Why You Make Avoidable Mistakes

By | accountability, leadership, LEADERSHIP, margin, ministry health, MINISTRY HEALTH, mistakes, promises, Systems and Structures, SYSTEMS AND STRUCTURES

During the summers in between high school and college I made money painting houses.  My boss was tough.  She made me refold drop clothes that were not folded to her standards.  Any paint drips on your hands or excessive paint on your brush deserved a scolding.  If a room was not prepped properly she would make me do the entire thing over.  Again, she was tough; however, it was due to her high standards.  She emphasized excellence and made sure her employees embraced that same value.  I learned how to approach situations, and projects slowly and carefully.  Mistakes were just not acceptable.

Unfortunately, mistakes are imminent.  Because of your human nature and the messiness of youth ministry, mistakes are likely to occur.  Why do they occur?  Some will happen no matter how hard you work and concentrate.  Then there are the other mistakes that could have been avoided.  The reason you make certain avoidable mistakes is because you:

  • Over Promise To Please: No one likes to disappoint others; therefore, the temptation to lie in order to please is strong. The worst thing you can do is to promise something you have no idea how to fulfill.  You try to fool yourself into thinking, “I’ll figure it out.” or “God will show me a way.“; but that’s like playing with fire. Make the promises you know you can keep and don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know.” If you really don’t know the answer.
  • Never Build In Margin: When you have margin you can slow down the pace of what needs to be done. Many times when you are in a rush you make mistakes. You forget paperwork for a trip, you stumble through a message or you water down what should have been a memorable experience. When you build margin into your events, trips or programs you give yourself the capacity to do the tasks at a higher level.
  • Go Solo In Your Ministry: When you do things on your own you end up putting an unfair amount of pressure on yourself. Even if you are young and quick thinking eventually the work will catch up with you.  It will become too much to handle and somewhere you’ll slip.  Share the burden with others by delegating and asking for assistance.  You will be surprised to discover who will come to your side to help you increase your capacity and lift the level of your ministry.

If you try to avoid mistakes you’ll only find yourself disappointed.  Mess ups happen when you take risks, when the movement of your ministry is overwhelming and when Satan attacks.  When those happen be sure to guard and surround yourself with God’s love and wisdom.  It’s those mistakes that are avoidable that move us in the wrong direction.  If you are embracing discipline and proper preparation than you’ll continue stumble and fall.

What other avoidable mistakes do you see in ministry?

Successfully Cross The Line In Your Ministry

By | accountability, Alexander Hamilton, failure, leadership, LEADERSHIP, planning, risks, wisdom
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For some reason my first two years in youth ministry were a lot like my first two years in middle school.  I wanted the teens to like me; therefore, I ran my ministry in the way that I thought they would want.  Each week was designed to entertain them.  I wanted them to bring their friends; however, I was going about it in the wrong way.  In the end more energy went into the activities, and food then it did into the content of the program.  Attendance was inconsistent, leaders moved on to other ministries and I was frustrated.  I was playing it safe.

No one truly enjoys conflict; however, it is something everyone should seek.  That’s not to say you should go pick a fight or challenge someone to a duel (Look what happened to Alexander Hamilton).  If you want your teens and leaders to grow, you need to have a ministry looking to expand and challenge itself.  That means knowing your limits, and having the willingness to cross the line from time to time.  A youth ministry willing to take risks is an attractive one; however, it’s not as simple as doing whatever wows the crowd.  To successfully push the limits of your ministry and grow in new ways you must:

  • Seek Wisdom – There are lines to be crossed and ones that should never be approached.  To know where to push, pull and bend you need to make sure you are seeking wisdom of others and God’s direction.  True risk takers are the ones who know what boundaries to work within and which ones to bust through.  Before you cross the line make sure you know why.
  • Do It With Excellence – If you are going to take a risk or throw out a challenge make sure you are well prepared.  Most challenges never take because it was poorly communicated.  If you want teens to follow through and understand deep truths make sure it’s as clear as day.  If you want to better your odds of success make sure your plan is well thought out and everyone is on the same page.
  • Display Humility – If you mess up, admit it.  Nothing is worst than a leader who acts as though they are right despite all the evidence showing that they are not.  If you make a mistake in your ministry and own up to it, the teens will appreciate your humility and authenticity more than your perfection.
  • Team Up – Never take a risk on your own because the burden of failure is a heavy one.  On top of seeking other people’s wisdom, see if you can share responsibility in the task.  With a team you can develop a better plan, with more strength.

