Dear Senior Pastor, would you please…

Whether you call them senior, lead, brother, apostle, bishop, El Jefe or prophet, the primary leader of your church can embrace or alienate the youth in a few small steps. Clearly the pastor is to care for the entire flock, and we sheep will never know the enormity of that calling. Yet a busy pastor can make consistent small investments in the lives of students that will yield great fruit.   1. Come to a mission trip/retreat send off to pray for us and stay behind to tell our moms that it’s all gonna be ok. 2. Tell stories from your teenage years as you preach. 3.  Stop saying, “a better translation of this is…”  or diving way deep into Hebrew and Greek when you preach. When you do that from the pulpit, you take the Bible out of the hands of the teenager and add to the distrust and confusion of Scripture. 4. Come to 3 youth gatherings a year. Don’t just go and speak, but allow the students to ask you questions. This not only builds trust with students, but the youth ministry staff and volunteers as well. 5. Randomly pop in to a youth gathering. Interrupt the program quickly to bless the youth minister and volunteers in front of the kids. 6. Get on the bus! While going with the youth on a week long mission trip can be tough, I know a pastor who rides on the bus with the kids to camp and then flies back the next day. This builds incredible social capital. 7. Teenagers don’t want to hear just how you did it right. They want to know how you messed up and then they need to hear how you moved forward. That said, I need to address my youth worker friends with two thoughts: 1) We have a great role in playing the “agent” in this necessary endeavor. As we look down the road at our calendars, let us find ways for our pastor to spend time with our young people so that the interaction builds trust and yields fruit. 2) At heart, lead pastors are either theologians, missionaries, evangelists or youth pastors. So we must be aware some pastors will be as nervous coming to youth group as a home-schooled 6th grade girl would. Teenagers intimidate people. We as youth workers can lessen the intimidation. What have you seen pastors do to bridge the gap between them and the students of the church?


Cherry Picking in Youth Ministry

This might be my opinion, but it seems like there are fewer folks prepared to enter youth ministry as a career these days. Yet… there are many open opportunities across the country. It is crazy how many times a week I get an email or phone call from someone who has an open position and wants to know if I have any recommendations.

I am a fairly connected fellow in youth ministry circles and I rarely know someone who is looking. This has frustrated me for years, but I’m not sure exactly why it is happening or why I even have the right to be frustrated.

In comes Cherry Picking…will-tropics

“ a basketball term for a lazy person who just stays at one end of the court waiting for the ball so they can score. They don’t want to do the hard work (defense) required at the other end of the court.”

My friend Joe Ryan at Peachtree Presbyterian in Atlanta invited me to speak at his camp this past week and I deeply enjoyed our late night shop talks while the teenagers were sneaking out of their cabins. They were having a good time and so were we. In one of our conversations he identified what I was struggling with in terms of hiring future youth ministers. Some churches are known for doing the hard work of developing young leaders, but most just want to hire an “already developed” leader.

Confession: While I believe I have helped to develop some leaders over the years, it is much easier if your church puts in the hard work so I can simply hire them. This is the lazy, cherry picking mindset many of us can slip into.

But wait….what if no one is developing young leaders?

 When I use the word “develop”, I do not simply mean that a church provides a good environment and a youth ministry experience for students. I am referring to the intentional work involving mentoring, spiritual formation, practical theology, hands on leading and learning and much more.

Here are 3 quick thoughts on developing leaders:

1. The Everyone or No One Principle: So often we in ministry feel guilty about not spending the same amount of energy on every student, so we fail to invest intentionally in anyone. Not that we are Jesus, but even Christ himself gave most of his time to 3, then the 12 and eventually to the 70. If a student is showing signs of servant leadership and wants to grow in that, then I don’t feel we should be ashamed to take this student and a few others under our wings.

2. Fellows Programs: I have been pleased with the growing trend of Fellows programs, intentional gap years and other intern ministries across the country. My friend Joe is leading the Peachtree Fellows program in Atlanta and we happen to have something called the Greenhouse here in Colorado Springs. These type of programs realize that those in their 20′s need some direct mentoring and some ground level ministry experience both inside and outside the church. These intentional ministries give me great hope for the future of youth ministry and beyond.

3. Throwing People in the Deep End Can End in Drowning: While the longevity of paid youth workers is getting a little better, it is still true that our tenure is way too short. When I first started, the average stay of a non-ordained youth worker in the Presbyterian church was about a year. ONE YEAR PEOPLE!!! While there are many factors to this, one major contributor is the lack of leader development in the church combined with the desperation many churches have to simply fill a hole. Regardless of what 20-year-old candidates tell you, few of them have every managed a budget, recruited a team or cast any kind of vision. When we put untrained youth workers in the deep end, we are being sloppy with their spiritual development and even more so with the spiritual needs of the students they are hoping to serve.

What does it look like to cultivate leaders who are willing to follow Jesus, be students of their culture and serve the church and her neighbors in your context?


Should Jokes Be Told From The Pulpit?

