What Us Youth Workers Have To Endure!

I rediscovered this amongst my favourited youtube videos today. It made me chuckle.

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3 Tips For Staying Physically Fresh In Ministry

Every Friday morning I meet my mentor. This is someone who’s a member of the church but not employed by them. It’s a chance for me to talk over the week I’ve had, both at work and at home, reflecting on what’s been good or bad, and sometimes to let off a little steam. At the end of our time together he then prays for me, giving thanks for the good or praying for my needs and concerns. It’s a really helpful time and I look forward to it each week.

One thing which I’ve noticed him say on a number of occasions is that I need to look after myself. This is nearly always in relation to looking after myself spiritually and this is off course the priority. But he’ll also regularly say something like this; “you must look after yourself physically, get some exercise,” etc.

I don’t think this is an area we talk about much in ministry. I don’t think I’ve ever been to a conference or read an article which has suggested those of us in ministry need to look after ourselves physically. There’s a multitude of stuff out there about staying spiritually fresh but I haven’t seen a lot looking at the physical side. Having thought about this a little, I want to suggest three simple things we need to do to stay physically fresh in ministry.

1. Sleep Well

Sleeping?! No, I was slain in the Spirit boss, I swear!

If you’re anything like me, you’re a bit of a night owl who likes to burn the candle at both ends. This inevitably ends up with me waking up exhausted and struggling to really function the next day. I need to remember that I’m not at university anymore and staying up ’til 4am playing Fifa is now a luxury I no longer have. I need my 8 hours if I want to be effective the next day, as well as to avoid becoming grumpy with those around me.

I find the reason I tend to stay up late is because I find it’s the only time I have in the day to do what I want to do, so I try and justify it as being ‘my time’. We all need to have some down time to indulge our hobbies but staying up half the night to do so doesn’t help anyone, least of all you.

Others stay up into the wee hours working, often justifying this by seeing themselves as being some kind of martyr making sacrifices for the Lord’s work. Again, this is actually counter-productive, and it also raises some questions about your time management.

2. Eat Well

I love to eat and there is barely anything you could put in front of me that I wouldn’t eat, such is my love of food. But with a dodgy sleeping pattern, I often find myself skipping breakfast in order to get to work on time. I’ll then skip lunch too in order to try and keep on top of the work I need to do and so I’ll often find myself not eating anything all day until my evening meal. Again, this isn’t really helpful or healthy and I know that I function far better if I’ve had a good breakfast in me at the start of the day and can then take the time out for lunch later. So basically, keep stuffing yourself with food. Don’t worry about any potential weight gain as we should also…

3. Exercise Well

Working those guns!

Exercise; you either love it or you hate it. My motto has always been, “No Pain, Good!” But whether you love or hate exercise, none of us can deny that it’s good for us and it makes us feel better. I try and get down to the gym 2-3 times a week and work really hard. I can’t say I always look forward to it but once I’m done, I never regret having done it. I find it’s the best way to work off any stress I’m feeling and I come out feeling really good. If I can get down to the gym before work, I find it really sets me up for the day and gives me a head start. It almost feels like cheating to turn up top a staff meeting at 9.30am having already done an hour and a half in the gym. I’m just so much more on the ball than I would have been otherwise. I find exercise so helpful that I even find myself getting a bit edgy and grumpy if I don’t get to the gym as regularly as I’d like. The gym might not be for you but there’s a million and one ways to get your exercise, whether it’s walking to work, going for a jog or doing sport with friends. Paul even tells us in 1 Tim 4:8 that physical exercise does have some value. Sure he goes on to say godliness is more important but that doesn’t invalidate the value of physical exercise, and so we shouldn’t underestimate it’s importance.

So those are my 3 tips staying physically fresh in ministry, or indeed any walk of life. I can’t say I’ve got it completely nailed and I know I certainly need to get better at both sleeping and eating but hopefully these relatively simple things might be of some use to you.

Does Your Youth Work Need to Get R.E.A.L?

