Advice for Insecure Youth Workers @smarterYM

Contributions, depression, identity, leadership, smarterym, youth ministry


My latest article is on what I would redo in my first year of ministry if given the chance….. and truthfully, what I struggle with each and every day of my life.  I see a lot of youth workers within the YouthMin.Org Facebook Community struggling with this, and it has caused me to get vocal about calling out youth workers and getting them to be more secure with their selves and their ministries.

So here is my post over at SmarterYM.Com!  Read, share, and comment on it! And show Aaron some love…he’s a Cubs fan :(

Apathy is not the Problem

christianity, church, leadership, unchurched, youth ministry

Teenagers do well if they want to.  This is a “fact;” there have been many resources trying to help parents, leaders, and youth workers get their teenagers to be less apathetic.  I’ve read some of these, and agree that apathy is certainly a problem.  So, we spend week after week at the pulpits trying to inspire teenagers to commit to change.  We pour into their lives with discipleship, trying to get them to see that someone cares about them, and therefore they should care too.  Yet at the end of the day, we leaders can feel extremely empty and dry.  I know personally that I can pour out everything that I have into students and often times it dries me up emotionally, physically, spiritually.  I read articles that tell me how to motivate, but I feel like I’m doing my best job!  I’m sure everyone who reads this relates to this frustration.

So what if apathy isn’t the problem?

It’s certainly a problem; I mean, if it’s not our teenagers’ lack of motivation, what is stopping them from growing in faith?  Instead of simply trying to inspire them, what if we looked at what they’re apathetic about and encourage change in action and not in behavior?  The mentality is no longer “Teens do well if they want to,” but “Teens do well if the’re able to.”

This model was first described in the book The Explosive Child by Dr. Ross Greene.  Watch him explain more about this idea in this video.  I attended a training session on this idea this last month, and wanted to share what I learned with the youth ministry community.

Under the mentality of “Teenagers do well if they’re able to,” it’s no longer about if they want to or not.  Some teenagers want to advance the gospel but still can’t because all they’re being told is “do it” but they don’t know how.  Some teenagers want to quit a particular sin, but don’t have the tools to stop.  They want to, but can’t.  If you give them the tools, they’ll be able to.  And for those teenagers who don’t want to, even Martin Luther King couldn’t inspire that teen; but if you teach them the tools, they might change without even wanting to.  It’s like a teenager who doesn’t want to go to school–the underlying problem is they think they are stupid.  If you educate them, they can succeed anyway, even if they never wanted to. Ha! Tricksy!

This changes our roles as youth leaders drastically:  We are no longer a motivator, but an equipper.  Greene says that with the old model, our job greatly narrows what the teenager can do in their life–making them want  to do something and nothing more.  Under this new model, pastoring is not as much about transferring our desire for the gospel, but our knowledge of the gospel.  Pastoring isn’t about motivating teenagers with the best fluff and feel-good stuff you got, but about giving them the tools.  Sure, apathy is a problem.  Yes, we should definitely try to inspire and motivate our students to share the same passion as us.  Of course, there will be some teens that don’t change; this model is not the answer to all of your youth ministry problems.  If you give them the tools and they still aren’t changing, then you shouldn’t feel dry as you may have before; you’ve done your best job as a youth pastor.

What do you guys think about this model?  How do you think this may impact the way that you do ministry? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Why working in a group home makes me more legit for when I begin working in a church again (AKA THE LONGEST BLOG TITLE EVER)

unchurched, youth ministry

I felt insecure that working in a group home would somehow convince churches that I wasn’t a good fit there. And then I realized:

I know what it’s like to live with teenagers.

Most parents think “Oh, honey, you’re young. You don’t know what it’s like to raise children or have a teenager.”  I live in a house with 6 teenagers and their children.  And not just normal teens, but at-risk urban teens.  Teens with mouths on them and punches to match.  I not only am a mom to them, but a grandmom to their children too, as teach them how to parent.  Of course, it’s different when you raise a child from the womb and then they start lipping back.  The point is, I am not completely ignorant to parenting.

I’m great in crises.

I hate that that is something I can even “brag” about.  The old Heather would have freaked out, punched somebody in the jaw, or ran away and hid somewhere had she encountered some of the things I have.  I know what to do in a medical emergency, a case of self-harm/attempted suicide, when a teen runs away, and when teenagers are beating the snot out of each other.  And I am not only trained to deal with these situations, but I m actually fairly clear-headed in them.  I know how to make quick decisions that are also good decisions.  God has listened to my begging and has given me a great ability to discern.

I don’t sweat the small stuff.

Never again will I complain about a diplomatic deacon, a micromanaging pastor, or hovering parent.  When budget meeting goes too long, I won’t cry my eyes out about how my budget was ripped apart (well I hope…).  I have learned not to focus on the small things, but to look at the big picture.  This also crosses over to disciplinary measures–I am less about immediate consequences for the sake of consequences and more about “natural” consequences.

I rejoice in small accomplishments.

Nope, that doesn’t contradict my last point :).  When a teen apologizes or says “yes ma’am” or offers to summarize a lesson, I’m fist-pumping. So they’re not perfect? I shouldn’t expect perfection or a rockstar prayer life. They’re learning. Let’s party.

I am incredibly secure with myself.

We don’t give teenagers enough credit: they are incredibly intuitive.  They can spot out every insecure thing about yourself, and call you out on it.  After two years of being called out of my name, called out on my inconsistencies, assaulted, and cursed at nose-to-nose…I know who I am.  Of course, I’m not perfect, and I am actively working on myself in a few areas; I just don’t get torn down when I’m rejected nor am I offended easily.

