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Tag Archives | taylor bird

GUEST POST: When You Need to Restate Vision

Several months ago, I noticed many of our middle school volunteers standing at the back of the room during Sunday services instead of sitting with students. This had been an issue about a year prior, but we were able to communicate the value of sitting with students at a leader meeting, and that solved the issue. At least for a while. After almost a year had passed, several volunteers began drifting back to their comfort zone at the back of the room.

It was a great reminder for me that a leader needs to restate values and vision as often as possible. Ideally, I would meet with each leader in person to explain the value of sitting with students, but that wasn’t a possibility before the following Sunday service.

So I decided to send out the following email to explain why it’s important for leaders to sit with students during our middle school services. Although an email can feel impersonal for something like this, it’s often the only way to communicate with multiple people in a timely manner.

Hey leaders!

I just wanted to take a minute to reinforce the value of sitting with students during Sunday services. I know it can be an awkward, crazy, and generally uncomfortable experience… but it’s something we HAVE to do if we want our presence on Sundays to be meaningful for our students! In addition, as most of us have discovered at some point or another, it can be a very rewarding experience.

We have plenty of students who are still sitting alone, and there’s no reason we can’t fill those empty seats next to them with ourselves!

The messages we send students when we stand at the back of the room:

  • I’m a babysitter, supervisor, chaperone, etc.— not your youth leader.
  • I’m not really into the service.
  • I don’t want to hang out with middle schoolers.

The messages we send students when we sit with them during the service:

  • I’m your youth leader— not a babysitter, supervisor, chaperone, etc.
  • I love this service. Let’s engage in it together!
  • I think you’re cool and I want to hang out with you for the next hour.

That’s a WORLD of difference we make with one simple gesture!

From now on, I want us to hold each other accountable for this very important value. Let’s start encouraging one another to find a seat in the crowd. If you see me standing on the side or in the back of the room instead of sitting with students, I give you permission to call me out!

We’re all in this together. I love and appreciate each of you, and I’m so lucky I get to serve alongside you!

Taylor Bird is the Middle School Pastor at Southwest Church in Indian Wells, CA. He has been serving in youth ministry for five years.

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GUEST POST: Bible Reading Guide for Students

We have a supply of Bibles that we give out to students. Recently, I was thinking that simply handing a student a Bible isn’t really setting them up to win. Unless they have parents or older siblings who are Scripture savvy, it’s going to be difficult for a teen or pre-teen to know where to start diving into God’s Word.

Last week, we created a brief “reading guide” for students who want to get into the Bible for the first time. We printed them out, laminated them, and then stuck one in each of the Bibles in our supply. From now on, when students receive a Bible, they will also get this guide to help them get started.

After it was printed, an idea popped into my head to print the text of these guides on bookmarks— that way, students will have a reason to keep them and a place to put them. We will put this into effect in our second edition of our Bible reading guides.

Below is the exact text of the guide. Feel free to steal it or make it better for your ministry context.

What you hold in your hands is more than just a book.

It’s a group of 66 writings, written by more than 40 authors over a period of 1,500 years, that all tell one story!

It’s a story about God, people, and God’s relationship with people. It’s a story that begins with the creation of the universe and still continues today.

For thousands of years, the words of The Bible have guided, inspired, encouraged, and empowered billions of people just like you! Do you want God’s Word to impact your life, too?

Reading The Bible can be intimidating at first. After all, it’s really long, the writing is kind of small, and there are big, hard-to-pronounce names like Nebuchadnezzar (say that five times fast). Luckily, this LIVE Bible is designed specifically for middle school and high school students, with all kinds of descriptions, explanations, illustrations, photos, and more that will help God’s Word make sense to you as you read it.

Still, you might be asking, where do I begin? That’s a great question! Many people have attempted to read the entire Bible cover-to-cover, beginning-to-end, but very few make it all the way through. Instead, what we suggest is to begin at one of the following Starting Points. Doing so will help you get a good understanding on what God has been up to throughout history, without stressing you out or confusing you. Eventually, it would be awesome for you to read the whole Bible, but don’t feel pressured to complete it in the next year or even the next five years. Begin at a Starting Point and see where God takes you from there!

Starting Points – Open to the Table of Contents and look for the following books:

  1. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – These four books, also known as the Gospels, describe the life of Jesus, the central person of The Bible. Each Gospel gives a different perspective of Jesus’ incredible life. For any Christian or for anyone who is curious about Christianity, the Gospels are without a doubt the best place to start.
  1. Acts – Directly following the four Gospels, Acts tells the story of the first Christians and how God used regular people like us to spread the Good News of Jesus around the world.
  1. Psalms – Ever wondered how to pray? The book of Psalms (pronounced Salms; the ‘P’ is silent), at the center of the Bible, is a collection of prayers and songs written directly to God and about God. In Psalms, you’ll discover what God is like and what it means to trust him with everything.
  1. Proverbs – Proverbs is a book of wisdom, mostly written by King Solomon, the wisest person who has ever lived. There are 31 chapters in Proverbs. A popular technique for getting into the Bible is to read one chapter of Proverbs every day for a month. (For example, if it’s September 1, read Proverbs chapter 1, and so on).
  1. Genesis – The history of the first humans, beginning with how God created the universe. It’s the first book in the Bible, so why is it the number 5 Starting Point? When you read the Gospels and understand why Jesus came to the Earth and died for us, the events recorded in Genesis make more sense.