People want a leader who will challenge them with confidence and humility.  They want someone who is willing to take on new things; however admit when they are wrong.  Your ministry is designed to challenge students in the messages you give.  It is designed to have an impact in the community with the projects you take on.  To do big things you need to think big and believe big.  Youth ministry is meant to test new waters, try new things and break through old paradigms.

How are you crossing the line in your youth ministry?


Who Is Pouring Into You?

By | accountability, leadership, LEADERSHIP, ministry health, MINISTRY HEALTH, spiritual health, SPIRITUAL HEALTH, support systems
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Over a year ago I started co-leading a men’s small group.  I wasn’t sure what my wife would think.  I wondered because the group was to meet at 6:15am in our house.  Fortunately we have a finished basement and because the group rotates host homes she had no issues with it.  In fact we’ve both benefited from this men’s group more than what I’ve put into it.  Each week I have a group of men, representing different generations pouring into me.

This group not only helps me as a son of God, but a husband, father and youth minister.  In a career field that can receive a lot of criticism and adversity, it’s in my small group that I receive solace, encouragement and strength.
If you are in youth ministry you need people pouring into you because you are constantly emptying yourself out for others.  Extroverted or introverted, this is a calling that will suck you dry if you don’t have the correct support system.  The problem with forming this support system is that many of us don’t know what one looks like.  An ideal support system needs to have different level of support.  Your support system should include most if not all of the following:

  • Small Group – While any small group will work, my recommendation is that you find one that is same sex and made up of different generations.  The reason for diverse generations is because you need wisdom that is both spiritual and experiential.  And, the reason for same sex is because there are some issues that can only go so deep with the opposite sex (Unless that person is your spouse).  In the end you need a small group because your faith and confidence will grow as people pray for you and share life with you.
  • Network Of In The Trenches Workers – There are only so many books and blogs that you can read (Hopefully this one is on the list), eventually you will need living and breathing support from the men and women who understand your world.  It’s in a network of youth ministers that you can not only share battle stories, but learn from veterans who have traveled the road you are trudging through.
  • Professional Coach – Just because what you are doing is ministry doesn’t mean it can’t be professional.  There is so much a youth minister needs to know when it comes to conduct and procedures in the workplace.  A professional coach will help you understand interpersonal relationships in an office setting.  They will help you approach contract negotiations, when to leave and how to grow in your career field.  They are the perfect source to go to when you have questions about managing volunteers or asking for a salary increase.
  • Spiritual Coach – Working in a church doesn’t make you spiritual, in fact you need someone holding you accountable.  While you might rely on your pastor to do this, it’s best to have someone with an outside perspective.  You need someone who is going to give you exercises that will challenge the depth of your relationship with God.  They will be essential when the lines between work and personal growth are blurred.
Your most important support systems should come from family and friends.  It’s also important to have support from your pastor.  However, you can’t put all the pressure on them, and you’ll also need the wisdom and advice of people looking in from the outside.  The more support you can gather around yourself the more confidence you will build.  And when you are confident in yourself, in God and the people around you, you will thrive.
What other support systems surround you?

Riding Out The Storm

By | accountability, faith, ministry health, MINISTRY HEALTH, resources, spiritual health, SPIRITUAL HEALTH
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As Hurricane Sandy works her way through the Northeast I shudder thinking about pass storms that have affected my house.  This summer there was the Derecho and last year Hurricane Irene that ravaged my little neighborhood.  Fortunately, there wasn’t any serious damage to my house; however, riding out those storms was a nerve wracking experience.

