Thursday, March 27, 2014

I Love My Senior Pastor--Really!

I love working with my Senior Pastor.

I have had my share of challenging experiences in ministry.  But the one challenge I have not experienced is having to deal with a difficult Senior Minister or Pastor.  I have experience working with plenty of challenging elders, deacons, ministers, parents and adults but never a difficult relationship with a Senior Minister or Pastor--really!

My current senior pastor is Rick Atchley and he is a Magic Man

His magic is not the kind that pulls rabbits from hats or saws people in half (he may want to try that last trick with some of us he works with) and he certainly does not dabble in dark arts (even though his golf buddies may think differently).  My Pastor has a gift to communicate the Word of God with clarity and purpose on a remarkably consistent basis.  But, in my opinion, the magic is found in his ability to connect in ministry across generational lines.  Young and old are drawn to his teachings and blessed by his frequent visits to their "spaces".  Let me put it this way, senior pastors are suppose to hang out in adult classes, lobby's, foyers and pot luck type settings.  They are not known for hanging out in youth areas and student classrooms.  Get this, Rick not only hangs out in youth spaces but is listed as a student ministry volunteer!

"Wait a minute--volunteer," you ask?


Rick and his wife Jamie have served as small group leaders, mission trip sponsors and mentor's for a countless number of students and adult volunteers in our youth ministry.  He reminds the youth ministry staff, at least twice a year, that he would "really like to speak" to the students if we gave him the opportunity.  Crazy--I know! The Senior Pastor is asking a Youth Minister for a speaking opportunity!

Rick Atchley is that kind of man and has that kind of respect for youth ministry.  I like to say to him, "Rick, you are a big deal in the youth ministry world!" Even though he down plays my words, it's a reality.  Those who know and witness his support of youth ministry think he's a rock star. He wants  each child and student in our church family to see themselves as fully functioning members of his flock.

So, when Rick speaks, our student's listen and are blessed.

Let me interrupt this post with an important side bar:  Our students hear from our adults, ministers and members, frequently!  It is one of the simplest ways to create intergenerational community opportunities. Oh, they don't come to "preach" but to "share" their faith journey.  Any preaching arises naturally from the power of their own story of faith.  Now, back to our regularly scheduled post.

Recently,  in our very diverse Wednesday night High School Worship, we had Ask Preacher Rick Night  and the magic happened. 

With the use of personal stories of failure and success, Pastor Rick clearly communicated the point that The Fear of Man is defeated by a deep and abiding Love of God.  The truth is simple and has been taught on many occasions.

Why was this night different?

Here's the answer.  It was clear in word and action. Rick wanted to spend time with our students.  On this night, this was his flock of students.  For this hour, they were his first and only thought. And the students knew it--magic.

So...I love working with my Senior Pastor.

Here are a couple of practical things you can do with this blog:
  • Get your Senior Pastor to read it so they can get an idea of how they can effectively interact with the youth ministry (you may need to be sneaky and simply "share the link" on facebook or something--be smart)  (Note: if you are a senior pastor reading this blog because someone shared a link with must really like you and want to share you with the students)
  • Share this blog with other parents, adults and youth ministers so they can get an idea of how to get their senior pastor into their youth ministry "space."
  • If you are a student that rarely sees their Senior Pastor or Minister, ask them to come to a youth event, teach a class or attend some other youth activity.  I bet if you ask them, they would be more willing to come.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Are Inmates Running the Prison?

"The inmates are running the prison!"

I am not sure who first used the above statement, but many, including Robert De Niro, have used the phrase to describe their world.  Check this out:

"I think Hollywood has a class system.  The actors are like the inmates, but the truth is they're running the asylum."-Robert De Niro

De Niro's use of the phrase has no importance to this blog post but couldn't resist the temptation to quote the actor. I have personally used the sentence in training those who work with (or live with) students. 

I think Hollywood has a class system. The actors are like the inmates, but the truth is they're running the asylum.

I think Hollywood has a class system. The actors are like the inmates, but the truth is they're running the asylum.

Read more at have personally used this statement in training those who work with (or live with) students.  
Before unpacking the importance of this statement and it's relationship to students, let me start with a disclaimer and clarification.  I am not saying, nor does this statement imply, that students be kept under "prison like" lock and key environments (read my March 5, 2014 blog post on this).  The descriptive statement is used, in my context, as a metaphor.  A metaphor of what happens when expectations and rules of conduct are not clearly set or enforced by the adults entrusted to set and enforce said expectations and conduct.  It is an awesome metaphor to employ. Consider what would happen if prison inmates had no expectations or rules to follow.   What would happen if inmates discovered no punishment would be received if expectations and rules were broken or refused to be followed?  Chaos is the first word that comes to my mind. 

