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When it’s no longer any fun

Being in Ministry can be rough. I initially started this post out as being a Youth Pastor is tough, but having grown up the son of a Pastor and a brother of a Missionary, Youth Pastor, Children’s Pastor, and someone very active in leadership with MOPS, I know that its not just Youth Ministry that is tough.

My heart has been breaking for Ministers the last few days / weeks as I read more and more blog posts about issues in the church, most that don’t even necessarily come from those we minister to, but from those who are supposed to be our partners.

One of my favorite quotes from Mike Yaconelli goes something like ” I am in awe of youth workers, and I think Jesus is too. I just wish the church felt the same.”

I remember in college and a lot of youth ministry books I have read, they always deal with facing the challenges that come with working with parents, because just about every youth worker, I’m sure, has dealt with this.

But the reality for today, I feel, is that the greater challenges come from the Sr. Pastor, or board of Elders. Any number of blogs could be found dealing with the frustrations of Youth Pastors who for whatever reason can’t seem to find harmony with their superiors. And it breaks my heart. I know it breaks God’s heart, too, because this is not what he intended “ministry” to look like.

We are supposed to be able to lock arms with our superiors to fight evil in our communities. We are supposed to be able to be partners in working to bring about Life-change in our neighborhoods. We are supposed to be able to work together.

But the painful truth is that many churches in this country aren’t able to.

And I don’t think there is any “across the board” solution other than deep soul searching by both parties, and an honest conversation with God.

Because in some cases, the Pastor may be the one holding it all back with his arrogance or pride, being set in his ways.

Still, in others, the Youth Pastor really is just a young renegade who saw how one church was doing things and now thinks that if a church isn’t doing it that same way, they are wrong and old fashioned.

Whatever it may be though, many of our peers our hurting. If you are one of those youth workers lucky enough to love your church where you are serving, you have no problem calling it home, and you love working with your superiors, then be thankful for it, and pray for our comrades.

If you are one of those hurting, who has reached the point where Ministry isn’t fun anymore, its not worth it anymore, you know your called to serve but you can’t serve where you are for much longer because it is sucking the life out of you, I’d love to talk, I’d love to connect in some way and share stories and hear your frustrations. Because honestly, sometimes just letting them off our chest to someone else who can relate makes it possible to stay another week, believe me I have been there before.

But know this – God has a plan. I know we all know this. I know we tell our students this constantly. But we have to hold on to that hope that even in the messed up circumstances Youth Pastors can sometimes be in, God is at work.


Being all alone in Youth Ministry Part 2 – Boundaries

Last week I touched on Loneliness being one of the negatives of being the only person working with your youth ministry. Today’s danger is much like last weeks in the sense that every Youth Pastor/Leader needs to be aware of it, but its especially true in smaller towns where you are the only one working with the youth.

Boundaries are meant to protect yourself, no matter what they are. Whether you are setting boundaries to protect your time, boundaries to protect your relationships, whatever it is, they are meant for your good.

The last few weeks I have explained some of my boundaries to other people, they aren’t really things I felt to go around sharing unless I needed to explain. And each time, they were met with opposition, which was extremely surprising to me. I mean, if there is one thing they don’t tell you in college or in books when they talk about establishing boundaries, its that people will oppose them.

And I mean, these weren’t even harsh boundaries, but things like “I’m not going to be out of the house for ministry more than 3 nights a week, 4 nights on rare exception.” I couldn’t believe there would be people who had a problem with that. But there were. They understand now, after more communication.

They would have, at first, liked me to get rid of that, but I also have seen what can happen to youth pastors marriages when they don’t stick to boundaries.

But those are all issues that every youth pastor faces. What makes it especially challenging working as the only leader is when it comes to boundaries with students of the opposite sex. Because as a guy, I need to have boundaries with the girls in the ministry. Not because I would do anything in-appropriate, but to protect myself in case they said anything.

