Friday, February 12, 2016

Heart Prep for the Mission Trip

I know different youth groups have different approaches to who they will take on a mission trip.  We have several expectations for students to go on our annual foreign mission trip.  One is they need to be a Christ follower.  It's hard to represent someone you don't know.

Part of our preparation is monthly meetings.  Each month for several months we get together as a mission team and pray, focus and plan.  Before our last meeting I gave our team a month's notice to come prepared to share something from their quiet time.  My thinking is this, if I'm going to share Jesus with people it would really be helpful if I am actively growing in my faith.

At the meeting we opened in prayer and then I gave the team, students and adults alike, some time to share.  Only a few of the 16 of us had something to share.  So I know either:
A.  Some are afraid to share out loud in front of  a group
B.  Some just aren't spending time with God in a daily quiet time
I did this to confirm what I already suspected.

So I acted, even before the meeting, I went online to my "go to" resource center, LeaderTreks.  I found a 4 week daily devotional journal, "I am a Servant".  The whole focus on this devotional book is about servanthood which is perfect, in my mind, to do before a mission trip where we are going to serve.  All it can do is enhance our trip experience and help us prepare our hearts. 

I'll let you know after the trip if I think doing this together as a team for 4 weeks leading up to the trip was effective or not.  My guess is it will be.  Anytime you can put a resource in the students' hands you increase your odds of them actually doing it.  Granted some won't but some will and those students will be the difference makers on the trip and in their own youth group.

My goal is that each team member, even the adults, will be spiritually ready to go and serve and ready to share the love of Jesus Christ.

I handed out the books on Sunday and we start this coming Sunday, the 14th.  Rather than send a long email that some wouldn't read I created a video "email" and sent the youtube link to them in a text.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Saturday Night Youth Group! What?!

This past Sunday was Super Sunday and in the past we have usually had a Super Bowl Party in The Loft for our students.  This party did not draw even our average number of students, often well below our average.  I guess many families have their own parties, which I get.  Some students have friends who have big parties.  Some don't come because mom and dad don't want to drive out at night and pick them up after the game.

This year we had a church outreach happen the same time as Super Sunday.   Two weeks each winter our church hosts our local homeless population.  We open our church up each evening, feed them a hot meal for supper and then they have a warm place to sleep and then a hot breakfast and can pack a lunch before heading out for the day.  Several local churches take turns doing this outreach during the winter months.  Because of some past complication and also to respect the privacy of these guests we normally do something off campus with our students on that Sunday night.  This year with the Super Bowl we thought we would try something different.

Saturday night we gathered together and focused our youth group gathering on prayer.  I taught on the model prayer Jesus gave us.  Then we went around to different stations and prayed together.  Following this time of prayer we had an hour of hang time in The Loft as we normally do with some delicious pizza (donated by a local pizza business).

Our numbers were about the same they would have been for a Super Bowl Party.  The time of prayer was awesome.  It is great to hear students pray out loud for each other and for specific missionaries our church supports.  We had some big poster paper and they wrote prayers of adoration on the paper.  It was a really good time together for our core students.  I'm looking forward to doing something similar next year, perhaps focus the whole time on missions and have some different stations like the prayer stations.

Point of all this rambling is this:  Don't be afraid to try something different or something new.  Don't be afraid to kill off an annual event or tradition if that event or tradition wasn't accomplishing it's purpose.  If it works great!  If it doesn't work, well, now you know.

Another upside is for the first time in the history of my family I was able to be home and our family had our own super bowl party.  My kids were excited and we ate some great party food.  We tucked them in at our normal time and then my wife and I had a date night watching the rest of the game.

Friday, February 5, 2016

That Feeling in the Pit of Your Stomach

No!  It's probably not that you are just hungry. 

I was walking out of FCA at a local high school on Wednesday morning.  As I was heading to the parking lot I passed a number of students rushing in so they wouldn't be marked tardy.  Among those students were two guys who used to be faithful attenders at our Student Church.  I of course smiled and said "Hey" to them.  They had big smiles and said hi to me and and asked me how I was doing.  As they each walked away the feeling hit me in the pit of my stomach.  It wasn't the blueberry Dunkin Donut I just consumed in FCA.  It was the questions.

When you come across a student(s) who you haven't seen in a while at youth group do the questions start rolling through your mind?  What do you think when a student walks by you and that student used to be at youth group faithfully every week and went on every event and trip?