I’ve learned some lessons about integrity.

In my opinion, the hardest thing about working in a group home as a live-in is maintaining integrity.  When a teenager has a funky attitude and is repeatedly disrespectful, it seems like I’m going to lose my mind some days.  But I have to remain consistent in love, faithful in giving my time, and maintain a straight face even when I’m broken on the inside.

In what ways has God prepared you for ministry in some of your other jobs?

The Need for a Contextualized Youth Ministry @youth_min

Contributions, youth ministry,

youth ministry contextualization

This post originally appeared here:

Every week, there seems to be dozens of posts in my blog roll along the lines of: “What’s Wrong with Youth Ministry?” “Why Youth Ministry Needs to Change” and “A Paradigm Shift in Youth Ministry.”

While I agree that there needs to be some changes in the way we do youth ministry, I don’t think those changes look the same for everyone.  I don’t think Youth Ministry will drastically change if everyone starts making their own lessons, or preaches expositionally, or changes to a small-group format.  I don’t think every church can make those changes; not every youth pastor is paid so that he or she can spend hours making their sermons, not every youth group has the attention span to learn the Bible verse-by-verse, and not every youth group is big enough or has enough volunteers to have small groups.

So what I’m saying is: Youth Ministry needs to fit the culture of the church.  This seems like a no-brainer, but if it is, why are we constantly trying to mimic other the ministries of other churches?  When I was a small church youth pastor, I wanted so badly to have big programming like the larger churches in my area, and was constantly snooping to see what they were doing.  But why?  My church could not do those things.  It is no wonder that so many young people today are leaving churches—they are not getting anything that has been specifically made for them; they are getting the same generic garbage that every other church is feeding off of.

But our churches, especially more conservative churches, have problems when we say we need our ministries to fit “our culture.”  You’ll hear from them (use your best country hick voice here), “The Bible don’t change for no one, so our church don’t change for no one.”  But contextualization does not mean changing what the Bible says; contextualizing means that recognizing the meaning of the text in its context will help us re-contextualize the meaning of the text for our audience.  We have to understand the basic hermeneutic principles of historical and cultural background of the text as well as who it originally impacted.  We are not those same people, therefore we should not force the Biblical text into any cultural mold.  So our churches don’t need to exactly reflect the churches in the Bible (and they typically don’t.)  And therefore our ministries don’t need to be the replicas of the Bible, or each other’s.  One ministry is not necessarily more “Biblical” than another.  And if I tried the same youth ministry model in Canada or Africa or even the next state over, it would not work.

Furthermore, I’m going to play bad-cop and say that youth ministry is not “Biblical” because adolescence did not even exist then.  So we have already submitted to culture by having youth ministry in general.  That does not mean immediately disband all youth ministries (although that might work for your church culture).  I’m saying that youth ministry started as a ministry to fit a cultural need, so why are we not continuing to fit it to our culture?

Why are we still doing the same programming after 25 years?  I know a lot of youth pastors who are angry because students choose activities over the church (we would have never done that “in our day”), but why can’t we move activities around and accommodate students?  Why are we still going to big-name conferences that do nothing spiritual for our students, just because it’s “the place to go?” Do puppet teams fit anyone’s culture?  Why are we depressed because we are not as big, have enough money, or have as great of a beard as “First Baptist”?  We are not the same.  We don’t have the same needs.  I can’t grow facial hair.

Contextualizing is not a bad thing.  If you think your youth ministry needs some big changes, think about the culture of the community—How big is it?  How many churches are there?  What is the income level?  How is the economy doing?   And think about your church as well—Where are they spiritually?  How diverse is it in terms of race, income, gender, etc? What is the “personality” of the church?  It’s there.

Having a contextualized youth ministry means having a continuously growing awareness of your students’ church, community, learning styles, personalities, schools, and culture.  It probably won’t be easy to determine what it will look like to contextualize your youth ministry initially, but with your growing awareness, it will be the most fantastic thing you do for your ministry.

Dan Sadlier said, “Contextualization is like a sweet science that dates back to the Savior. Each page of the scripture drips with leadership who understood their context, and knew how to contextualize for the sake of God’s fame. Study your context, embrace it, and than engage it like the saints who have gone before.”

I’m now the prettiest contributor for YouthMin.Org

Contributions, testimony, women, youth ministry,

Recently something very cool happened to me.  I was asked to write a guest post for YouthMin.Org on women in ministry–which I should know ALL about given my estrogen levels.  And what do you know? They asked me to become a contributor.

I’m pretty stoked about this.  What does this mean for this blog?  Well, I won’t post as much youth-y stuff on it.  One of the great things about YouthMin.Org is that we are seeking to build a one-blog, one-community place for youth ministry.  This is great for a girl like me, who has like 200 people who have been named “top youth ministry blogs” but are filling up my feed with the same old stuff.  I’m sick of the self-promotion.  Why can’t we promote a community?  That’s what this being a part of the Body of Christ is about.

Another thing I love is it’s all about “everyday youth pastors.”  I’m no super-star and no matter how I try, I will never be the female Josh Griffin or Doug Fields.  I’m a young minister who is learning from others and teaching what I learn.  And from what I can tell, these contributors are humble in the same way.

So I encourage you, dear friends, to check out YouthMin.Org for everything youth ministry.  As for this blog, I will continue talking about life lessons I am learning.  And yes, they will talk about ministry.  Ministry is my life.  It will just be different (although my last year of blogging has differed than the year before and so on and so forth ;) )