Something I love about the iPhone is that it records all of my text messages. But I have no way of printing them or truly keeping track of them. So I love Simply Youth Ministry Tools Communicate (formerly Simply Txt) because it does record every text that is sent, and it can be printed. Because again, not that I would do anything inappropriate, but if a student tries saying “He was sending me inappropriate texts” I have proof that I wasnt.

The whole idea here is being above reproach. To naively do ministry without boundaries could be setting yourself up for failure. Unfortunately its the risk that something could go wrong. Most Youth Pastors are innocent and very well intentioned. The sad truth is that there have been Youth Leaders who have made stupid mistakes, and the rest of us have to be aware of those consequences. If you aren’t doing ministry with established boundaries, set some up, and adhere to them.

It only takes one time of not being able to prove you didn’t do something to destroy your ministry. So Live above reproach.

Small Church Youth Group

Differences between Small Town vs. Large City

I was recently asked a question on quora that dealt with the differences between trying to minister to students in a small town compared to a large city, and since I know that not many people are on quora yet, I figured I would share my answer on here as well.

And though there are a number of differences, this one seemed the most relevant for me today. And maybe it’s because it forced me to realize something that maybe I hadn’t really thought about much before, but I know that this is one of the major differences.

I poke fun at this one because on the one hand, its stupid and I am obnoxiously sarcastic some times, but it also holds quite a bit of weight. It’s the idea of a congregational place.

Now when you mention a word like “congregation” to people in a church, they think you are referring to a church building, which small towns have plenty of.

But I am talking about places where teens or adults can congregate together. Some examples would be the mall, a starbucks, a panera, the movie theatre. Some place where you can congregate together.

I remember my first year in youth ministry in a suburb of Chicago. I was just 18, and still very naive (which isn’t to say I’m not still today). I was attending college and working as a Jr. High Youth Pastor about a half hour away, and I remember how easy it would be to send out a mass text (this was when only college students could get on facebook still, in fact, my college had JUST gotten facebook, which kind of shows how young I am). But I could send out a mass text to my students simply saying “I’ll be at the movie theatre at 7, first 5 there get a free ticket to see ***** with me.” And I’d have a group of students there.

At another position, I could do this as well, say “Uno at Panera 7 o’clock tonight!” and a group would be there.

But here, in a small town that has no congregational places, this is next to impossible.

And so I got kind of bothered as I thought about this. Because you read posts on sites like youth ministry 360 or Youth Workers Journal where they have a guy write about Small Town Student Ministry, and when I read them, I don’t see someone who actually works in a small town, but more a guy just trying to somewhat give us comfort, especially the posts about how small youth groups are what the big churches want to do, so we got it right. Really? We got it right? It’s like they are trying to make us feel better because we serve in some lowly small town church, but if we were in a big church, we would be trying to get it smaller. It gets me frustrated, but I won’t get into all of that.

But the point they are usually trying to make is that small youth groups are more relational than large youth groups, and its evident because the large groups are always trying to find ways to get smaller.

And so I would somewhat agree, Small Church Youth Groups are a bit more relational, everyone knows everyone. But that isn’t always necessarily better, because sometimes the kids know too much about each other and fight about it, as well as the fact that just because the kids are more relational in the fact that they know more about each other, it doesn’t mean they have great community and they really know each other.

But the main point of difference is that sure, the smaller youth groups are better prepared to be more relational because they are already small. But, the Youth Pastors of smaller youth groups in small towns have to work harder than those in larger churches to get true community, because we can’t rely on congregational spaces, and we have to overcome what the kids already “know” about each other and get them to really know each other.

Serving in a small town ministry

A little honesty goes a long way

I assume that at some point, we all go through experiences like this. Those times where we know something to be true but don’t live it out in our lives. Like we all know we should pray and read our bible, but there can be huge chunks of time in our lives where we don’t. And I think its after those moments of realization that we learn the most and are shaped the most.

If I am honest with myself, there is something I was being hypocritical about for the past few months or so. I always try and encourage other youth pastors to live this, and I expect it out of churches and Pastors, to the point of frustration. It’s something I encourage my students to live, and its something I encourage christians in general whom I talk to to live.