I'll be totally transparent.  It bugs the heck out of me!  I don't like it!

Years ago when moments like this would happen I would start to question everything I was doing in youth ministry, even question if I was fit to be a youth pastor.  It would gnaw at me.
You probably ask these same questions:

What am I doing wrong?
What am I not doing?
Does youth group suck because of me?
Am I a terrible leader?
Did I say or do something wrong?
What could I have done to stop this from happening?

The focus becomes self.  We start judging ourselves.  We think it's about us.

Four things to remember youth worker:
  • We are not God.
  • We are not the Holy Spirit.
  • We are not their parents.
  • We cannot force a student to be a disciple, it's their choice.

Watching these students reminds me of the parable of the sower in Matthew 13.
  • Some students will hear the gospel but they just won't get it.
  • Some students will receive the gospel and be excited but never grow deep roots and they wither.
  • Some students will receive the gospel but then the stuff of life pulls them away, priorities get out of whack.
  • Some students will receive the gospel and grow and flourish and produce fruit in their lives.
What do we do then?
  • Keep teaching the Bible, sound Biblical truth and applying it to life today.
  • Model a growing, vibrant faith.
  • Keep investing in students' lives and building relationships
  • Most importantly pray.  Pray for our students by name, specific prayers.
  • Don't blame yourself when a teen chooses to walk away from their faith or when a parent doesn't have the intestinal fortitude to say, "this is what we do in our home and as a family."

Stay in the trenches.  Keep ministering to students.  Don't allow Satan to sidetrack you with self doubt about your ability to minister to students.

The bonus is ten years down the road and you run into that teen who is now an adult and a parent and they are actively involved in their church and growing their faith.  You never know what is going to stick and then later help them correct their direction in life.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Mission Trip Prep Time

(When taking care of passports I feel like an international spy who keeps multiple identities in a shoe box under a loose board in a safe house)  

This week my mind has been on our upcoming mission trip.  So I decided that even thought our mission trip is still about 50 days away and with the trip on my mind now would be a great time to work on the trip.

We are traveling to the island of Eleuthera.  Our mornings and mid-days will be spent doing work for Camp Bahamas, helping them with upkeep of the campus.  Our afternoons will be spent at the  park in Tarpum Bay settlement doing outreach with the local kids.

I started with contacting people to join my support team.  In just a matter of hours I have people already joining my support team.  Each team member has to build their own support team consisting of both people who will pray and people who will give financially.

When I got to the office I organized two binders for the passport copies.  Sunday night at our team meeting (meeting about once a month) we collected the passports.  I then made 2 copies of each.  One binder will stay locked in the church office and the other will travel in my carry on.

The passports now have stickers on the back with the individual's first name to make it easy for us to hand them out at the airport and then we collect them later.   When we arrive in Eleuthera we will collect all the passports until the time for the trip home.  Hopefully we won't hear, "I don't know where my passport is."

I created a 6 page document that has all the details the parents and students will need to know:
Travel itinerary
Packing lists
Helpful tips (especially for the newbies)
Schedule, etc.

I double checked our airline tickets just to make sure we are good to go.  I then filled out the form that Southwest requires for group travel with everyone's information.  Next I pay the balance on our group rate with them.  Southwest is much easier to work with and a better deal for group travel than the airline we used last year.

I've ordered our pre-trip devotional journals and they should be arriving shortly.  I also ordered our trip journals as well.  Check out LeaderTreks for some great resources for mission trips.

Next up I order Bibles for each person on the team to use on the trip then we will highlight our favorite scriptures in the Bible, write a note to whoever ends up owning it and leaving the Bibles at the camp when we depart.

Luggage tags, craft supplies, snack supplies, game supplies, and food supplies is all we have left to do to prep for the trip but that will wait until another day.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Watch the Calendar

Last weekend was Martin Luther King weekend.  I don't know how it was at your church but at ours we had several families out of town because it was a four and a half day weekend.  Some traveled out of town to go skiing, out of country for a mini-vacation.  So our team was short team members due to the holiday weekend as well as really, really low on the number of students in attendance.

Years ago we adjusted our December Student Church gatherings because the holiday season impacted attendance so much.  After last weekend we will step back and evaluate what we could do differently on MLK weekend to minister to our students. 