Last weekend myself and some of my other youth work team attended a training morning run by Sussex Youthworks, the youth work arm of the Sussex Gospel Partnership. It was the first of 6 training mornings running over 3 years. This first session was on “Principles of Youth and Children’s Ministry,” and the speaker was Rory Bell from TnT Ministries.

He started by drawing us to Colossians 1:28:

“Him (Christ) we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.”

This is the goal of youth ministry, in fact all ministry, that we may present people as mature believers before God on the final day. The two things we need to notice from this verse are that firstly we need to present people mature IN Christ and secondly that this means PROCLAIMING Christ. People are only going to be made perfect through Jesus and so that’s obviously going to mean telling people about him. It’s good for us to keep this verse in mind as we do ministry.

 

We then talked about how our youth work needed to be R.E.A.L. if we wanted it to be a success: Relational,Educational, Authentic & Life-Changing.

Each of these were expanded on with some verses from 1 Thessalonians 1&2. Here’s a very brief synopsis of what was said.

Relational

God as trinity is inherently relational, therefore ministry ought to be as well. Jesus was only ever alone at 3 points in his ministry; in the wilderness, whilst praying and on the cross. With that in mind we can deduce that being around people and in relationship with them must be a pretty important part of ministry. 1 Thessalonians 2:8 supports this idea:

“So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.”

Paul didn’t only share the gospel with the people he ministered to, but he shared his life with them as well and that’s something we should do too. This needs to be face to face stuff. I was challenged by the idea that using twitter and Facebook is not sharing our life with people, they’re actually a very shallow form of interaction. Real relationships take time and that means sacrifice.

Educational

Good ministry will educate people from God’s word. It’s not ad-hoc and slapdash but is planned. Schools have a syllabus and so should we. If as a parent you turned up at a school and said, “what’s the plan?,” and the school says “Well we don’t really have one, we just see what happens,” you certainly wouldn’t want to send your kid there. It’s the same for youth work. There needs to be some kind of plan and this will involve teaching the Bible. This is what Paul says to the Thessalonians in 1:5a;

“…because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.”

The gospel always comes with words so we need to teach the word. Some of us might be tempted to shy away from this and to think that a quaint idea. But Paul shows us that not only does the gospel come with words, it comes with the power of the Holy Spirit. The gospel might seem foolish and weak, but the Holy Spirit has the power to open people’s eyes and it’s pleasing to God to bring people to him through the weakness of our preaching.

Authentic

As leaders, (and as Christians generally) we need to be living authentic Christian lives. Kids can smell a fraud a mile off. Ralph Waldo Emerson says this: “What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.” If we teach kids the gospel but then they hear us swearing or see us out getting trashed on a Saturday night or being inappropriate on facebook then it’s all for nothing. If we don’t look like what we’re preaching, we’re only going to be doing the gospel damage. Check out what Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 1:5b-7:

“You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. 6And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, 7so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.”

The people in Thessalonica saw what Paul was like and so they became imitators of his example (he himself imitates Christ), even though this meant suffering for them. That’s quite a testimony to his life. Do we set as good an example as Paul? We always need to be asking ourselves the question – “Am I desperately trying to become more like Jesus?”

Life-Changing

Look at the change that Paul says occurred in the life of the Thessalonians when they came to Christ:

“For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. 9For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.” 1 Thessalonians 1:8-10

The people’s lives were completely changed. They turned away from lifeless, powerless idols to serve the living, powerful and true God. Christianity changes lives. Or at least it should do. Rory used the illustration of a sword lying in a field facing an advancing army. Without someone to wield it, it can do nothing. But in the hands of a skilled swordsman, it can cut with skill. It’s the same for the Bible. In the hands of a skilled teacher, it cuts to peoples hearts, just as it does in Acts 2:37. So we must invest time in learning how to handle the Bible correctly.

In my mind these four areas pair up quite nicely. If you’re being relational, then you have to be authentic. One will fall apart without the other. And I’m a firm believer that if we educate people with the Bible and we do it well, then lives will be changed, such is the power of the word of God.

