men and women in your area that can help you walk through these challenges, share their mistakes and encourage you when you don’t know what to do. There is so much wisdom out there, you would be crazy to not tap into it and by crazy I mean foolish. (Prov 12:15)

3 – It Just Gets Better – In 10,000 hours you definitely learn to fine tune certain elements and over that time you start to find your strengths, your sweet spots and those areas of ministry that bring you life and others that drain you. When I meet people that have been serving in student ministry long term, they often seem to have a tremendous understanding of themselves in the context of ministry. What I mean by that is that they know where they are uniquely gifted and have built teams around them both paid and unpaid that can support them staying in the strengths and vice versa. While the slug of the early days and finding out all things I was lacking at were difficult, they have made the season I am in now so much better. I know what brings me life in ministry, I see where God has uniquely gifted me and where He hasn’t and I work hard to spend more time in my gifting, finding those that love doing the things I am not strong at.

Am I a master? Far from it. But that can be said for anyone in this field, even those that have been at it for 30,000 hours! With time does come experience and an informed perspective from which to work and that ultimately shapes a leaders reactions to situations and challenges. While I am confident in certain areas, there is one thing I am certain of and that is, that I love serving and leading High School students to Jesus more now than I did on day one.

Here’s to another 10,000 hours.

Geoff Stewart Twitter @geoffcstewart

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How To Lead Up

I’ve known my pastor for 10 years.  While our relationship is strong, it hasn’t always been that way.  I would get frustrated when he would say, “No.”  And then there were times when it felt like he didn’t care about youth ministry.  I grew miserable.

Two things changed.  I stopped always making everything about me and I realized that being a leader isn’t easy.  For one, it can be lonely.  You are out there in the public eye and you are vulnerable.  Instead of setting unrealistic expectations, I had to learn how to lead up.

To lead up means honoring your leadership and showing them that you are trustworthy.  In the end they’ll see you as a worthy advocate and allow you to have influence.  To build that trust and become a serious player at the leadership table you need to make sure you are:

  • Asking, “What Can I Do For You?”: If you want to build loyalty show your leader that you care about them.  People are demanding of their leaders, this turns the table.  That question, “What can I do for you?” shows them that your relationship isn’t always about you.   If they see that you care for them, they’ll trust you.
  • Never Criticizing Them Publicly: There are appropriate venues to vent frustration regarding the relationship you have with leadership.  However, every time you do it publicly you are creating several impressions.  People will form negative opinions about your leader as well as about you.  They’ll see you as someone who only complains instead of facing the issue.
  • Keeping Short Accounts: Leaders will make decisions you won’t always agree with.  They’ll do things to set you off.  Instead of storing them inside and allowing them to fester, release them.  This means finding the appropriate time to confront the situation.  If your pastor upsets you go to him in a time where’s able to hear your feedback.  When you keep short accounts, you keep the communication flowing.  When people are upfront and authentic with one another it builds a healthier team.
  • Praying For Them: They like you are in the trenches and facing spiritual battles.  To have a healthy organization you need a healthy leader and that means praying for him.  They are being tested, pushed and pulled.  By having their back you are showing that your church is more than one.

Lead your leadership by loving them and showing them that you are there.  When they discover that they aren’t alone and that you stand in their corner not only will they trust you, but invest in you.  When you lead up you show everyone that you are worth following.

How do you lead up?

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Are you Affected by a Gender Bias?

Whether we realize it or not, most of us have a gender bias. I’m not talking about a theological view point on whether or not women should lead or speak or something like that, but about very practical issues which we think are limited to one gender. Let me give you three examples from youth ministry.

1. Accountability

Many times, accountability in the relationships between adult leaders and students is only mentioned in a male leader-female student context. The gender bias here is that male leaders are more likely to cross boundaries with female students.

Wrong.

Female leaders are just as much in need of accountability in this area as male leaders. Anyone want to count the stories of female teachers last year that were caught in an improper relationship with a male student?

Also, same sex student need as much protection as those from the other sex. Not only because same sex attraction isa reality for youth leaders, but also because it’s very much a reality for students. They grow up in a culture where same sex attraction is normal, celebrated even. That means that you need healthy boundaries and accountability in same sex relationships as well.

2. Porn

I for one am very glad that porn addiction is getting more and more attention and that it’s being brought into the light. Unfortunately, many people have a gender bias here and think it only concerns men.

Wrong.