We pray that your new journey into The Bible will transform your life, changing the way you think, the way you feel, and the way you act for the better. If you ever get stuck or have any questions about what you’re reading, feel free to send us an email at thewire@southwestchurch.com!

Taylor Bird is the Middle School Pastor at Southwest Church in Indian Wells, CA. He has been serving in youth ministry for five years.

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GUEST POST: Explaining the Difference Between Catholicism and Protestant Christianity to Students

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When ranking subjects according to their complexity, Church history is probably right up there with rocket science and quantum physics. So I’m guessing I’m not the only youth worker who has been asked this question, or a variant of it, by students: “What’s the difference between Christians and Catholics?”

This is an important answer to get right, as the majority of the students in your youth group have friends, family members, and other acquaintances who identify as Catholic. Or, if you work in a Catholic youth group, your students inevitably rub shoulders on a daily basis with people who attend Protestant churches.

Here is how I have answered the question for students. Please note that this is a simplified answer that doesn’t quite capture the full complexity of the topic, but students aren’t typically looking for a detailed explanation.

First of all, it’s important to emphasize that Catholicism is not “different” than Christianity. Catholicism is simply a type of Christianity. When most people say they are “Christian instead of Catholic,” what they mean is that they identify with a Protestant Christian church. Protestant Christian churches include Baptist churches, Methodist churches, Lutheran churches, Presbyterian churches, and several others.

If Christianity is a tree, Catholic Christianity and Protestant Christianity are branches of the tree. There is a third major branch called Orthodox Christianity. All three branches are part of the same tree.

As long as someone has genuinely accepted Jesus as their savior, who died on the cross for their sins and then rose from the dead, that person is a Christian. All three major types of Christianity generally agree with that.

The main differences between Catholic Christians and Protestant Christians are the ways in which they express and practice their faith in Jesus. That’s why a Catholic church service looks very different than a Baptist church service. People in both services are worshipping the same God and following the same Jesus— but how they go about doing that is different.

That’s one of the beautiful things about Christianity: that it includes members from so many different cultures, traditions, and backgrounds, and all are part of the Body of Christ. Unfortunately, many Christians choose to focus on how they are different from other types of Christians.

This is why it’s so important for youth leaders to emphasize the ways in which all Christians are similar and unified. A smart bearded guy once said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

Taylor Bird is the Middle School Pastor at Southwest Church in Indian Wells, CA. He has been serving in youth ministry for five years.

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GUEST POST: Making the Most of Camp Cabin Times

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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.

  1. Remember that there is no definition of a successful cabin time. You may find yourself frustrated more often than inspired during your cabin time. That’s OK. Even Jesus had trouble getting his group of twelve to focus, and he was spending time with them 24/7. Remember the words of Jesus: “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them” (Matt. 18:20). Jesus is working in the hearts of your students, even if you can’t see it. Therefore, enter cabin time with a sincere and prayerful heart and great stuff will happen— it just might be more subtle than an outburst of repressed emotion or a student giving his or her life to Christ.
  1. It’s not about you. It really isn’t. It’s about God using you and a bunch of other people to bring students closer to him. Even if a student doesn’t open up to you in cabin time, there are so many other opportunities for them to really experience God at camp. And just because they don’t open up doesn’t mean they aren’t getting anything from the cabin time discussion. So ask God to help you take the pressure off yourself. On the day before camp, pray something like, “God, let your impact in my cabin group be as if I weren’t even there.” Take yourself out of the equation so that God may bring you into his process in ways you would never expect or imagine.
  1. Share your story. This was something my co-leader and I tried last week at camp. During our second evening cabin time, he opened the discussion by sharing his testimony, and there was an immediate change in the temperament of the group. Suddenly, our students’ perception of him went from a leader who had everything figured out to a fellow human being who was struggling through his journey with Christ along with them. Before I could share my story, a student raised his hand and asked if he could share his. After he went, another asked to share. And then another. Suddenly, students were opening up about their past and their family life. I had never seen anything like it. By the end of the week, almost all of our cabin students had shared their stories with the group. And it all started when one of their leaders, a high school senior, opened up about his life.
  1. Let them lead. A few years ago, I led a cabin group of eight high school juniors who had been following Jesus since they were kids. It was like pulling teeth getting them to talk about anything. On the final night of camp, I tried something different. It may have been a Hail Mary after three days of silence; I don’t quite remember what was going on in my mind. But I opened up cabin time by saying, “Tonight, you guys will be leading the discussion. I’m going to stay with you and participate, but I’m not going to ask any questions.” A few awkward seconds passed. Then, one of the juniors turned to the others and said, “OK. What did you guys get out of tonight’s message?” What followed was the best cabin time we had had all week long, even though it was the one I had guided the least. This tactic of letting them lead might not work with a younger group, but don’t be afraid to delegate leadership to your students.
  1. Remember that cabin time isn’t everything. Sure, some of the most powerful stuff at camp can happen during cabin times. But the buck doesn’t stop there. You may find that an impromptu, one-on-one discussion with a student during free time is just the interaction they needed. Maybe you’ll have a couple students who don’t especially connect with you throughout the week, but they really connect with the camp speaker’s messages and experience true life change during chapel. Understand the importance of cabin time but don’t exaggerate it. Keep a humble heart, ask God for excess amounts of patience, and trust that Jesus is there among you, guiding each and every student exactly where he or she needs to go.