In your ministry there will be moments when you need to ride out a storm. Maybe it’s just busyness that you are facing or maybe it’s a tragedy that hits the community.  No one likes to go through these moments because they are emotionally, physically and spiritually exhausting.  To endure the storms in ministry you need to make sure you have:

  • A Support Team – It’s easy to focus on the task at hand and shut everyone out when facing an issue.  When you face a problem on your own you put the burden completely on your shoulders.  You need to have people who will pray for you, advise you and help you out when you are in over your head.
  • Arsenal Of Resources – If you have a hurting teen do you know who to refer them to?  If you are dealing with a busy season, do you have a schedule to keep you focused?  Having an arsenal of resources is having a plan for the situation you are facing.  While you cannot prepare for every situation, you need to make sure you prepare for as many as you can.
  • Faith In The Lord – In the end it’s God who is going to give you what you need to persevere.  Setting aside time to check in with him is important because you’ll feel his presence.  You need to open yourself to his grace, love, strength and wisdom.

No matter what you are facing you can’t go at it alone.  Even if you’ve been through several different storms in your ministry you need to make sure you lean on God and focus on what he’s given you.  While youth ministry is tough, you can persevere and witness the fruit of your labor.

How do you endure storms in student ministry?

How To Bounce Back

By | accountability, longevity, margin, ministry health, spiritual health, SPIRITUAL HEALTH
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In my first few years of youth ministry I had a little ritual.  After a long Sunday of youth ministry I would hit the diner with some of my fellow volunteer ministers and coworkers.  It was a little tradition that involved rehashing the day, gravy fries and a cup of coffee.  The next morning, despite feeling sore and tired, I would pull myself out of bed and go for a run.  It was all a process to clear my mind and wind down after what is the busiest day of the week.  No matter how long you’ve been in youth ministry, when it’s your time to speak, teach, and hang out with the teenagers the emotions and energy will wipe you out.

Youth ministry is exhausting emotionally, spiritually and physically.  It’s easy to feel drained and that’s what will lead to burnout and resentment.  How you bounce back is paramount to how long you will last.  If you don’t have a strategy and let the moments, memories and emotions stay inside you won’t survive.  You need to have a strategy that helps you bounce back and get in gear for the next week.  That plan should include:

  • People To Lean On: Whether it’s a positive or negative, you need people you can share your experiences with.  When it’s positive you can use the affirmation from others to build you up.  When it’s negative you can make sure there are others to lift you up and point you in the right direction. (Read more here on the type of people you need to lean on)
  • Moments To Reflect: Engaging in some hobby, activity or recording your thoughts are all different ways to process a situation.  Many times after an event in our lives we want to move onto the next; however, if we move to quickly we might miss out on some huge opportunities.  Taking the time to reflect means giving yourself the opportunity to grow and learn more about yourself.
  • A Routine To Physically Recover: Believe it or not youth ministry can be physically exhausting.  I now come home, sit with my wife to chat, go to bed, sleep in a little, eat a hearty breakfast and go for a run.  Schedule a routine for your mornings where you can get some physical rest.  I’m not saying you have to sit still, but do something that refreshes you and builds back the margin. (Here is a post on how to build more margin)
  • Giving The Situation Over To God: Depending on the night you are going to be filled with an array of emotions, thoughts and ideas.  Some of these moments are good and need to be celebrated with God.  Others will eat away at you and need to be offered up in prayer. Lean into His grace and embrace His love.

The way you bounce back from a long night of ministry is by having a plan, a team and time to hand it over to God.  If you are holding in the emotions and releasing it in unhealthy ways you’ll find yourself growing tired quickly.

Do you have a routine?  If so, what does it involve?