Women struggle with porn as well, although it may be in different ways. Women’s fiction has gotten more and more sexually explicit, there’s a whole new erotic market booming in the wake of the Fifty Shades of Grey trash, and even young adult fiction isn’t exempt from explicit sexual references anymore. And yes, there’s also a porn market aimed specifically at women.

This week, Relevant Magazine published a great honest post on a guy who celebrated his sobriety from porn. One of the comments was from a woman who felt still alone in her struggle, since so often only men are addressed when it comes to porn addiction. Sure, men do struggle more with porn than women. But that doesn’t mean it’s purely a male problem.

3. Eating disorders

Eating disorders are another example of gender-bias in thinking and approach. As youth leaders, we all know how big a problem eating disorders are. But too often, we only focus on girls.

Wrong.

Anorexia nervosa is a problem for boys as well, even though it may manifest itself differently. But there are other variations on eating disorders that affect boys. Taking steroids to buff up for example, starving themselves to fit a certain weight category for sports, extreme fitness and weight pumping to develop muscles, these are just a few examples of how boys can struggle with weight related issues.

I’m sure that there are more examples where a gender bias is making us ignore one gender. Whenever you study a problem, whenever you devise measures to prevent an issue, make sure you look at it from all angles, and eliminate your gender bias.

Can you think of any other issues where a gender bias plays a role?

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Get In or Get Out

At the end of the day … get on board with your church’s vision or get out.

You’re not doing anyone a great service by staying anyhow, maybe now toxic and disgruntled, sabotaging the vision from beneath. You’re not being helpful to the senior pastor if you strongly disagree with the direction he or she is taking the church. There is room for dialogue, but when that door is closed you have to get on the bus. You are there to serve the church, and submit to the leadership that God has placed over you and it.

Sometimes you have to live in meekness and humility and submit to the authority. Sometimes you just have to go. Either way, get in or get out.

JG

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The one key to making better decisions

Hindsight is always full of wisdom. Looking back, we all have decisions we regret, choices that didn’t work out so well. Regret is fairly useless, much more interesting is the question how we can learn to make better decisions. How can we turn hindsight into learning moments, into a better prediction of what a good decision looks like?

Here’s one tip, one key to making better decisions.

Take your time.

Decisions made under time pressure often don’t work out so well. There are several reasons for that, but the most important is that good decisions come from your head, not your heart. Yet under time pressure, we often respond from emotions instead of from rational thinking.

It’s why my husband and I agreed years ago that we would never make a decision involving purchases over 50 bucks without sleeping on it for at least a night. No matter how good a deal salespeople offer us, we don’t take it. Not even when they warm us it’s a one-time thing, only valid for that day.

Last weekend I heard about a workshop/conference I was immediately interested in. The guy offering it said he only had four discount codes available and that they would fill up fast. Still, I didn’t decide on the spot. I took my time, talked it over with my husband and did some research. I’m about to find out of the code is still available. If it’s not, I’ll be somewhat disappointed for sure, but I will still know I’ve made the right decision.

Good decisions start by taking the time to make them. Don’t let other pressure you into deciding on the spot. Take at least a day to think it over, look at it from different sides, get someone else’s perspective. Then decide. You won’t regret it.

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BOOK REVIEW: David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell

I’ve read everything Malcolm Gladwell has ever written. Seriously.

David and Goliath is another wonderful book in his short bibliography of books that once again takes what you think you know and completely flips it upside down. He sheds all sorts of light on the biblical account of the infamous underdog story and weaves in another dozen stories from history to encourage us to see our problems differently. Perhaps the giants we face aren’t that strong after all and the underdog actually has quite an advantage. Perhaps the problem or disability is actually making us strong and better, more prepared for the battles that lie ahead. This book sheds light on these fascinating ideas.

There’s one unexpected chapter on learning disabilities that struck a particular chord with me. Having our son facing some legitimate challenges in his development both academically and socially it was refreshing to be able to see the potential for these challenges creating a strength and potential that would have never been unlocked without the pressure and problems in his life. It really helped me look at my son differently all day today.

In short, this is another fantastic book of Gladwell’s you shouldn’t miss. Think you know the story of David and Goliath? There’s a ton you don’t know and even more perspective you’ll gain after reading this one. Right up there with the best of his books!