It’s the simple idea that Jesus commanded us, Love our neighbor. Romans 8:28 tells us that “In all things, Christ works for the good of those who believe in him” and I have often taken that to mean, in essence, God has a plan for everything. It doesn’t always mean its going to make us happy in the moment, but it means that no matter what, God’s plan is in action.

Part of that is the notion that Where you live, where you work, the roads you drive, the people you interact with at starbucks as you wait in line to order your cappuccino, its all part of God’s plan. God has placed you in the neighborhood he has placed you in for a distinct purpose; to be the Good news in that neighborhood.

If I am honest with myself, I haven’t been living this out. I moved to this Small Town from big towns, growing up in rather large cities, seeing ministry done in large city settings, doing ministry myself in larger cities.

And if I am even more honest with myself, it frustrated me to see peers graduating from the same college I did with the same education going right out of college into large churches in large cities. Even a half hour down the road in the biggest church around is a Liberty grad. And I have students in my Youth Ministry who go to Sunday Morning church and Sunday school at that church, and have Sunday school with that person and then come to our Sunday night program and tell me about all the cool and great things that are going on there.

And it sometimes can make me jealous. I mean, I wish I had a huge youth room that was full of sack chairs and adult volunteers who got youth ministry and were loving on the kids without having to be trained as much as I feel I need to train some of my volunteers.

I wish our ministry had vans and I could do some of the trips I would like to do that our almost impossible to do without large vans.

I wish I wish  I wish.

But God has placed me at the church I am at in the town where we are for his purposes. I can choose to seek his will or try and do my own thing my own way, but only one of those will be successful, and it doesn’t involve the word “my.”

So if Im honest with myself, I see that I have a sweet set up. I have a God who has places me in this unique area for a unique purpose, and If I allow him, he can use me , even in a small town, to do great things. Not great things for myself, but great things for his kingdom.


Under Pressure

Have you ever gotten lost in the pressures and demands on us as Youth Pastors? Pressure is EVERYWHERE. A favorite professor of mine used to say “Being a Pastor is a much more stressful job than an airplane pilot. If an airplane pilot makes a mistake, a hundred people or so die. If a Pastor makes a mistake, people can go to Hell.”

And though there are things that could be argued about that statement, sure, the point of it still is there. We have a burden on us that can weigh us down if we dwell on it. So dwelling on it can be bad, but the opposite is just as true. If you never consider it, your ministry is pointless.

Then there here is the enormous pressure on Youth Pastors to be Great. Its an awesome pressure, we should always strive to be great. But sometimes it has its downsides, too. We try to copy what that awesome youth group down the street is, only to discover it wont work in our context, or it can’t work here. Or we put in so many office hours our personal lives disintegrate.

We get this pressure from everywhere, from our superiors, from other Youth Pastors, from Parents, and we feel like we aren’t quite every reaching their expectations, and so to admit failure to them could cost us our job. To not appear as being great, thats risky, I get it.

But be the change agent. Learn to say No and Learn to admit your mistakes, stop the cycle.

Your supervisors? They want you to be real. They want you to admit you make mistakes, because odds are they already see them. Other Youth Pastors? You don’t need to impress them with the numbers you think you have in your ministry. Whenever a Youth Pastor tells me the size of their group, I subtract 10% because I know how we all are. Parents? For the most part, they trust you and respect you, even when you don’t feel like they do. They want you to succeed. But success comes through failures more often than not.

How many people are bandwagon Yankees fans when they are in the world series? Not a lot. But how many people were Red Sox fans in 2004? Just about everyone. Because everyone wanted to see them succeed.

So let this be an encouragement to you. Be Great in the Lord, not in yourself. Succeed for the Lord, not for anyone else. Seek him and the rest will fall into place. At the end of the day, he is the only one whom it matters if you have pleased. Just live with that pressure, the rest will fade away after.

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