So I have put it down on the calendar for next year so when we get closer to the day we can promote what we will be doing.  Good thing is I have several months to think about it and come up with an alternate idea.  Could be an activity like going to the movies, progressive fast food dinner, bowling, laser tag, ice skating.

The point is when there is an obvious conflict with the calendar that could be a great time to do something totally different than your normal youth group meeting/fellowship.  A long time ago I learned to watch the calendar, track attendance around holidays and watch the school calendar when it comes to planning.

What do you do differently when a holiday or long weekend impacts your attendance greatly?

Monday, January 11, 2016

The Response

Problems will happen in ministry.  We are all human and we all make mistakes.  I was thinking this morning about the ways we respond to problems on the staff/team.

The Blanket

I’m guilty as charged!  Blankets are a great thing when you are cold.  They are wonderful to wrap up in on a cold winter rainy night and watch a movie.  Blanket responses aren’t so good.

Sometimes on a team or staff someone does something that is wrong, this person says or does something that hurts someone.  Perhaps they just don’t perform up to a pre defined expectation.  So the blanket response is to tell the whole team, “from now on . . . . “   Or we create an unnecessary policy that is born out of frustration that is aimed at one individual but affects the whole team.

The problem is we address everyone as if everyone is guilty when we have people on the team who are doing what is expected.  I have done this too often.  One person is consistently late so I send an email to the entire to remind them of the importance of being on time,  

The best thing we can do is to use the situation as a moment to help the individual learn from their mistake and help them grow as a leader by helping them overcome whatever it is that caused the problem.  Instead of seeing it as a “team problem” we need to address the individual.  Make that individual stronger in leadership and your team will greatly benefit in the long run.

The Knee Jerk

Have you ever responded to an issue/problem/event with a knee jerk reaction?  For some of us this is a “normal” response because of our personality, because we are emotional creative types.  We just say or do because of how we feel without taking a moment to step back and think.  Then later we think about how we responded and think to ourselves, “did I really say that?”   I know on many occasions I have made a decision or said something responding immediately when the situation called for some thought and reflection before making the decision.

My gauge now (and I’m not perfect at it) is this, I ask this question:
“Is this a true emergency that requires an immediate response?”  In other words, if no one is in physical danger, if the issue won’t send someone to hell, than I can step back and think a bit before responding to the event or issue at hand.

The Blind Eye

The situation calls for attention.  The staffer, or team member, says or does something that is whack.  The Blind Eye response pretends that nothing ever happened.  Looks the other way as if everything is okay.  The problem is everything is not okay and there bubbling under the surface is an issue that may come back to bite you or erupt like a volcano.

This is the easiest response because truthfully none of us enjoy confrontation.  The problem though is the elephant sits in the middle of the room while everyone pretends the elephant isn’t there but at the same time can’t stand the stink of the elephant.  Eventually this “stink” hurts the morale of the team which directly influences our ministry to students.

The next time a situation arises I encourage us to step back and take some time to think the problem through and think about the best way to handle the problem.  Maybe even seek out the advice of someone in ministry that you respect.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Taming the Raptors

This meme is going around Facebook.  It is a little funny, especially if you work with middle school boys.  BUT if this is you then you need help . . . . fast. 

Volunteers - Even in 2015 we still have youth ministers trying to go at it alone.  We cannot effectively minister to students alone, even if our youth group consists of 3 students, we need help and students need more than one adult investing into their lives at church. 

Atmosphere - Does your youth group have rules?  Is it a free for all?  We have "things we agree on" like "no wrestling", "no jumping off furniture", "no making out", etc.  Is the environment you've created amp students up beyond excitement and into the out of control zone.  Monster spiked Kool Aid is probably not such a great idea right before youth group.

Set the Example - I have been to the youth groups where the students all sit in the chairs in front of the youth pastor and the volunteers all line up against the back and side walls like school dance chaperones.  Our team members need to sit in and amongst the students.  This gives opportunity for the adults to set the example and teach students what worship looks like.  This also places students close by which tends to help in crowd control.

The Talk - If the volunteers are doing their job the youth pastor shouldn't have to call a student down during the message.  If a student is a distraction and it seems to happen frequently with him then it is probably time to sit down together and have a chat and explain the importance of what is going on in youth worship and the goal to reach lost students and how the student can help those around them to hear about Christ's love.