Things That Bother Me

The truth is, I'm a pretty laid-back guy and really don't get too worked up over much. But there are a few things recently that have bothered me a little bit. For instance:

SHAVING: the whole process is such a bother which is why I choose to only shave once a week or for an important meeting. Electric razors don't work well and traditional blades are a hassle.

MY COMPUTER SCREEN: I have a brand new lap-top that seems to be pretty nice (I know nothing about computers so maybe it's really a turd), but whenever I am in battery mode, the screen flickers ever so slightly....not enough to be a major problem, just enough to bother me a bit.

850 BILLION DOLLARS: I'm no economist, and I really don't understand how we got into this mess or what the best way to get out of it is, but 850 BILLION Bucks maybe fix it? That bothers me.

FEET: Mine are gross, and I imagine most people feel the same way about theirs. The fact that I have to try to "un-gross" my feet bothers me.

MEETINGS: They usually don't accomplish much but everybody seems to think we need them which is why I have to stop this post short....I'm late for one. Meetings bother me and me being late for meetings bothers other people.


Simply Junior High Podcast

About once a month or so (and by "or so" I mean once a month...once every-other month...once a quarter....whenever I get around to it!) I shoot a short, 10-15 minute, video podcast dealing with various topics related to junior high ministry. If you've never seen one, you can find the archive here. The goal for each podcast is to give a quick little bit of insight and share some of my learnings on any given topic.

Here's where I could use your help: What are some topics you think other JH youth workers are wrestling through? What do the paid "Point People" struggle with? How about their volunteers? What might a part-time youth worker in a mid-size church want some insight into? How about the "point person" who is also a volunteer in a small church?


Random Randomness

Got up early to go riding on Monday and didn't have time to post, and yesterday was a full day and I simply forgot! So, some basic catching up here:

I twittered that last weekend was like the titanic....big, elaborate etc. that somehow hit an iceberg. It really wasn't any one single thing that went wrong, but more like several little ice bergs that slowly sank us!
- We forgot several things for the program and had to scramble to get them in place.
- The crowd was bigger than normal combined with fewer than normal adult leaders.
- The crowd was rowdier than normal.
- We had a 'guest' speaker who was GREAT, but was new to our stage.
- The fire alarm went off in the middle of the lesson causing a ton of confusion (false alarm).
- All in all, one of the tougher weekends....specifically our Saturday night service.

I am super excited about this weekend's Believe event! For the first time, we are taking a group of students to this incredible conference. If you haven't heard of Believe, you really do need to consider taking your students when it comes to your area, which it will because they have something like 14 different tour stops. Believe is a 24-hour event designed specifically for junior highers.

On a selfish note, I may be most excited about Believe because my buddy, Scott Rubin is the speaker (I typically speak at a few Believe events each year and it would make sense for me to speak at the So. Cal event but since I'm bringing my own youth group the good folks at Believe agreed that it would be a drag for me to charge my students to hear me speak when they have to suffer through me for free every weekend!). Scott is the junior high Pastor at Willow Creek and what started out as a professional "iron sharpening iron" relationship has, over the past several years, developed into a great friendship. We even wrote a book together, which apparently nobody has purchased (want to be one of the few and the proud?). Scott is flying in a day early and we're going to do some "California" stuff which won't involve snow, ear muffs, or ice.

For the past three weeks, our small groups have mixed it up a bit. Instead of meeting in homes as usual, we are all combined in The Refinery for a large group teaching time followed by some small group discussion. The purpose was twofold: first, to give our leaders and host homes a little bit of a break and second, to allow us to teach a few deeper topics that we normally don't cover in our small groups.
- Week One: Sex and Dating
- Week Two: Foundations of Faith (Christian doctrine 101, basically)
- Week Three: How to Grow On Your Own
Overall, things have gone fairly well but I REALLY miss being in the host home with my group of guys.


Oh, Obama

Not sure why, but this little video made me giggle like a 3rd grader.


p.s. sorry, but I'm having trouble embedding a video...thus a link.

(S.O. to Rhonda. I don't like the 'hat tip', so I use the shout out)


On Playing Games

The playing of games in youth ministry has a long history, it also has a long history of being debated and questioned. Are they valid? What role do they really play? Should they always be tied into the lesson or bigger learning of some sort? Do they reinforce an already unhealthy atmosphere of competition in our culture? Those are great questions, and certainly worth considering. But for the sake of this post, I'm going to assume most junior high youth groups still engage in some sort of game playing in your ministry. And I'm going to assume that your game playing has resulted in frustration, confusion and chaos more than once. In Controlled Chaos, I wrote a little section on games. Here are some of my thoughts:

Be Energetic
If you’re excited about a game, students will be too. An excited leader can get a group of junior high students excited about virtually any game…even one as cheesy as the Life-Saver/Toothpick relay. It’s how a game’s played that makes it fun, not the game itself.
The bottom line: The energy of the staff will dictate the energy of the students.