Overall, it was a great morning. In terms of the principles themselves, they weren’t new to me, but it’s always good to be reminded of what we’re here for and the principles undergirding that. I was really pleased to be able to take my team along as I know it will have been really beneficial for them as leaders and therefore beneficial for our youth work. Already looking forward to the next session in March! If you’re Sussex based and you do youth work, make sure you get yourself along.

In or Out?

I’ve finally finished all of the lessons I was doing in our local secondary school. They were a completely mixed bag and I’m pleased to say that there were actually some more encouraging groups than the ones I mentioned in my previous entry, which is a good thing considering how appalled I was at some of those.

The best groups I had were actually the two lowest ability sets. The school had asked if I could do some shorter sessions with them as they would probably struggle to engage with the subject. The plan was to do 15-20 minutes with them and see how it went. It was the same teacher for both groups. Before the class began she mentioned that when she had told the group a Christian was coming in, they were threatening not to turn up. Tough crowd then! But they did turn up and it was a great experience. They knew that they were just going to have 15-20 minutes and if once that time was up they had lost interest, we’d call it a day.

I was in with both groups for the full hour. The questions just kept on coming and these kids really wrestled with the scenarios we were discussing, bringing in their own experiences, listening to each other and me and re-evaluating as they went along. They were the two easiest lessons I’d done and the most encouraging.

The teacher and the teaching assistant were made up. Apparently some of the kids in the group normally just give one word answers but during this lesson they really took off. It was a great feeling and a really fruitful day with three great consequences.

Firstly, the kids in both group said that I wasn’t what they had been expecting when they heard a Christian was coming in and that I was actually OK, even normal. So it’s great that their preconceived stereotypes have in some way been broken down.

Secondly, the teachers were really encouraged by the whole thing so this will hopefully open the door to be more involved in lessons at the school.

And thirdly, I got to explain the gospel and that’s really what it’s all about. Three birds, one stone!

I’ve also done two assemblies based around Easter. They were probably my most daring to date in terms of stating what the death and resurrection of Jesus means and I probably wasn’t quite as careful as I’m supposed to be in stating what I did. Schools tend to like it if you say something like, “as a Christian, I believe…” as opposed to “this is the way it is,” and I think there was definitely more of the latter. But it was a great chance to share the gospel and I was really pleased with how they went. One of the Christian teachers came up to me afterwards and asked to pray with me about what had been said and also about some things in her family life which was a real privilege. She said that next time I did an assembly it would be great to be prayed for up the front as she thinks it would be good for the kids to see. So in terms of schools work it’s been a good few weeks with plenty of encouragement. Maybe things aren’t quite as bleak as they could be.

Just before I did all these lessons, a man from church asked me how the work was going in the local secondary. I told him that it wasn’t that great generally and things were a bit of struggle there. What he said struck a chord with me. He said that it’s interesting that the apostles did the majority of the their ministry outside of the church, but yet we tend to do most of ours inside the church, with those who already believe. It got me thinking about where our priorities should lie in terms of our ministry. Should we be focusing on the ones we’ve got, building them up an encouraging them or should we be more outsider focused, realising that people are living in spiritual darkness and we need to tell them what Jesus has done? It’s more comfortable on the inside, but maybe the real work needs to be done outside.

 

Great is the Darkness

Over the last few days I’ve been lucky enough to be able to get in to our local secondary school to take a few lessons. The school have been doing some sessions on morality and they wanted to get a Christian in to talk a bit about the effects their faith has on their morality.

I was that Christian.

And very happy to be. I really love getting into the classroom with the students. It doesn’t matter what subject I get asked to speak on you can always guarantee some good discussion. In all honesty I tend to find that unchurched kids ask better questions than the kids in the church youth group. That’s why I love it. People are (for the most part) genuinely thinking through what you’re saying, evaluating it and coming back at you. I love it because, at the very least, it keeps me on my toes instead of getting comfortable and at best it’s a great opportunity to get the gospel into a generation that is growing up with almost no knowledge of Jesus whatsoever.