Taylor Bird is the Middle School Pastor at Southwest Church in Indian Wells, CA. He has been serving in youth ministry for five years.

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GUEST POST: Helping 5th Graders Become 6th Graders

In June, we will be saying goodbye to our current group of 8th graders and saying hello to a new batch of 6th graders. When students move from kids ministry to middle school or student ministry, there’s typically some anxiety involved— for both the students and their parents. Here is the plan that we (middle school) and our kids ministry have come up with to help make the transition a great one.

  1. Teaching in Kids Ministry – Since February, I’ve started teaching in kids ministry one weekend per month. The goal is to familiarize the soon-to-be 6th graders with me and for me to meet several of them, too. This month, I’m going to start taking a couple of our key middle school volunteers with me.
  2. Special 5th Grader-Only Event – Toward the end of May, some members of our volunteer team and I are going to throw an event exclusively for the incoming 6th graders. Staff and volunteers from the kids ministry will be invited, as well. I’m not sure what the event is going to look like yet… maybe a Nerf Gun War in the worship center (just don’t tell our facilities director)
  3. 6th Grade Connection Night – This will be an event at the beginning of June for incoming 6th graders and their parents. It will take place in the kids auditorium and will give our leadership team a chance to introduce ourselves to students and parents. We’ll also play a game, have the Kids Pastor give a brief message, and wrap up with some kind of dessert (last year we did an ice cream sundae bar). As parents check in, we’ll make sure to get their contact info and put our summer events calendar in their hands.
  4. “Kidnapping” the 6th Graders – The weekend before the students promote, we’re going to send a few of our middle school leaders, armed with water guns and bandanas, to the kids area to “kidnap” the incoming 6th graders and take them to the middle school service. Once they get there, we’ll have a special VIP section set up for them and they’ll get to hang out in our service for about 30 minutes. We’ll play “Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader?” and probably rig it to make sure the 5th grade contestant wins. This is a fun, memorable way to get the incoming 6th graders excited for middle school.
  5. Serving at Vacation Bible School – Our church does Vacation Bible School the Monday through Friday leading up to promotion weekend. One of the members of our middle school team and I will be the leaders of the 5th grade group that week. This was huge for us last year, as we had 15 solid hours with our incoming students days before they joined our ministry.
  6. Summer KickOff BBQ and Pool Party – For the past several years, one of our key volunteers has graciously opened his spacious backyard and pool for the first official event of the middle school summer calendar. It takes place on the Thursday of Vacation Bible School and is for both our current students and our soon-to-be-6th graders. Because the new 6th graders haven’t officially promoted by this point, we welcome them as special guests to get a taste of our middle school community.
  7. 6th Grade Party – On promotion Sunday, we are going to dedicate the final 15 minutes of our service to the new 6th graders. We’ll take them into a different room where they’ll get some kind of treat (last year we did Root Beer floats) and a special welcome by a few members of our leadership team. Afterward, they’ll take turns writing their names down on dry erase boards and then getting their pictures taken, which gives our leaders the ability to study and memorize their names.

What is your transition strategy? I’d love to hear what some of you are doing to welcome your new class of students this year.

Taylor Bird is the Middle School Pastor at Southwest Church in Indian Wells, CA. He has been serving in youth ministry for about five years.

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GUEST POST: Being an Introvert in Youth Ministry – Part 2

We’ve all experienced it. Many of us dread it.

It’s the point in the church service when the executive pastor or worship leader says from the stage, “Before we _____________, why don’t you stand up and greet three people who are sitting around you.”

I’m sure that every week, somebody somewhere makes a meaningful new connection because of this 60-second church ritual. If I really thought about it, I probably have, too. But usually, I find that by the time I have a chance to hear my conversation partner’s name and utter mine, they’ve already averted their gaze to the next person.

Ironically, these moments don’t leave me feeling more connected in a church community, but more like just another face in the crowd. Rapid, hit-and-run social exchanges aren’t my forte. I’d much rather sit and chat with one new person for an extended period than meet twenty new people but never get to know any of them.