Be Organized
Make sure you know how to play the game before you unleash it on your students. Be sure to gather the proper supplies ahead of time. If a student is going to get messy, bring a towel or change of clothes. If the rules of the game call for 50 balloons, make 75. If the game time is part of an on-going team competition be sure to correctly add points etc.
The bottom line: Know what you’re doing before you do it.

Be Clear
Simple, easy to understand games are the most effective. Games that take twenty minutes to explain, and five minutes to play aren’t much fun. When explaining rules of a game there are three good guidelines: Keep them short, keep them simple and keep students quiet until you’re finished.
The bottom line: Confusing games create chaos.

Be Fair
Don’t twist the scores so the 8th graders win. Don’t invent rules halfway through the game. Don’t give the 7th grade girls a few “secret” tips. Junior high students are notorious for yelling “That’s not fair!” When it comes to game time, they’re often right.
The bottom line: Keep it fun by keeping it fair.

Be Sensitive
Don’t use games to purposely embarrass students. Don’t ridicule their performance. Don’t humiliate one student to get a laugh from the others. Don’t force students to participate; they may actually have a good reason for not wanting to.
The bottom line: Use games to build up, not tear down.

Be Smart
Quit while you’re ahead. Always leave them wanting more. End each game on a high note. If a game is going poorly, quit before it turns disastrous! Tip: Don’t play a game that you would be uncomfortable playing in front of parents. If you think maybe you shouldn’t…you shouldn’t!
The bottom line: It’s always better to be safe than sorry!

Be Willing To Mix It Up
Not every student likes every type of game. In addition, not every student is adept at every type of game. Because of this, be sure to mix up the types of games you play. Keep a balance between physical games, mental games, group games, individual games etc. If you limit the variety, you limit the interest and enthusiasm. Also, avoid the temptation to play students’ favorite games too often. Their favorite game can quickly become their least favorite game if you play it every week. In our ministry we try not to play the same game more than three times a year…no matter how popular it is.
The bottom line: Don’t get into a rut; even a good one.


Random Randomness

-Because I spent all day yesterday riding with buddies, I didn't have chance to post a weekend wrap up. In a nutshell: A great weekend! Week 2 of our friendship series. Sitting around tables is going well.

- Inauguration was awesome. While I don't agree with many of Obama's policies (or at least what we think will be his policies), I really, really like the guy.

- I thought Rick Warren's prayer was really powerful. Of course the criticism from far left and far right will continue. But Christian haters and petty Christians will always find a reason to have a beef with Warren.

- I also really liked the prayer at the end. Although the references to various colors of races at the closing was odd, I felt.

- If you haven't seen Slum Dog Millionaire, you need to. It may be the best movie I've seen in years.

- Any local JH pastors going to "Believe" next weekend?


Conferences....Choose Your Flavor!

There are two GREAT conferences just around the corner, and they both have a distinct "flavor". If you are able to attend a conference this year I think either PDYM or Group's National Youth Ministry Conference would be well worth the investment.

National Youth Ministry Conference (February 27 - March 2)
This is a national youth ministry event with an intentionally intimate feel. You get a large crowd, well known speakers and trainers, and tons of super cool 'extras'. But what Group manages to do better than anybody else is make a big conference feel intimate and conversational.

PDYM (March 24-27)
After a short break, the Purpose-driven Youth Ministry Conference is back! What sets PDYM apart is that it is a church-based conference Led entirely by Doug Fields and Saddleback's youth team.Other than Fields, there aren't any "heavy hitters". Over three days, Saddleback's team will give you an up-close look at their youth ministry as well as amazing training on how to implement the 5 purposes into your own ministry setting. Spaces are limited, so if this is the event for you, don't wait to sign up.


99 Thoughts About Guys; 99 Thoughts About Girls

Every now and then when I put my head together with the people over at Simply Junior High, we come up with a decent resource for junior high youth leaders. Recently, we have started created stuff with the students themselves in mind. Really, the desire to write for students started when I partnered with Mark Ostreicher on the Middle School Survival Series a couple years ago. Recently, I wrote the first of what I hope will be many '10-minute moments' devotional book geared toward young teens.

And now the newest, shortest, cheapest, and easiest-to-read books for students yet are hot off the presses. And because I like the simple stuff, I think they are my favorite resources SJH has created in a long time!