The basic outline for my lessons was to get the students to define what morals are before brainstorming where we get our  morals from and how they’re formed. Then I would explain a little about where I get my morals from as a Christian and give some basic governing principles that are always in my mind – basically love God and love your neighbour, and how all of God’s commands basically come back to those two ideas. Then I would hand out some scenarios for them to discuss in groups before they fed their thoughts back. I would then be able to explain my response to the situations from a Christian perspective, pointing to some relevant verses and drawing on the 10 commandments as I knew they had already covered those in class. We could then have some discussion around that.

So I did the lessons and I enjoyed them, as I always do, but I have to say I also found them deeply disturbing. At the risk of sounding like an old man, “where are these kids morals”? I was really shocked at the general attitude to the moral dilemmas and I was even shocked that I was shocked by it. I began to wonder whether I’d been working in the church too long, insulated from the reality of the outside world. It just saddened me to hear some of the attitudes to the dilemmas.

The scenarios touched on things like stealing music, drugs, lying in court and abortion and I was shocked at some of the responses. The general attitude was that stealing is OK if you can get away with it and the people are rich, drugs are fine as long as it doesn’t effect me, you can do what you think is wrong if it’s part of your job and abortion is no big deal. The blase attitude that some of the kids talked about abortion as “yeh I’d just kill it,” was just horrific.

Of course when I put some real faces to situations some of their attitudes changed or they at least began to see other points of view to the situations. No-one was happy for poorer people to steal from them, that was out of order. It’s a bit different when the shoes on the other foot. The school also has a special needs school within it’s site and I posed a question or two about who has the right to judge someone’s quality of life as being deserving enough of life or not. The kids in the special needs school all have varying levels of disability and differing qualities of life so I posed the question; where is the cut off point? What boxes need to be ticked before you say no this child won’t have a good quality of life, therefore abortion is preferable.

I think working primarily amongst Christians, flawed though we all are, has lulled me into a a bit of a false sense of security. It’s easy to look around at the church and think ‘yeh, we’re all sinners but we’re not that bad.’ The Holy Spirit is at work in the church and has changed people to be more Christ-like. We’re all far from perfect but people are generally moving forward and becoming more like Christ. When this is what you see all the time, you start to assume that most people are like that, that there are basic levels of morality and even humanity out there.

And of course there are, but there’s also a lot of darkness. Hearing those kids during these lessons drew the community of the church into sharp relief with that of society. It reminded me just how bleak a state the world is in, how sinful it is, how no-one really loves God or their neighbour and what darkness and evil these young people are living their lives in.

The cross has never looked more important.

There is a plus side to all this though. It certainly made me look at the kids in our church youth group through different eyes. It’s so easy to look at some of them and be disappointed and frustrated that they don’t seem to be maturing or ‘getting it’ but when you look at their lives and attitudes next to some of those I’ve witnessed in the last few days God has clearly brought them a long way. It’s an encouragement to see how distinct some of them really are.

As I talked about this with some of my colleagues, one of them also pointed out that the fact that the darkness in the school grieved me so much was a testament to my own walking in the light. And I suppose that’s true. As the Holy Spirit works in us more and more our priorities and values should start to align with God’s. We should love those that God loves and be grieved by the things that grieve God. A personal positive then.

But there’s still a lot of work to be done in that school.

Show Me The Money!

What would you do if somebody gave you £25,000 towards your youth work?

Two days ago, I was told that someone had left £25,000 in a legacy that was specifically to be set aside for the youth work at the church. Quite frankly, I’m a little stunned. This is a huge amount of money and no doubt needs to be used wisely. So that’s why I’m pondering the above question; what do I do with it?

I’ve already got a few things in mind. Firstly, it will mean that we can definitely pay for some of our volunteer leaders to join me on a few of the youth work conferences/training days I manage to get to each year. As I was away on conference this year, I was struck by how I’d missed an opportunity to take some of our volunteers along for what would have been a really useful time for them. Although it would have been tough for some of them to find the time, it wouldn’t have been completely impossible, however I would have felt pretty bad asking them to dig deep into what for some is already a limited cash flow, especially as they already give so much in terms of time and hard work. This money will mean that won’t need to be an issue and hopefully the opportunity to take some more leaders on conference will be a great benefit to the group.