Back in July, I wrote a blog post called Being an Introvert in Youth Ministry. I wanted to share some of my struggles with having a personality type that seemingly goes against the predominant culture of today’s student ministries. I say seemingly because I know there’s a large portion of youth workers who consider themselves more introverted than extroverted (almost 60 percent according to the sampling who voted in this poll).

I’d love to continue the conversation by giving you three more action-oriented ideas that have helped me navigate the world of youth ministry as an introvert.

1. Seek frequent solitude. The demands of youth ministry can pressure us to ensure we are constantly interacting with other people. If we’re not having a conversation with a student, parent, volunteer, or potential volunteer, we’re not ministering. Ministry is all about people, after all. But introverts thrive in environments of low stimulation, where they can un-distractedly focus on the task at hand. It’s been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that this is how their brains work. So if God created us this way, we can feel guiltless when we pull away to think more deeply about how we can best minister to the people in our care.

There is nothing wrong with being alone. In fact, solitude is often where our best ideas and most profound contributions to our organizations emerge— whether we are introverted or extroverted. Studies have suggested that people are more creative and productive when they have the freedom to regularly work by themselves (check out this article). Moses spent 40 days in solitude on Mount Sinai. The result? God gave him the Law, which he then passed on to the Israelites. Luke chapter 5 tells us that Jesus, even when the crowds were their largest and most demanding, would “withdraw to desolate places and pray.” Even Jesus had to get alone during the height of his ministry!

When and how can you carve out times of solitude in your work schedule? I’m not talking about your “social recharge” time (which I discussed in Part 1), but rather your daily work routine. Where is your temporary Mount Sinai, where you can hear from God and bring back something valuable to your people? I confess that I struggle with seeking intentional solitude, but when I do find it, I realize just how much I needed it.

2. Don’t use your introversion as an excuse. One of the biggest weaknesses in my leadership is in the area of initiating conversations. I often wait for people to come to me instead of going to them first. And if I were an extrovert, I doubt this would be such an issue for me.

But this doesn’t mean I can shirk my responsibility to initiate conversations with people. I can’t use my introversion as an excuse to stay hidden, just like an extrovert can’t use his or her need for frequent social interaction to avoid getting any tasks done. Youth ministry requires initiating new relationships and starting meaningful conversations, so I can’t hide behind my introversion and expect to be effective at what I do.

As I mentioned in Part 1, being an introvert makes you privy to particular strengths that extroverts do not have. On the flip side, it also makes you prone to particular weaknesses. Figure out which of those weaknesses are detrimental to the effectiveness of your personal ministry and then start working toward improvement in those areas.

3. Read about introversion. Two of the best books I’ve ever read are Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture by Adam S. McHugh and Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. The first looks at introversion from a ministry perspective, the second a secular perspective. Both books left me feeling empowered and encouraged about being an introvert. I would call them must-reads for introverts, and I’d also recommend them for extroverts who want to greatly expand their knowledge and understanding of their introverted friends, co-workers, and loved ones.

There are plenty of other books and articles out there about this topic. So read, read, read and get to the bottom of what makes you, you.

Taylor Bird is the Director of Middle School Ministry at Southwest Church in Indian Wells, CA. He has been serving in youth ministry for four years.

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GUEST POST: Finding Out About Student Events

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One of the most memorable and meaningful ways to impact a student is to attend a game, recital, performance, practice, or any other event he or she is participating in. Often, the trouble is tracking down the information for these events so that you know when and where to attend, especially in middle school ministry, when there are different leagues and organizations that don’t typically have their schedules posted on their websites.

To help our leaders and I find out about our students’ events, I created a simple tool that we call the Student Events Card. They run on the backside of our standard information cards, and we pass one out every Sunday to each student who walks through the door, and we even announce them from the stage so that students know what they are and how they can use them.

Since we’ve started handing these out, we’ve been receiving countless invites to students’ events, most of them events we never would have known about otherwise. It’s incredible. We even had a student invite us to her little sister’s birthday party. More importantly, it demonstrates to our students that our leaders value them and support them outside of church.

I’m sure there are other ministries doing this or something similar, but I wanted to share our template with you so that you can take it and run with it however you like.

Taylor Bird is the Director of Middle School Ministry at Southwest Church in Indian Wells, CA. He has been serving in youth ministry for about four years.

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GUEST POST: Why Do We Do Weekend Services?

It is crucial that we never forget the why behind every what that takes place in our youth ministries

To help our volunteer team understand and retain the why for our middle school weekend services, I recently created a Sunday Services Purpose Statement, which includes everything we hope to accomplish on Sunday mornings. I then magnified each ingredient of the sentence to define some of the important terms and phrases and explain why they were included.

The purpose statement (with elaborations) is below. Feel free to steal it, use it as a template, or improve on it for your ministry context.