JG


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What I Want Out Of My Own Small Group

I love my adult small group. My wife and I are in a group with 3 other married couples from the church and we have been meeting together for over a year now. Tuesday nights have quickly become one of my favorite nights of the week for many reasons. When I was explaining to someone why I loved my small group so much it made me think of the small groups we as youth pastors lead. Students should feel the same and get the same things about their small group as much as we feel and get out of our own. Here are some things I love about my small group that I need to take a step back and look to make sure I am providing the same type of experience for our students.

It can be really easy to be getting what we feel we need rather than making sure we are doing the same thing for the ministry.

I can take a deep breath. I know when I walk into small group I can take a deep breath of relief because I know this is a safe place. What I am feeling and wrestling with won’t be judged but will be talked about openly and be prayed for and I will be encouraged by the people in my group. Are we making sure we are creating the same environment for the guys in my group? Am I created a place where they feel they can be real and open about things happening in their life? When they walk in the hoe we meet in do they take a deep breath of relief?

I’m expected to be challenged to grow. I know when I come into group we are doing to be gong through a certain topic and Scripture and we are going to asking tough questions to get us thinking. I walk into group knowing and expecting for me to be challenged in my faith and how I am living it out in my every day life. Is this the same thing my students know when they walk in? Do you expect to talk about things that will challenge them or do they think this is just a place to hang out and mess around at? Students should know being challenged and the expectation of growth is part of being in a group. That means being called out in a loving way, being held accountable, and answering tough questions to get them thinking is expected when they come to group. They shouldn’t be surprised when this happens because it is what they signed up for and what a group is al about.

I am expected to be authentic. When in group we are to talk about life. Not our Instagrammed, highlight reel but the life we don’t usually let others see. We talk about work, relationships, spiritual and emotional hardships. While we talk about them we are expected to be authentic with how we are doing with each of those things. Are the guys in my group expecting the same thing? Is this known? It can be really easy just to show up to group and give some ready-made answers and not really engage in conversation. I try to let my group know that chances are if they are not sharing and being real and authentic here at group, they are not being real and authentic anywhere else in their life outside of group. Group is the place to talk, vent, question things they are wanting to go through or if they are going through something in life this is the place to be real about it. It’s healthy to have this place set in our lives.

I’m in a small group for a reason. It’s where life change happens, I truly believe this. If I am growing in areas in my own life I can help my students grow in areas of their lives. If I was not in a small group and I was telling students to be in one, that defeats the purpose. I’m shocked at how many push small groups knowing how they help in growth in our lives but are not in one themselves. My challenge to those who are not in a small group themselves: be the model of what you want to see in your ministry. You will grow in many areas when you are in a group like described above. When you grow and model this with your students, you will begin to see growth as well.

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YS IDEA LAB: Brooklyn Lindsey on Justice

Brooklyn Lindsey is one of our favorites! She even has a new Lent/Ash Wednesday resource available today! Here’s a great interview by Neely McQueen from the Youth Specialties Idea Lab!

How do you engage your students with issues of justice and poverty? Brooklyn Lindsey shares some thoughts, stories, and experiences about effectively empowering and emboldening students to take steps toward engaging justice issues.

JG

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The Qualities of a Great Leader

Thought this new article from Forbes was totally worth the read for youth workers. What makes a great leader? Thanks to Shane for pointing it out! Good stuff in the whole article, here’s a clip:

Ability to Delegate
Finessing your brand vision is essential to creating an organized and efficient business, but if you don’t learn to trust your team with that vision, you might never progress to the next stage. Its important to remember that trusting your team with your idea is a sign of strength, not weakness. Delegating tasks to the appropriate departments is one of the most important skills you can develop as your business grows. The emails and tasks will begin to pile up, and the more you stretch yourself thin, the lower the quality of your work will become, and the less you will produce.

The key to delegation is identifying the strengths of your team, and capitalizing on them. Find out what each team member enjoys doing most. Chances are if they find that task more enjoyable, they will likely put more thought and effort behind it. This will not only prove to your team that you trust and believe in them, but will also free up your time to focus on the higher level tasks, that should not be delegated. It’s a fine balance, but one that will have a huge impact on the productivity of your business.

Communication
Knowing what you want accomplished may seem clear in your head, but if you try to explain it to someone else and are met with a blank expression, you know there is a problem. If this has been your experience, then you may want to focus on honing your communication skills. Being able to clearly and succinctly describe what you want done is extremely important. If you can’t relate your vision to your team, you won’t all be working towards the same goal.