Excluding basic social expectations and rules of decency (I admit these are not at all clear and can not be presumed "known" in today's culture--a topic for another time), I acknowledge prison rules can fluctuate between various contexts.  Even so, it is imperative that families, schools, youth ministries and all other organizations in which adults are entrusted to set and enforce expectations take their responsibility seriously.  Why?  Chaos fills the void where expectations and rules of conduct are not clearly set or enforced!  Chaotic environments destroy the feeling of safety and security students need in order to develop emotionally, intellectually and spiritually.  Inmates can not be allowed to run the prison!

Here are a few ways adults allow students to run the prison (A few may surprise you and are listed in no particular order).  Oh, if you don't mind, I am going to list them Jeff Foxworthy style. may be an Adult who gives your student the keys to the prison.

IF your first move after seeing your student's report card is to call the school and blame the teacher...
IF your student is allowed to break certain youth trip rules because you are sponsoring the trip...
IF your student is allowed to break certain "team" rules (fill in blank with your favorite band, drama, football, baseball, softball, etc. team) because you don't agree with them...
IF your first move after seeing your student not participating in (fill in the blank with your favorite band, drama, football, baseball, softball, etc. activity) at the level you feel they deserve is to pitch a fit with other parents, other players and/or school officials...
IF your student is not allowed to "fail" a class, activity, sport, project, etc. because (fill in the blank with your favorite excuse that has little or nothing to do with your student's actual effort and ability)...
IF you rescue your student from the consequences of their poor choices...
IF you allow your student to disrespect other adults and students...
IF you keep a separate set of expectations and rules of conduct for your "favorite-core" youth group students and call it leadership development/mentoring...
IF you are afraid to discipline because it may hurt your students feelings...

You may have found yourself in at least one of the above statements--I did (that's why I stopped writing). 

Adults, I believe it is a cultural imperative that we commit ourselves to the clear communication and enforcement of the expectations and rules of conduct that we set for students and support those others set for students.  We must, "Take back the keys!" Truth be told, our student's, no matter what they tell you, did not want them in the first place!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

3 Purposes of Youth Ministry

 "You get paid for going on vacation's with teenagers?"

"I wish I could have a job where I could go to the mountains for a week each summer?"

"You do 'that' for a job?"

"When are you going to get your 'own' church?" (Translation:  When are you going to "grow up" or become a "senior" minister?)

With 25 years of Youth Ministry under my belt, I have heard a lot of strange comments from people who do not totally understand what I do.

Let me insert an important note here, I have personally NEVER worked for a church that did not honor, respect and hold in high regard the role of student ministry and ministers (I realize I am very blessed).  Most of the above statements come from those outside my church context and/or individuals I cross path's with at various speaking engagements.

From the outside, it may be difficult at times to see the theological trajectory and pedagogy (I thought it would be fun to use big words) of paint ball, mud volleyball, messy games and amusement park programing of student ministers.  Therefore, I am going to share the three reasons student ministers do what they do for the Church and serve a crucial function in the Kingdom's advance in the world.  The big "three" are not totally original to me or any one person.  My awareness and dedication to them have primarily come through witnessing the interplay of the three in my youth ministry heroes lives and intense theological reflection (for fear of leaving someone out, there are too many heroes to attempt to mention.  Even so, my youth minister, Philip Nichols, modeled the three perfectly and still impacts my life today.  Mike Yaconelli and Chap Clark solidified the theological place of the three in my ministry).  So... senior pastor, minister, church leader, parent, student or church "curmudgeon,"  here are the three.

The purpose of Youth Ministry is to...

...assist families and adults in bringing students into the presence of Jesus Christ. This great commission task  (Which has a secondary focus as well--see below) should dwell in the core of all believers and certainly ministers.  The role of youth ministry is NOT to keep students busy, entertained, happy and out of the way of big church activity. Our role is to serve as missionaries that present the never-changing truth of the gospel in an ever-changing adolescent culture (that is why some of the methods or communication can seem a bit "off the wall" at times).  In many of today's youth ministry contexts, one of the most important jobs of the youth minister is to raise up an army of caring adults to share the gospel because there is not a stable family environment present in a student's life. 

...assist families and adults in educating students for life and eternity.
This is the second "teaching them to observe..." part of the great commission task.  You may have noticed, most youth minister's do not back down from talking or starting a conversation about  uncomfortable topics.  Why?  Because youth ministers, as cultural missionaries, know students are asking, will ask or about to ask difficult questions of faith and life application.  Sticky Faith research has shown that student's who express and explore doubt during their adolescent years have a better chance of "sticking" to the Christian faith after high school graduation (The Fuller Youth Institute has just released a great resource for working though difficult questions with students. Check out Can I Ask That?).  Youth ministry should be proactive and not reactive in educating students and assisting families/adults in educating students (btw: a proactive education program takes intentional theological and need assessment reflection).  It is my belief that it is a sin to bore students (or adults for that matter) when presenting and applying the Word of God.  So, youth ministers will look for creative ways to educate students and families/adults with the facts of and practical application of biblical truths (again, that is why teaching moments are often more than creative lecture and "off the wall").  I acknowledge that much more can, should and is constantly be discussed concerning the how and what of education and youth ministry. The point being made here is that youth minister's have a key roll of assisting in and educating student's for life and eternity.