Our weekend services exist to provide a growing, weekly church environment where 6th, 7th, and 8th graders are welcomed, loved, and invited to participate in Christ-centered community and worship through fun, music, prayer, and teaching— with the ultimate goal of helping them start or strengthen a relationship with Jesus.

Growing: The more, the merrier! Unlike Small Groups, which are intentionally kept as small as possible, weekend services can never have too many students.

Weekly: Consistency is key for helping students discover, experience, and/or express the purposes of God’s Church.

Church: It’s a church service, a local, age-specific expression of the big-c Church, or the body of believers who exist around the world. But we believe church should be fun and interactive as well as informational and instructional.

6th, 7th, and 8th graders are welcomed, loved, and invited: Not just 6th, 7th, and 8th grade believers. ALL middle schoolers are invited and welcome to be a part of our weekend services, regardless of spiritual background or maturity.

Christ-centered community: A gathering in the name of Jesus. Jesus said, “For where two or three gather together as my followers,I am there among them” (Matt. 18:20, NLT).

Worship through fun, music, prayer, and teaching: Every activity that takes place at our weekend services is an expression of worship. Worship is neither synonymous with nor exclusive to worship music.

With the ultimate goal of helping them start or strengthen a relationship with Jesus: If a middle schooler already has a relationship with Jesus, we want our service environment and program to help him or her mature in their faith. If a middle schooler does not have a relationship with Jesus, we want our service environment and program to be a safe haven where he or she can belong and eventually accept Christ.

Taylor Bird is the Director of Middle School Ministry at Southwest Church in Indian Wells, CA. He has been serving in youth ministry for about four years.

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GUEST POST: How Is It With Your Soul?

Today I had a terrifying realization. More on that in a second.

The soul is the capacity of the Christian. If the Holy Spirit is the juice, the soul is the battery cell. Worn-out batteries lose the ability to hold juice and can no longer carry out the purpose for which they exist, and so are thrown away. Worn-out Christians who don’t care for their souls lose the ability to utilize the Spirit and no longer carry out the purpose for which they exist, and so their hopes and dreams become impossible.

Our capacity to work with students can only go so far as our soul’s capacity to pour out the Holy Spirit. And our soul’s capacity to pour out the Holy Spirit rests on the care we take to keep our souls healthy.

This is what I realized: there is a possibility that, some point down the line in my ministry career, I could have a broken-down soul, but as long as I “perform” my role well, no one would ever know.

How is it with your soul? We don’t often hear that question in Christian circles. In ministry, we tend to gauge our spiritual effectiveness on external qualities: the busyness of our schedules, the size of the crowds in our services, the scope of our spheres of influences. In his book Replenish, Lance Witt writes, “We have neglected the fact that a pastor’s greatest leadership tool is a healthy soul.”

It’s not vision. It’s not leadership ability. It’s not ministry experience, or charisma, or innovative thinking that makes a healthy ministry. Powerful, earth-shattering, life-transforming ministries happen because they are led by men and women who take care of their own souls.

Who in your life is asking you how is it with your soul? And if they did ask you, what would you say? I’m afraid to admit that if I’m not careful, in the future I might be able to slide by the accountability of others and do ministry on abilities, ideas, and experience alone— for a season, until the fumes of exterior ministry run out and the nakedness of the interior, decrepit soul expose me as a fraud.

Students don’t need a visionary. They don’t want someone who pulls off massive programs with ease. Those things are important and valuable, but the fundamental responsibility of the youth worker is to be spiritually healthy. It’s about being God’s person instead of doing God’s work. You have to focus on knowing Jesus better before you strategize about showing Jesus better.

I want to lead a thriving youth ministry. But first I need a thriving prayer life. I want God to give me growing responsibility and growing influence. But he won’t unless I commit to growing myself.

How is it with your soul? The potential of your ministry is totally dependent on the answer to that question.

Taylor Bird is the Director of Middle School Ministry at Southwest Church in Indian Wells, CA. He has been serving in youth ministry for about four years.

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GUEST POST: Why We Don’t Allow Parents to be Present During Small Groups

With small groups kicking off, we have had a couple instances of parents asking if they could “sit in” on our small group meetings. Because this is my first year supervising small groups from start to finish, I’ve never had to deal with this issue until recently. Obviously, the answer is no, but before I told the parents that (it was via email, thankfully), I had to think through why we didn’t want parents present during small group time.

After some thought, here is our “unofficial official” policy for this issue. We do not allow parents to sit in on small groups for two reasons:

  1. We have a church policy that requires all of our adults who are present during student activities to go through our volunteer application process, which includes an interview with a member of our staff and a background check. This is a non-negotiable policy that exists for the safety of our students. If you are interested in being a volunteer leader in our ministry, here is our application.
  2. We want small groups to be an environment where students are able to socialize, grow, and learn without the pressure of their parents being in the room. However, we do strongly encourage parents to discuss with their students what was learned at small group— on the car ride back from group, at home, etc. Each of our small group leaders has been instructed to keep parents in the loop about what Bible passages and topics are being discussed.