Secondly, it will be good to have some money set aside for camps/weekends away/general activities that can help pay for those young people whose families  might find it a financial struggle. We’ve never stopped anyone going on something because of money, and we never would, but at least now we know we have a bit of a cushion for that.

I haven’t really put much more thought into it yet so that’s about as far as I’ve got. But in order to aid me in my thinking process I’ve designed a handy poll for people to vote on. Below you will find a number of options I have suggested for how I could spend the money, although there is also the option for you to post your own ideas which might perhaps be more practical/Godly. I shall eagerly await your ideas!

 

Focus on the Good

Every month, our church has a prayer meeting in order to pray for the life of the church, as well as those it supports in missionary roles and things like that. A few weeks ago I was asked if I could lead a short section on the youth work for the evening meeting (there’s a lunchtime and an evening session). I have to admit my heart sank. I go to the lunchtime meeting as it always follows on from our staff meetings and so I don’t normally go in the evening. In all honesty, it’s a horrifically boring meeting and so the thought of having to endure it twice filled me with dread.

However, the whole thing was actually a really good experience. I decided to put together a powerpoint and a handout which detailed four areas of my work, each with two categories of things to pray about: things to give thanks for and things to be praying for. The process of thinking through these areas was really encouraging and allowed me to see how many good things are actually going on within our youth work. Then to get together with the rest of the church and pray that over with them was great. It was really encouraging to hear people praying out freely and not holding back and it was just really clear that people were behind the work that was going on.

So if you work in any kind of Christian ministry, I really recommend sitting down and making a simple list of things to give thanks for, even if you’re not about to lead a prayer meeting.  In the every day grind of life, it’s easy to end up focusing on the problems and the things that need prayer and so it’s easy for the good stuff to get overlooked. When you sit down and try and think of the encouragements I reckon you’ll be hugely surprised by how much there is to give thanks for. Give it a try!

On a slightly different note, the change to working on a Saturday continues to be encouraging. I met with one of our teenagers for breakfast today and it was good to be able to get to know him a bit better away from the church and to shine some light on other areas of his life. It also threw up a few areas where there are clearly misunderstandings in terms of his grasp of Christianity and so it was good to be able to try and address some of those. When I’ve arranged a meeting with someone I’m always praying for the courage and boldness to ask them about their faith. It’s easy to feel like you’d be intruding and so back away from asking the hard questions, but I’ve found that 9 times out of 10 people are happy to chat about their faith and sometimes I think they’re almost hoping you’ll bring it up as there’s something on their mind.

So there’s a lot of good to focus on at the moment and that’s encouraging.

And the award for biggest overuse of the word “encouragement” in a blog goes to me!

Wham, Viagra & Leaders!

The last few days have a been a daze of busyness.

Sundays are generally a bit manic anyway but last Sunday was just crazy. My plan was to get up at 8am as I had some work to do before church. I knew I really needed to be up then to get some stuff done for later in the day and if it didn’t get done then, then it never would… So I got up at 9am. Good start.

So I spent the time before church planning the Scout Carol service I was leading later in the afternoon. Luckily, it came together quite quickly. The scouts had planned the outline of the service with some input from myself, so it was really just down to me to do the up front stuff and tie each section together seamlessly. Once that was in the bag it was just a matter of running through my talk a few more times so I could be sure I knew what I was doing.

Time for church. I got there at about 10.30am to open up and get ready for our 11-14’s arriving. I didn’t have to lead that morning which was a weight off so it was just a matter of crowd control and chipping in when needed. When others are leading I don’t like to chip in too much. I’ve generally got a competent bunch of leaders who know what they’re talking about so I’m happy to let them get on with it. There’s time for discussion in small groups at the end anyway so I can always steer things back on track if I feel an issue hasn’t really been done justice. It’s a rare occurence though.