"99 Thoughts About Guys...For Girls Eyes Only" gives girls 99 super short, but super insightful tidbits of insight into the world of guys. Katie Edwards, who I have worked with for almost a dozen years, provides some fun female commentary.

"99 Thoughts About Girls...For Guy Eyes Only" gives guys 99 short, but super insightful tidbits of insight into the world of girls. Katie wrote this one, and I provided the male commentary.

What I love about both of these little "books" is that they can be read by a student in about 20 minutes. But in that short time, they will get a whole bunch of really useful insight to help them build stronger friendships with the opposite sex.


Terminal Velocity VS. The Power of Christ

I've noodled on this quite a bit, and feel like there's much more to it than a blog post, but I will toss this out there in a less-than-thought-out form.

On one hand, I believe that every leader has a "terminal velocity" to their leadership capacity and abilities. In other words, we each have a speed, pace of life, maximum capacity, maximum level of influence etc. that we reach and we simply can't go any faster, do more stuff etc. Like a bowling ball falling from the sky, at some point we max out. Your "terminal velocity" may be different than mine, but we all have it....at least I tend to think that's the case.

But, on the other hand, when the power of Christ is moving in us we are capable of far more than our natural skills would ever allow. Think about Peter...certainly in the flesh, his terminal velocity was limited. He was an un-educated fisherman. Then Christ entered his life.

But we all know of Godly leaders who seem to "max out". Don't confuse "max out" with "burn out". I'm talking about Godly men and women who are spiritually and emotionally fresh, with tons of vision and ideas etc. that simply reach a limit to what they can accomplish....their leadership and ministry terminal velocity can't do more.

But, I can do ALL things through Christ, right?


Weekend Wrap Up

This past weekend was one of the best in a really long time. We formally kicked off our "experiment" around tables (we sat around tables last weekend but that was a spontaneous dry run) and, frankly, it couldn't have gone better.

ATTENDANCE: Attendance was really high, I think we are finally out of the Holiday slump that seems to hit our youth ministry each year.

FUN FACTOR: Last week's program was minimal, but this week was one of the fullest, funniest and most fun we've had in a while. We kicked off our 3-week "Friends" series. virtually every aspect of our program tied into the subject matter and sitting around tables allowed for more creative programming as well as some discussion time after the lesson.

LESSON: The lesson seemed better than usual. I kept it short and sweet to allow for about 10 minutes of table discussion that seemed to go fairly well. This week's lesson, The Power Of Friendship, focused on some of the reasons friendships are such a powerful force, for good or bad, in our lives.

MUSIC: Music was great! Entirely led by our junior highers, and we had a couple of new 'recruits' playing for the first time.

VOLUNTEER INVOLVEMENT: Very high. We had a fair number of our mid-week small group leaders commit to leading a table during this three week series. They did a fantastic job of leading their tables, which really does seem like the key to a table format.


Identifying Bottlenecks

I spent a few minutes on the phone with a Youth Pastor this morning and somewhere along the way, the conversation touched on "bottlenecks"...those things that get in the way and slow ministry down. We didn't identify any, just mentioned the concept briefly. Since then I've been thinking about junior high ministry and some of the potential bottlenecks youth groups face. Here are three that have jumped out.

My job as the point person for our junior high ministry is to empower, equip and encourage the paid and volunteer team I lead. When I get too caught up in details and try to micro-manage every aspect of our ministry it only slows things down and ultimately discourages growth. I have also learned that if my direct supervisor is a micro-manager, ministry is slowed down just as much because I don't feel the freedom to empower others and let ministry loose. Really, micro-management anywhere in the "chain of command" serves to slow down all areas of ministry below.

Since the point person's role is to empower, equip and encourage others to lead, what happens if that leader insists on being in charge of, present at, on stage during and getting credit for every piece of ministry? Obviously ministry slows down. As your ministry grows and expands, it's impossible for the point person to be a major force in everything. I believe this is one of the major bottlenecks to healthy ministry. Sure, a charismatic leader can attract a crowd but if that leader doesn't allow others to rise up and take a share of the spotlight, the ministry will be limited.

Obviously we need policies, but how many? If it takes filling out two online forms and a hard-copy that has to be hand delivered to church janitor in order to add an extra row of chairs to your meeting space, you're in trouble. When I look at Saddleback's history of growth, both church-wide and in our youth department, one of the key factors seems to be a shockingly limited amount of formal policy. In fact, historically as we have added policies over the years we have limited growth. Don't neglect good policy making. But don't create bottlenecks by creating them when they aren't needed.