How To Avoid Worry

By | accountability, faith, margin, preparation, pressure, worry
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This past weekend I went hiking up Old Rag Mountain in the Shenandoah Valley.  It’s a hike I’ve done before and one of my favorites because of the changing terrain.  At the beginning it’s switch backs, then you hit some rock sprawls and next thing you know you are doing a little bit of climbing and leaping.  All in all it’s a tough but rewarding experience.  Again, it’s one I’ve done before; however, this lastest time the heat made it a little more challenging.  As much as I enjoyed the hike I couldn’t help but worry about whether or not I had enough water.  Fortunately, the people I was traveling with had enough for the both of us, and with proper pacing the hike was a blast.
There are times in ministry when we wonder whether or not we will make it.  Maybe it’s a week at work camp and you worry about everybody’s safety.  It could be writing a talk and you worry about the teens’ response.  It could be an activity that went wrong and you worry about a parent’s potential phone call.  There are going to be moments in ministry when the elements are tested, to make sure you survive you need to have:

  • Preparation – Being over prepared can be a little obnoxious; however, being unprepared can be dangerous.  Without the right materials people are set-up for failure.  Without preparation you lack professionalism and that can lead to a less of credibility.  If you struggle with preparation it could be due to a lack of margin.  Look at your calendar, eliminate the unnecessary and give yourself some breathing room.  
  • Accountability – Who has your back?  If you fall who is going to pick you up?  This can be a scary questions to ask yourself because you might not know the answer?  If that’s you, then you need to talk to your pastor, a minister you look to or just a friend (I’m hoping spouse is a given).  When you can surround yourself with people you trust they will make sure you succeed.
  • Faith – Do you pretend to be in control?  The most important relationship you can have as a youth minister is the one you have with God.  You need to trust that God is moving through you and your ministry because that’s the only way it’s going to grow.  To build your faith you need to make sure that you are looking for ways to grow as a leader and disciple of Christ.  The more you can lean on God the more He will provide.

Doesn’t matter how much you love your job you will feel moments of pressure.  Those situations can lead to anxiety and worry that will jeopardize wonderful experiences and growth moments.  Take the time to prepare, surround yourself with people who will invest in you and never stop growing in Christ.  It will always pay off in the end.

How do you survive moments of pressure in ministry? 

Make The Tough Decisions

By | accountability, decision making, firing, leadership, ministry health, programs

Courtesy of Rojer
Are we doing a ski trip this year?” It was a question that was tough to answer.  I really liked the teen asking it and I didn’t want to give him the hard truth; but, we had to cancel the ski trip for a variety of reasons.  It:
  • Wasn’t bringing in teens.
  • Was loosing money.
  • Was more work than it needed to be.
  • Wasn’t moving with our mission as a ministry.
It was clear that the trip needed to be no more; however, I knew people would be upset with me and there would be push back.  As someone who skis I was even doubting my decision because I didn’t want to let go of something that I personally enjoyed.
In ministry there are always tough decisions to be made.  It doesn’t matter if your ministry is growing or dying decisions need to be made in order for you to move forward.  How we handle each decision depends on the people it affects and the motives behind it.  Some of the toughest areas I’ve found making a decision has dealt with:

  1. Moving People – Sometimes you have to move your best people to your biggest opportunities to create more capacity.  It’s tough because you might be asking someone to give up something they love.  It might mean taking a risk; but in the end it could mean a even bigger reward.  Be sure to openly communicate with them about the situation.
  2. Firing A Volunteer – It feels wrong to fire a volunteer because they are free labor, they are working out of the goodness of their heart; however, they could be corrupting or putting your ministry at risk.  No matter the reason make sure you have support and accountability from a coworker (Or pastor) so that a bad situation doesn’t turn ugly. (Read the best way to fire a volunteer here.)
  3. Killing Programs – There are programs in your ministry that are around because of tradition and selfish desires that need to go.  They’ve either lost their relevance or they are just draining your resources.  Getting rid of a program like this sometimes takes guts, but before announcing your decision to take down the sacred cow make sure you are ready to clearly explain why it needs to go. (More on killing programs in ministry, here)
  4. Admitting You Were Wrong – It never gets easier to admit that you are wrong; but, it’s a practice we need to embrace.  If you’ve made decisions that have lead to fruitlessness then the decision to go back to square one, to admit that you didn’t get it right is humbling.  If you find yourself in this situation it’s best to spend time in quiet time prayer and surround yourself with people who will lovingly support you to make the right decisions.
Every decision has consequences.  Some are positive and others negative; however, they will all have an impact.  Before making a decision it’s important to ask:
  • Is this what God is calling me to do?
  • Who will this affect?
  • What are the possible outcomes?
Rely on those you trust, seek their council and always lean into the situation.  If you can make a decision with a clear and healthy mind God will bless it and help you rebound, thrive and move forward.
What are the difficult decisions you have had to make in ministry?