 As I’m preparing to preach this Sunday I am trying to put together a puzzle of scriptures, stories, quotes and anecdotes. I love humor. I love to laugh. I started thinking about the role of humor in preaching and I was reminded of a quote from a favorite book of mine. In Wishful Thinking, Frederick Buechner gives his thoughts on telling jokes in sermons, which caught me by surprise.

“There are 2 dangers in this (telling jokes in sermons).One is that if the joke is a good one, the chances are it will be the only part of the sermon that anybody remembers on Monday morning. The other is that when preachers tell jokes, it is often an unconscious way of telling both their congregations and themselves that the Gospel is all very well but in the last analysis not to be taken too seriously.

I think Beuchner has a valid point. Here is the rub, in most pulpits in our country we have competing values that are fueled by both actual and percieved expectations from congregations. We want both a scriptural message and a delivery that puts us at ease and makes us feel like our pastor is just like us. I admit, I am often one of these people. In my own speaking experience, if I try really hard to connect with a group primarily through humor, I run the risk of neutering the Message.

Is it possible to be both loyal to the scriptures and experience Godly emotions such as laughter and humor through a sermon? I hope so, but maybe not on every scripture. Have you noticed when you are watching a very dark and serious movie that somewhere towards the end of the film people will chuckle at sections that aren’t that funny? Why? We laugh because it is hard for many of us to handle a heavy emotion for two hours. The book/movie, Into the Wild is so painful to watch that I started giggling at the fact that the main charactar died from eating the wrong kind of plant. It really wasn’t appropriate to laugh, but I just couldn’t take the pain anymore! If I’m honest, I feel the same way about Lent leading up to Good Friday, which makes Easter so powerful.

Not saying laughter isn’t from God, but have you experienced humor as a scapegoat to aspects of the Gospel that are hard to hear?

* Frederick Buechner “Wishful Thinking: A Seeker’s ABC
(repost from 2011)


Ordination: What it is and is not.

1907647_10152401864010491_347876597541933046_nSunday I was ordained as one of several pastors at my church. As I reflect over the weekend I am processing all the comments, statements, letters and questions. Here are a few;

1. Do you feel different?
2. What’s it like wearing a dress?
3. ..why the dress?
4. Now you can start your ministry!
5. Stay humble knucklehead.
6. We affirm your call.
7. Now you are a real pastor.
8. This will open doors for you.
9. Always “pastor” your family first.
10. This is Apostolic Succession.

So here are 10 comments and thoughts of my own;

1. Like the turtle on the fencepost, I did not get here alone. This nugget of southern wisdom was passed on to me from my friend Jim Singleton. The faith and witness of the community plays a huge role in ordination.
2. The robe feels like you are wearing drapery.
3. I actually have been doing ministry before this point.Ordination shapes and affects my call, but I believe God has ordained me to do ministry long before this point.
4. You don’t have to go to seminary to minister or have a call from God.
5. Not only do I have “called” by God as a minister but I feel called by God to a certain group of people. I love the church. I love the body of believers, young and old. Messy and glorious.
6. What is Ordination? The act by which the church sets apart leaders to serve in particular offices. The word ordination is derived from order. In ordination the church orders itself for ministry.
I pray that my family is blessed by my ministry and not a victim of it.
I just said “my” ministry, I don’t really believe that. I share ministry with my wife, my church and with you.
This is the most celebrated and affirmed I have ever felt.
Our family friend Dale Bruner has called my ordination and call, Apostolic Succession since my father is a pastor as well. Sounds fancy, yet serious!

What would you add?



The 2 Seasons of Youth Ministry

Youth ministry has two distinct seasons, a 9 month and a 3 month season.

We are entering into the short summer season, which is fast and furious after coming out of 9 months of a more structured approach to serving teenagers. I have finally realized that there is danger in approaching these two seasons in the same way. 

The Pitfalls of Summer Ministry-

The Golden Calf(s) of summer ministry are often the mission trips or summer camps and for a good reason. From a youth minister’s perspective, these trips have been dreamed about, planned for and heavily marketed throughout a good part of the year. They are exciting or at least we really want them to be. Yet, no matter how you fudge your numbers, there will always be more students back at the ranch than there will be on your trip. In general, we spend a disproportionate amount of time with certain students during the summer.  The flashier and more expensive trips get a huge amount of attention, no matter how formative they are. (This realization came to me after doing 5 trips in a summer on top of some family time away).


The Benefits of Summer Ministry-

Summer is a great time to contact the A) busy students, B) those on the fringe and C) the group who will be entering your program the upcoming fall. We often fight throughout the school year to hangout with students and that fight is often gone in the summer. I have found that structuring my contact work and events for the 3 month short season is more crucial than the 9 month season.
1. Make a strategic list of students that you want to be intentional with in the next few weeks. Without a game plan, you will hang out with 10% of the students 90% of the time.

2. I have finally learned that summer events don’t have to be huge productions and the more laid back they are, the more relational fruit you will see.

3. Go to work early in the summer!!! Knock out those emails, lessons and phone calls while your flock is sleeping.  I actually love the fact that youth ministry has two seasons with two different approaches. And for the record, I think camps and mission trips are often key catalysts in our spiritual journey and we need them in the mix. But remember that these summer trips serve as a few clubs in the summer golf bag and not the entire set.