Okay...add your "bottlenecks" to the list!


Random Randomness

- Every now and then I will read the Huffington Post. It's a bit too liberal for my tastes but I find it quite interesting. Recently I stumbled across this article about global warming. I believe in global warming but wonder if it hasn't been radically exaggerated for political and financial gain. I was surprised to see an opinion like this one voiced at the Huffington Post.

- I am just finishing up Malcolm Gladwell's new book, Outliers, and have found it to be my favorite Gladwell work yet. If you like sociological stuff, you will find this riveting, I think.

- I am, for some reason, struggling to write small group discussion questions on the topic of Sex and Dating. I have taught it hundreds of times, but we've never introduced it in our small group setting. I think the tension is creating something on a tough topic that our adult volunteers feel comfortable and confident leading.

- It doesn't happen often, but today I find myself feeling rather melancholy...sad almost.


Weekend Wrap Up

We had a good, but interesting, weekend. We kicked off a month-long experiment of seating students around tables instead of in rows. For years and years, this practice was a habit of our high school ministry and we never had the room to do it in our JH meeting space. Plus, I liked the idea of holding it back so when students entered the high school program it felt new and different...."Wow, we get to sit around tables instead of in rows!". I'm not sure they ever really got that excited about it, but that was my hope. But in our new building, the high school auditorium won't accommodate tables due to the sloped floor and fixed seating, and our JH room is plenty large so we decided to take an old high school strategy and try it in our JH program.

Even though it will be much more work to find the appropriate number of adult table leaders, write some discussion questions around our lessons etc. there really is a TON of potential with the tables. Our program instantly felt smaller, more relational, more 'visitor friendly' and it gave way more ownership to our volunteer leaders. I'm not sure we will make it a permanent fixture in our program, but it does have some promise.

ATTENDANCE: Attendance was a little low...still feels like families are in a holiday hangover of sorts.

FUN FACTOR: The program was super minimal; a game, a fun "Top 10" list and music. We bolstered the program a bit by adding some table interaction. Overall it was a really fun weekend.

LESSON: We didn't have a lesson. Instead, we handed out a short survey to get to know our students better which included questions like favorite movie, favorite radio station, how often they come to church, what they would like to learn about, have they ever invited a friend, etc. We also gave them a little New Year's Self Assessment that they filled out for themselves and put in a self-addressed envelope which we will mail back to them in 6 months so they can be reminded of some of the goals they set etc. Next week we will kick off a 3-week series on friendships.

MUSIC: Once a month our band is led entirely by high schoolers. While the quality is usually higher, I never enjoy it as much as when our junior highers lead.

VOLUNTEER INVOLVEMENT: It was really high this week primarily because sitting around tables forced them to be more proactive with students which was cool.


Looking Back

I've never been good at reflecting, and as a result I think I often fail to cherish, to grow, to learn and to thank God for his ongoing work in my life. '08 was a very, very full year in many ways. A few learnings from this year that stick out:

- If you let them, the nature of youth ministry, the expectations of your church and the expectations you put on yourself will overwhelm you. I feel like all three were in full effect this year and, to be honest, I didn't manage any of them the way I would have liked. For the first time in a 20-plus year career I felt "at the end of my rope" more often than not.

- My wife is amazing. I don't talk about her much, she never travels with me and very few people outside our circle of friends and our junior high group would recognize her if they saw her. When we got married seventeen years ago, she was an 18-year old college freshman who really had no idea what she was getting into. She has already spent almost half of her young life playing a vital role in my ministry, cheering me on, loving the people around her and being an incredible mom.

- I have really good friends. My closest circle of friends is an amazing bunch of about 5 people. I gain so much from their friendship and need to work at making sure I enrich them in equal measure.

- My dad was amazing. To be certain, he wasn't "amazing" by most of the world's criteria. He wasn't a "leader", he wasn't "powerful", he wasn't "successful", He didn't own much (in fact, when he passed away a few weeks ago my brother and I literally inherited a laundry basket full of belongings). BUT he loved Jesus more than most people I've met, he loved others relentlessly, and he was in every way the kind of man the world needs more of....even though they don't realize it.

- People matter most. Friends, family, co-workers, casual acquaintances, the strangers that cross my path etc. Making the most of the encounters God allows one to have may be one of life's greatest opportunities.

- I am passionate about ministry to junior highers. I turn 43 in a couple weeks and I have long ago lost count of how many times I've been asked if I want to pursue another area of ministry. My calling to junior high ministry, and my passion for it, remains as strong as it ever has. If God has something else in store for me, I will do it.....but I sure hope he doesn't!