Instead of giving parents a flat-out “Negative, Ghost Rider,” I’ve found there is always an opportunity to generate a YES along with the NO. No, parents cannot sit it on small groups, but YES, you are invited to go through our volunteer application process. No, small groups are for students and their leaders only, but YES, be involved in the spiritual lives of your son or daughter during the week by reinforcing what they learned during group time.

You can never predict how parents will respond, but their response is irrelevant; what matters is upholding the ministry values that provide a safe and growth-conducive environment for your students.

Taylor Bird is the Director of Middle School Ministry at Southwest Church in Indian Wells, CA. He has been serving in youth ministry for just over four years.

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GUEST POST: How to Respond When Someone Criticizes Your Church

Here is something I’ve learned during my time in ministry: no matter what a church does, it can never please 100 percent of its congregants. Even if Jesus himself were to come back to Earth and plant a local church, there would still be multiple members of his congregation who’d be vocally unhappy with his direction and leadership.

Maybe I’m a bit cynical, but one thing that everyone in youth ministry is bound to encounter sooner or later is criticism. I’m not talking about criticism of you or the youth ministry you serve in— I’m talking about criticism of your church as a whole.

There might be parents, volunteers, or maybe even staff members who will come up to you and voice serious complaints about how your church is being led. Sometimes this type of criticism is healthy, sometimes it’s not. Either way, it’s critically important that we respond to said criticism properly because our integrity is often at stake in these moments.

Here are a few things I’ve learned about properly responding in these situations.

Listen, listen, listen. Before you open your mouth, make every possible effort to ensure you are accurately hearing what the other person is saying. Be sure you understand what their complaint is and why they are making it. This will help you determine an appropriate response

Don’t get defensive. This is a tip I need to hear constantly. I love the church I work at and am so proud of the direction it’s going. So during the times I’ve heard someone grumbling about how they disagree with the decisions of our leadership, I immediately get emotional and want to go on the defensive. I want to say things like, “You need to check your heart” or “You clearly don’t understand the reasons a church exists.” Don’t turn a criticism into an argument. Be ready to explain the values your church holds dear, but do it in love and gentleness.

Don’t encourage or vocally agree with the criticism. I recognize that it’s a blessing to serve at a church you love. Some of you are part of churches that are in very unhealthy places. You may also not have the best relationship with your senior pastor for various reasons. Even so, as a youth leader, you are a representative of your entire church and fanning the flame of criticism is not the right way to express your concern or resentment. Just as importantly, you never want to accidentally or intentionally involve your students in church politics or factions. Pray for your church. Meet with your higher-ups privately. If necessary, look for another church home. But don’t be an instigator or a martyr. That’s not your place.

Don’t get discouraged. You might have superstar volunteers walk away from your ministry because they disagree with the direction of your church. You may have students who start attending the youth ministry down the road because their parents are unhappy with something your leadership is doing. When this stuff happens, it’s real easy to take it personally and get down on yourself— especially if you’re a people-pleaser like me. In these moments, it’s important to remember the big picture. As long as you put your ministry in God’s hands, he is going to work. You cannot control what other people do, but you can control how you respond when people disappoint you. We talk a lot in the church world about doing and being proactive. But it’s often your moments of reaction that truly define and develop your leadership.

Taylor Bird is the Director of Middle School Ministry at Southwest Church in Indian Wells, CA. He has been serving in youth ministry for just over four years.

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GUEST POST: The Bible – More Than a Collection of Stories and Sayings

Andy Stanley makes a ton of great points in his 2012 book Deep & Wide. One of them that will remain forever jogged in my memory relates to how we use the Bible in our teaching. Stanley’s book primarily focuses on adult church services, but most of the principles he discusses are entirely applicable to youth ministry, and this is one of them.

Whether you teach topic-by-topic or verse-by-verse, you might find yourself saying, “The Bible says…” or “John 4:1-10 says…” and then reading the passage. I do this constantly. For example, when teaching about temptation, I might use the verse 1 Corinthians 10:13 to illustrate the point that God always gives us an escape from temptation. Here is how, by default, I would include the verse in the message:

Check out this verse in First Corinthians, ten thirteen. “The temptations in your life are no different…” Like it says in this verse, God always gives us a way out in temptation…

Do you see anything wrong with the verse being included that way? This is a pretty standard way to drop a verse in a message. I would have thought it was perfectly fine… until I read a section in Deep & Wide about teaching the true nature of the Bible. Now I know what is wrong with the above bolded statement:

The verse” does not say anything. Neither does “the Bible.” Saying things like “The Bible says…” or “First Corinthians 10:13 says…” implies that The Bible is an impersonal collection of sayings and stories that were written anonymously without any context or continuity. Instead, we can truly bring out the life in the Scripture by explaining who wrote it— in this case, Paul, a man who used to arrest and execute Christians but unexpectedly encountered Jesus and became one of the most influential members of the early Church, even going on to write one-third of the New Testament— and why it was written— to encourage believers in a church that God can help them through their temptations. Here is how it might play out with these added details:

God always gives us a way to escape the temptations we face. I know this because of a letter written a couple thousand years ago by a guy named Paul. Paul has an interesting story, because early in his life he arrested Christians, persecuted them, and even had some of them killed. But one day, Jesus stopped Paul in his tracks and said, “Paul, why are you persecuting me?” This real encounter with Christ caused Paul to give up his evil ways and dedicate his life to Jesus. And from that point on, he ended up becoming one of the most influential followers of Christ in the early Church. He even wrote one-third of the stuff in the New Testament. This verse comes from a letter he wrote to encourage believers like us in a church like this one that God is with them in their temptations. Here is what Paul says: “The temptations in your life…”

Which reading of the verse do you think is more likely to catch students’ attention? Many students have the false idea that the Bible is boring, irrelevant, and nothing more than a religious textbook. Explaining the context behind verses and passages demonstrates that it’s much more than a collection of sayings and stories, but a real text written by real men inspired by a real God.

I’ve implemented this learning into my last few messages, and although it’s difficult to gauge the long-term impact of it in my student’s lives, it has given me a renewed passion for God’s Word.

Taylor Bird is the Director of Middle School Ministry at Southwest Church in Indian Wells, CA. He has been serving in youth ministry for just over four years.

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Silence is a Good Thing

Earlier this year, we took down the walls and cubicles in our kids and student ministries suite and created a large, open office. Now, instead of individual offices or workstations for each person, there is a common area with couches, tables, and desks— a shared workspace. It was a bummer losing my office, but I’ve really enjoyed the environment that’s been created. All of us – kids, middle school, and high school staff – are a family, and it’s now easier than ever for us to collaborate and work shoulder-to-shoulder.

Sometimes, though, the constant conversation exhausts me and I need to slip away to somewhere quieter. I’ll go to the room where our middle school services are, the conference room next door, or the secret office on the second floor that nobody ever uses. And when I’m off working by myself, it’s not uncommon that somebody will notice and ask, “Is everything alright?” To which I’ll reply, “Yeah, I’m good.” To which they’ll reply, “Are you sure?” To which I’ll reply, with a bit of an edge now, “Yes, I’m fine.”

“Silence is golden” is no longer a widely-accepted mantra. We’ve become so used to constant activity, constant background noise, and constant engagement of the senses that if we ever find ourselves in a situation that lacks these things we are like fish out of water. If we see somebody sitting alone, outside of the relentless movement of acceptable, fast-paced life, we assume there’s something wrong, and we think that by talking about it with that person, we can instantly fix their problem.

This troubles me. We follow a Savior who modeled extended moments of silent prayer. I can probably count on my finger the number of times that I have sat and prayed for longer than 5 or 10 minutes at a time. When I feel threatened or criticized, I always want to defend myself instantly instead of waiting, thinking, and praying for God to show me the wise response. I, too, have become addicted to the noise, and even when I have to escape it, it’s not long before I return.

I want to teach the students in my youth group that there is a different way to engage life. In small groups, I don’t panic when a leader asks a question that is met with silence. Actually, I find that the answers that follow silence are more genuine, thoughtful, and truthful than the ones that students spout off instantly. Even though I work with middle schoolers, maybe I’ll attempt doing one of those “let’s sit here for 2 minutes in silence” exercises some time soon. It may be a disaster. But I want my students to know that silence is a good thing.

Moses once told the Israelites, “The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be silent” (Exodus 14:14, ESV). Do we really believe that? Or do we constantly fight for ourselves by talking or by doing? It takes courage to do what’s right. But sometimes, it takes even more courage to sit silently and wait for God to reveal what’s right.

Taylor Bird is the Director of Middle School Ministry at Southwest Church in Indian Wells, CA. He has been serving in youth ministry for just over four years.

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Creating a Youth Group for All Kinds of Students

A fellow youth worker told me a story about how he was volunteering in a high school ministry several years ago, when a student sat down near him wearing a t-shirt that read: “LEAVE ME ALONE.” When I think back, I’ve seen this same t-shirt on several different students throughout the years, even though the words weren’t written in large block letters. In fact, I believe every student who wanders into any youth group wears his or her own t-shirt. One shirt might say, “GIVE ME ATTENTION.” Another one might say, “I’M POPULAR.” Still, another one might read: “I HATE MYSELF.”

There are all kinds of students who attend youth groups around the world. It’s been said that a church tends to reflect the personality of its senior pastor, so it’s safe to say a youth group tends to reflect the personality of its youth leader. A youth leader who is loud, zany, and competitive will naturally design a youth ministry that largely appeals to students who are loud, zany, and competitive. A youth leader who is passionate about evangelism will instinctively create an environment that appeals to unchurched students. Youth workers wear a t-shirt, too, and if they aren’t careful, their ministry will eventually be full of students wearing that same t-shirt.