Training new members and creating a productive work environment all depend on healthy lines of communication. Whether that stems from an open door policy to your office, or making it a point to talk to your staff on a daily basis, making yourself available to discuss interoffice issues is vital. Your team will learn to trust and depend on you, and will be less hesitant to work harder.

JG

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5-Minute Youth Ministry: Small Groups with Jessica Torres

Here’s another episode of DYM’s 5-Minute Youth Ministry! A quick 5-minute interview on one subject with a special guest. Just a quick burst of training and insight for you. In this episode, Doug Fields talks with Jessica Torres about why she loves small groups. Good stuff here to consider!

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Are You A “See-Through” Leader?

The other day I was feeling pretty down about me being a leader. Does that ever happen to you at all? There are just days in which you sort of question how you do ministry at all? Just me? Sweet. Well it was one of those days where I was in that mood. I was sitting at Starbucks doing whatever I was doing and some of our students walked in. We got to talking and I was asking them about our Winter Retreat we just had last weekend and they just would not stop going on about their leader. They were actually coming to meet up with their leader that day. Their leader is a 45-year-old man with glasses and a beard, but they wouldn’t shut up about how awesome their group time has been and how great their leader is.

So I just asked them because I was feeling down with myself and I wanted to know why this leader was so “awesome” and I wanted to hear it from their mouths. What they said snapped me out of my little pitty party and I got to thinking about how we all need to be reminded of this sometimes. They simply said:

“He is just real with us.”

What a simple but powerful statement. These students were drawn to this leader simply because he was real. He was transparent with them. He opened up to them about what he has gone through, what he is going through presently and that has set the tone for the rest of the group to open up and talk about the things they themselves are going through. Because this leader was “see-through” transparent with his life, his students took his example and followed.

Groups are only as transparent as their leaders. Groups are only as deep as their leaders. Groups only listen to each other as much as the leader allows people to tell their stories and struggles. It got me thinking about me as leader. Was I really being transparent? Was I really bringing the group where I was willing to go? The next group time, I was intentional with being transparent on our topic and the flood gates opened with the students. They were transparent. They went as deep as I went. I was “see-through” so they can be also. What a great reminder that is. Do you have a “see-through” group? How “see-through” are you being?

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“Grow” Your Students

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A couple of years ago I was quite discouraged with ministry.  A friend of mine asked me if I had an “encouragement” file.  I had no idea what they were talking about.  They told me:

You know it’s a file or folder you keep with notes from students and parents that make you remember why you serve them.

Now I got even more depressed.  Not only did I not have such a file, I couldn’t even make one if I wanted to.  The reality was (and is) that I worked in a “type” of youth ministry that did not lend itself to garnering accolades.  Even today after 22 years of family ministry  in the inner city I have about 3 notes from students and none from parents.

This is when the Lord reminded me of something He had shown me years before.  We all focus on the idea that the “harvest is plenty and the workers are few.”  However, we forget about 1 Corinthians 3:6-9.  Paul is talking.

  I planted the seed in your hearts, and Apollos watered it, but it was God who made it grow. It’s not important who does the planting, or who does the watering. What’s important is that God makes the seed grow.  The one who plants and the one who waters work together with the same purpose. And both will be rewarded for their own hard work.  For we are both God’s workers. And you are God’s field. You are God’s building

We are farmers and that means we do more than “harvest.”  Farmers prepare the soil.  They dig up rocks and dirt and make hardened ground ready for the seed.  They fertilize and till.  Then they plant little seeds.  They water and wait and wait and wait.  They protect the baby plants from pests, weather, and the  ”elements” that might attack them. In short there are a lot of things that happen before you ever even see a plant bloom.   Farmers work with others.  No one can plant a whole crop by themselves.  As Paul pointed out some of us will plant, others will water, and God makes it grow.  We don’t all get to collect the “fruit.”  Often when we do get to be the one who “harvests” we forget the hard work of a “farmer” that came before us.

If you can put together a “file folder” like my friend said, I highly recommend it.  I think it is a great idea to take time on the days we want to “quit.”  However, I think we also need to start a list.  When are the times you can see the ground moving in an immovable life?  Just last night I had a conversation with a student who told me they are less angry than they were a year ago, and God is doing that.  It isn’t a full harvest, but it’s a seedling.  I need to celebrate that.

Our job as farmers is to look at every heart and believe that one day they will grow.  God is making them grow. He is the only one who can do that work at all.  We just have to look with his eyes.  It may look like a field of dirt to the average passerby,  for us we see something amazing.

How are you working as a farmer?

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