Church finished at 12pm and we managed to scoot off pretty quickly (well comparatively). Just had time for a quick bite at home before I was back at the church for 1.30pm to make sure the Scouts had what they needed and everyone knew how to use a microphone etc. The service kicked off at 2.30pm and went surprisingly smoothly and I did my best to make light of a few small issues like song verses missing from the powerpoint and people all seeming to know very slightly different tunes to some songs. My talk went well too, despite my horrific use of a Wham related joke (it got a groan and everything) and a reference to viagra! It’s not what you think.

So that wrapped up at 3.30pm followed by drinks and nibbles before at 4pm I had band practice with the youth. We’ve just started planning an evangelistic music cafe for the end of February and this was our first rehearsal. Songs on the agenda were Run by Snow Patrol and Don’t Stop Believing by Journey. Glee has a lot to answer for! Bit of a shaky start but in fairness we’d only decided on the songs the day before so none of us were really on top of it. I’m confident it’s gonna come together though. Some of the musicians have really got behind the idea and have been manicly sending facebook messages back and forth this week. I’m glad they’ve taken some ownership of the event and I think it’s going to be a lot of fun. Just gotta hope people will be as enthusiastic about inviting friends along.

So that finishes at 6pm. Cue the arrival of the evening service music group who immediately co-opt me into the group to play drums. No problems there, it happens most weeks. But I was supposed to be doing the prayers at the 6.30pm and I still hadn’t written them. Weeell, I had made a start but I hadn’t finished, so I have admit that I actually wrote them during the service. Not great, but they came together. I just did bullet points and made them up as I went along. I don’t like writing out prayers as I just find it feels a bit unnatural and false, which is probably why I find “the prayers” part of a lot of services rather uninspiring.

Service finishes at 7.50pm just in time for our 14-18’s group at 8pm. Thankfully our Curate was our guest speaker that night so I could kind of relax. And he did a great session about Jesus’ views on adultery. He didn’t pull any punches but I think he was right not to. I also think it worked in our favour that someone from outside the regular leadership came in to do the “sex” talk. But it was a great session and I’m sure it touched upon some real issues for people.

By the time we were done, we’d run over time and it was 9.45pm.  Got home and of course, we had to watch the X Factor final. So that took us up to about 12:40am. My bed has never looked so good.

Today and yesterday have been taken up with drafting a document which lays out roles and expectations for leaders involved in our youth ministry. Lately I’ve felt that it is important to make it clear to my leaders and potential leaders exactly what youth work involves and actually what a huge commitment it is. Most of the time this isn’t a problem, but there have been one or two incidents where I’ve felt that leaders haven’t really lived up to what I would expect of them in their role, things I would have taken for granted.

www.weloveouryouthworker.org.uk has some good outlines for volunteer agreements which I was able to draw upon. The idea of having an agreement might seem quite formal, but the idea isn’t that it’s a binding contract, rather people know exactly what is expected of them and what they can expect from me in terms of supervision. I hope that by having this clearly laid out, not only will it help people to stay on the ball so to speak but it will also deter some of those who are interested in helping with the youthwork but who realistically can’t give the commitment required.

I’m aware that this could possibly be me shooting myself in the foot, as if anything, I’m desperate for new leaders. Telling people that I expect two nights out of there week (sometimes three), commitment to weekends away, the possibility of doing one2ones, as well as attending church regularly and maintaining their own walk with Jesus amongst other things, seems like a lot to ask. But isn’t that really the kind of commitment we should be looking for in our leadership? I want the right people; people who will be committed and have the time and inclination to really do a deep work in some of these kids, not just see it as a bit of a laugh. My curate has told me at least twice in the last week that he thinks the youth ministry is the most important ministry in the church, as well as being the most time consuming. No pressure then! But that’s why I need the right people. A good, solid team of people who’ll be in it for the long term. It’s just a bit worrying that in a church of over 700 people, I’m struggling to find 1 person to be involved. I’m sure God knows what he’s doing though. If he could perhaps let me in on some of the plan though that would be much appreciated.