So how does a youth minister design a youth ministry that appeals to the needs of all kinds of students? How do you create an environment that points students to Jesus but also takes into account their diverse personalities, experiences, motivations, and interests?

I still have a long way to go in this area, but here are a few strategies I’ve considered and implemented as an answer to these questions.

1. Surround yourself with support staff or volunteers who are different than you. Ask yourself, “How can I diversify my leadership team?” I am an introvert. I am also a male. In addition, my youth ministry experience has been predominantly in a large church setting. Thankfully, earlier this year I was able to add second person to my team— an extroverted female who had been serving for several years at a smaller church. Suddenly, there were two very different perspectives speaking in to the ministry, and two very different t-shirts greeting the students on Sunday morning. And the impact of this has been incredible. If you surround yourself with leaders who think and act differently than you, you will collectively foster an environment that engages multiple kinds of students.

2. Address the different students in the crowd. If you want your youth group to be welcoming to non-believers, for example, when you are addressing the crowd say things like, “I know that not all of you are Christians. Some of you are just checking things out, and others were forced to be here by your parents. And I’m so glad you’re here.” You can also use specific illustrations for specific groups of students. For example, one time when explaining how the Holy Spirit places the power of Christ in us, I compared it to being a football player and having the skills of Peyton Manning in you, or being a computer programmer and having the expertise of Bill Gates in you, or being a singer and having the singing voice of Justin Bieber in you (that last one was for laughs… I think I got one or two). My purpose was to address athletes, techies, and musicians in one illustration. When students believe they are known and acknowledged for who they are, they are more inclined to feel at home in your ministry.

3. Raise up student leaders from all personality types, social circles, and interest groups. If every student who serves or goes on stage in your youth group is popular and good-looking, how do you think the less popular students are going to feel? Similarly, if your student leadership team consists solely of good, well-polished, churched kids, what message does that send to the newer, less-polished Christians in your ministry? Facilitate an environment that tells students they can make an impact on their peers no matter who they are. Raise up student leaders who speak in to the ministry from different backgrounds and social circles.

Taylor Bird is the Director of Middle School Ministry at Southwest Church in Indian Wells, CA. He has been serving in youth ministry for just over four years.

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GUEST POST: Being an Introvert in Youth Ministry

Introvert-LeaderIn 6th grade, my classmates voted me the Quietest Boy. I got a certificate and everything. Each student in my class received an award, from Class Clown to Most Fashionable to Biggest Flirt, as voted on by their peers. I was Quietest Boy. I was surprised, because I didn’t think of myself as unusually quiet.

In jr. high and high school, I was that awkward student who went to youth group and kept to myself and my small circle of friends. Relationally-driven crowds of fellow teenagers made me uncomfortable. I loved Jesus. I loved the church service. I just didn’t love the whole social scene. It wasn’t my scene. And I know my faith suffered because of it.

As I would eventually find out, there was a name for my disposition. There was a diagnosis for my condition. I was an introvert. And the reason I struggled through youth group was that it had been cultivated in an extroverted culture— or so it seemed. The energetic, small talk-heavy, high-octane world of youth ministry clashed with my reserved, reflective, one-word-at-a-time disposition.

Because God has a sense of humor, I now work in youth ministry. And almost every day I need to remind myself that my personality doesn’t conflict with my profession.

If you are an introvert in youth ministry, and I know there are many of you, here are a few ideas that have helped me reconcile my introversion with my calling to serve students in a church.

  1. Understand that your introversion is not a weakness. We don’t choose our personality type— it’s how God has crafted us. And God hasn’t created introverts to fail at life. Many introverts are better critical thinkers and problem solvers, for example, because they prefer to consider first and talk later. Some of the best preachers I know are introverts; so don’t assume that introversion disqualifies you from having a strong up-front presence. Discover how your introversion gives you unique strengths that your youth ministry setting requires.
  2. Invest in students who remind you of yourself. When I was a teenager, I wish an adult in the church would have come alongside me and said, “It’s OK that you aren’t loud and crazy.” I guarantee you that there are at least a handful of quieter students in your youth group who have amazing leadership skills that are just waiting to be tapped into. If you are an introvert, find students who remind you of yourself as a teenager and really invest some time into them. This will show them that they are valued and welcome, and you might also uncover in them some unique gifts that will strengthen your ministry. In addition, you can encourage these students to take risks that they otherwise might shy away from, leading to occasions to grow in their faith.
  3. Maximize your “recharge time.” My temptation is to spend all of my social recharge time playing video games or watching reruns of Arrested Development. However, I’ve realized lately that my time alone is a prime opportunity for growth and learning. Read books. Listen to podcasts. Spend some extended time studying God’s Word and praying. Think about how you can leverage your recharge time to become a better youth worker.

Are you an introvert in youth ministry? What are some ways you’ve learned to harness your personality type in your work with students?

Taylor Bird is the Director of Middle School Ministry at Southwest Church in Indian Wells, CA. He has been serving in youth ministry for just over four years.

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