...assimilate students into the overall community of faith.
For years, even in the most supportive youth ministry environments, the "official" task of youth ministry concluded with the graduation of the student from High School.  However, with churches moving to more of a holistic view of ministry, this third task of youth ministry has risen in importance. In other words, church leaders are beginning to acknowledge the ill effects that silo-ed youth ministry programming is having on our students and church communities. There are  "successful" youth ministries (number of participants being used as the marker) that fulfill the first two purposes of student ministry with excellence and effectiveness.  However, after graduating, what kind of connection do these students have with their overall church community? Some of these students have rarely been in a worship service with other adult believers or even heard a steady dose of preaching from their senior pastor!  My intention is not to throw rocks but shed light on the importance of this third purpose for youth ministry. It is my opinion that senior pastors, ministers and leaders have to constantly ask longitudinal and assimilating questions of their ministers and ministries.  Such questioning leads to systemic change in the silo-ed ministry programming mentality and replaces it with a holistic programming model in which all ministries work together in the spiritual formation of students (youth ministry "assists"is a word used in the discussion of the first two purposes of student ministry.  This word is intentional and highlights the responsibility shared by the entire community of faith).  While youth ministers, with humility, can suggest the process, Senior pastors, ministers and leaders, ministers  need to be the  originators of the longitudinal and assimilating questioning of ministries.  Why?  Without senior leadership level buy in, the third purpose of student ministry is very difficult if not impossible to accomplish. 
Certainly, youth minister's will continue to hear "you do 'that' for a job?" type of statements.
Even so, now you know the simple, high calling of Youth Ministers.

Sorry I have to run.

I have to go camping with a bunch of 8th graders (no, it is not vacation).

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Caged Babies and Playground Interaction: A Word to the Overprotective

I was taking my daily walk through the once populated now abandoned by adolescent cyber- playground due to adult infestation (Facebook) and came across a link to one of those "Crazy Picture" websites.  I find it hard to avoid these types of links.  While providing humorous material for youth talks, a good picture can also create wonderful opportunities for conversation.  Today's picture discovery was quickly followed by a "come and see this picture" shout to surrounding offices (yes, we have an intercom system but shouting is a lot more dramatic).  Ladies and Gentlemen, the picture.

The caption informed viewers this ca. 1937 picture is of an invention designed to give apartment dwellers a way for their babies to get "fresh air." What?  Certainly a display of American ingenuity, but frightening all the same (Why did the media give Michael Jackson a hard time when he showed the world his baby again? Sorry-I could not resist).  After the initial shock and humor, the conversation and reflection drifted to a deep place.  Perhaps the picture could be viewed as a metaphor of how adults often interact with today's teenage population.  As a parent, youth worker, coach and frequent "hanger-outer" with students the connection is personal, professional, glaring and simple to make.  Certainly from a pure motivation to shelter and protect, adults may place students in cages that offer the appearance of security and safety but can lead to opposite outcomes.

Consider the contraption holding this hefty lad.  Over time, the elements and time will weaken the structure making it unsafe to occupy. What happens then?  You buy a new structure and/or reinforce the existing structure?  What happens when the baby is no longer a baby?  Do you build bigger structures?   Eventually, instead of looking at the playground from a lofty height, the child will be taken to the park, given appropriate boundaries and eventually, over time, "earn" freedom from a caged existence through the dance of negotiation and consequence giving.  The dance from cage to freedom is different for every student, parent/guardian relationship.  Even so, it is a dance that must take place.  Why?  The greatest of cages, constructed from the most noble of intent, can not hold our students forever.  Christian Smith with others have studied students and emerging adults (18-25 year olds) for well over a decade.  Their research indicates that students raised in environments where most moral decisions are made for them (i.e they live in incredibly protective cages) actually DO NOT fair well morally when leaving home (cage) for the first time (see Souls In Transition and Lost in Transition).  They do not know how to play in the park without getting hurt.

So, to answer the question, do you build bigger cages when your baby is no longer a baby?  No!  You teach them how to interact on the playground.  Again, as a parent, youth worker, coach and frequent "hanger-outer" with students, I totally understand cage building (I have built some pretty good ones).  Even so, our job as adults in the life of students is to join them in the dance of negotiation and consequences so they will be able to fully function in the world outside the cage.

This would be a great place to insert a list of Best Out of the Cage Practices, but not today.  Instead, as we reflect on the picture, let's ask ourselves these questions:

  • What cages are you building around your student(s) that are hindering playground interaction development?
  • Would your student(s) survive on the playground? Why or Why not?