How To Combat Self Doubt

By | accountability, doubt, spiritual health
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How long were you in ministry before you encountered that first bit of self-doubt? Was it before you walked in the door?  Was it the moment you were first questioned as a leader? The answer for me is three weeks into the job. I had just started my job as middle school youth minister and one of my first responsibilities was to assign 6th grade students to small groups. I thought I did a good job, considering I didn’t know too many people; however, a parent strongly disagreed. She told me that it was an “injustice” because her son was not in the same small group as his friend. On the sign-up form this individual had not indicated that he wanted to be with this specific person; therefore, how was I to know that I was committing an “injustice”?  I grew angry, upset and then when the emotions subsided I began to wonder, “Am I going to be any good at this?
As youth ministers we face tough decisions and tense situations that force us to step up. And even if the right decision is made, we find:

  • Parents that questions your intentions for their child. 
  • Pastors who second-guesses your decisions. 
  • Teenagers that leaves for another ministry. 
  • Ministers who won’t do what you say. 

All you need is for one of these situations to occur for you to question your gifts and abilities. It’s a case of SELF-DOUBT and it will eat you alive unless you:

  • Recognize The Battle – God’s voice is a whisper filled with love and encouragement. Satan is constantly yelling in your ear that you are worthless. Many times we forget that there are battles going on internally, ones that go beyond the surface. If we acknowledge the fact that the thief wants to steal, kill and destroy our joy, then we won’t get lost in a battle of self worth. 
  • Surround Yourself With Love – Outside of your family is there someone who pours into you? We all need someone to love on us and check-in when life is at it’s worst. We need people holding us accountable and cheering us on, when life gets rough. Surrounding yourself with love isn’t about finding people who are going to kiss you butt, it’s about finding people who are going to help you get spiritually fed when you are empty. Start by looking at men or women that you can trust to be that sounding board; yet, have permission to call you out of your self-doubt. 
  • Remember God Chose You – The largest reason you feel self-doubt is because you lose sight of your purpose. God chose and designed you, for a specific role, he knows that you are qualified. By remembering that God has called you into ministry you remember that He is in control. When you face a tough decision, He is there. When you face a tense situation, He is there. He is everywhere you need Him to be because He wants you to know that you are worthy of His plan. We often preach this truth to our teens; yet, forget it applies to us as well. 

You are always going to face obstacles and adversity; therefore, asking the question, “How can I avoid it?” will never be fulfilled. What you need to ask yourself is, “How will respond to it?” By recognizing the battle and what God has blessed you with, you can give yourself the confidence to overcome anything, even the voices of self-doubt in your life.

How do you battle self-doubt?

Getting Through The Wall

By | accountability, longevity, spiritual health, Systems and Structures
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The first time I ran 12 miles I seriously questioned my sanity.  I was in the middle of the run and I had hit that point of, “Why am I doing this?”  I had just started training for my first marathon and each week I was testing out new limits; however, for some reason I started to question whether or not I was doing the right thing.  I was sweaty, sore, and I could have sworn my toes fell off somewhere around mile 8.  I just hit a point and stopped.  I had hit the wall.
There is nothing worst than hitting the wall in the midst of progress.  It’s sudden, shocking and it hurts.  When it comes to running you feel like your body just can’t do anymore, the voices of doubt get louder in your head and it will finish you.  It will finish you, unless you’ve prepared for these moments.  We don’t plan adversity; however, if we anticipate it and prepare for the times ministry gets tough, we will surely be able to bust through those walls.  The way this is done is by:

Building On A Solid Foundation 

By building a solid foundation you will be able to handle most of the obstacles thrown your way.  Just as a runner knows what to do when he or she is hurt, a cramp sneaks up out of no where or the joy of running loses it’s luster, a youth minister must have the tools and resources to bust through that wall.  In youth ministry building on that solid foundation means:

  • Having People To Rescue You – Sounds odd; however, you can’t do ministry on your own.  You can try, but you’ll only fail.  As youth ministers we need people who will give us knowledge; however, give us strength when we are at our weakest.  To be proactive form an accountability team who you meet with on a regular basis.  
  • Knowing How To Check Out – Many of us refuse to take a break until we are physically incapable of moving forward.  While we might rebound from exhaustion it isn’t wise in the long run.  We need to plan some of our breaks so that we can avoid burn out.  You might not need the rest; however, to truly enjoy a break one doesn’t need to be exhausted.
  • Recognizing Your Limits – Too often we try to do too much.  If you overextend yourself, than you overextend your ministry.  When a program falls apart or a minister leaves you could find yourself in a hole.  Knowing your limits means knowing where you have to delegate, when to say, “NO” and where your ministry is headed.  To embrace your limits create structure and discipline.  Sometimes this involves collaboration from your team and a few hard; but, fruitful conversations from your family.

A strong foundation will weather against any storm.  But, the most important thing we can do is make God the focus of our ministries and our personal lives.  By leaning on him we not only assure ourselves success; but, longevity.

What are the other attributes to a solid foundation?

What Type Of Leader Are You?

By | accountability, Leader Treks, leadership, resources
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There are going to be those days when you struggle to understand, why God has placed you in a leadership role.  Those are the days when ministry is an uphill battle.  Those are the days when it feels like no one is listening, ministry is like running through mud and you wonder, “How long can I keep this up?”
When we hit those days it’s really hard not to question your leadership.  If you’ve ever felt that way, don’t worry you aren’t alone.
Whether you are full time, part time, or volunteer you are in a position of leadership when it comes to student ministry.  There are going to be days full of highlights and days when we just want to runaway.  Again, it doesn’t matter where you lead or who you lead, God has put you there for a reason.  The question you need to answer is, “What type of leader has God created me to be?”
Over the years I’ve evaluated this question because I’ve realized how I lead not only effects the ministry that I run but, the relationships I have with my coworkers, friends, family and God.  It’s a question we all need to address in our ministries because it will help you overcome the obstacles that fall in our way of growing disciples.  To help you discern your leadership ability make sure you:

  • Take Time Away With God: God designed you to be the type of leader He wanted you to be.  What that means is you need to seek Him if you want to know what that looks like.  To get a good understanding find quiet time in your day, and try to get away every once in a while where you can be alone, listening to God.
  • Study Other Leaders: Whether they are youth ministers or CEO’s just look and observe what makes them tick.  Read about them, go hear them speak, and if you know some, talk with them.  You can plug into many great leaders through sites like Catalyst and TED, follow them on Twitter or walk the leadership aisle at the bookstore.  Just seek them out because great leaders are learners.
  • Get Feedback: We all need accountability to help us in our walk with life; however, many of us need accountability in how we lead others.  When you make a bone-headed decision, who is going to call you out?  When you need courage to face adversity, who is going to cheer you on?  We need people who are going to give us the feedback we need to grow as a leader.

When you do this you’ll discover your leadership style.  For many of us it’s going to be different; however, that’s okay.  You may find that you value tasks more than relationships.  You might discover that you care more about people than getting the job done.  We all naturally value one over the other; it’s not wrong, it’s just how we are wired. However, it’s important to know which way you lean so you can make adjustments to become a more balanced leader.
Recently, I came across a new leadership tool from the guys at LeaderTreks.  It’s called the LeaderTreks Youth Workers Leadership Style Assessment.  I took it and loved it, because it’s not just geared for youth ministers, but for the student leaders in your ministry as well.  There are many ways you can utilize this tool and what I liked is how after you assess your leadership style, they give you resources to help you strengthen it.  So be sure to check it out, it only takes a few minutes.

No matter what tools you use, make sure you always take time to review the type of leader that God has created you to be.

What do you do to assess your leadership style?