Monday, July 26, 2010

Share a story of your Youth Worker or Youth Pastor

I have some awesome memories of my youth pastor from highschool. There was the time we wired his brakes to his horn. The bed time lullaby (or was it a threatening?) he sang to us because he was so frustrated we wouldn't sleep on a camp out. The way he sat with me as I was devastated over a break up. When he found me unconscious on the floor. When he saw me follow in his footsteps. He was (and still is) a great man that I admire and that really passed on his faith to me as well as my affinity for wearing a goatee. Over the next month I want to hear your input and recollections of your favorite youth worker or youth pastor memories. Thanks for sharing.

BOOK REVIEW: The Importance of Being Foolish by Brennan Manning.

Little did I know that when I started reading Brennan Manning what a controversial figure he was. In merely writing a quote from this book on my twitter I had multiple interrogations on my theology. Yet in the book I don't find the content to be controversial in nature but surprisingly simplistic in its challenges. This is the second Brennan Manning book that I have read and I think that a common theme is the desire to push people back to getting to know Jesus.

It seems maybe, like that is stating the obvious. After all isn't a "Christian" someone that is suppose to be a follower of the man called Jesus Christ? In recent news (can't remember the link) it was reported that people don't have a problem with Jesus per se, but they do have issues with Christians. My own experience as a youth worker would confirm this. The dream that my team works under is that the youth of our community would have the means to live a healthy life: physically, emotionally, intellectually, socially and spiritually. We are motivated by our faith to reach out to kids and help them through life, and part of that is to help them get a hold of spiritual questions that they have - not to try to convert them into Christianity. With this clearly stated young people are much more likely to open up to us about their spiritual beliefs or lack thereof. But I have seen many church workers come in and force spiritual discussions on kids and the young people will shut down.

Manning shares a lot of examples from his own experiences that help illustrate these points, but I think the one that impacted me the most was the story where he talked about the frustrations that we have with other Christians that seem to operate so far from a relationship with Jesus. He and his friends were complaining until one started to weep and said, "they don't understand" (except he said it in Latin). Manning said that phrase moved him from resentment toward compassion. That was quite a convicting message for me.

So overall the book is basic, but compelling. If you are looking to get back on track with God - it may be a good place to start.

Friday, July 23, 2010

HOW TO: have great youth events without planning or money

Many youthworkers spend a lot of their time trying to think of innovative ways to interact with youth. There are countless websites filled with ideas for event and games that take up a lot of a youth pastor or youth worker's time. Also in terms of working with budgets how much of an average youth budget goes toward events or games? Probably a lot.

I want to challenge you to take the next year in your youth work and not spend a dime on either thing. If you wonder how you are going to do that you have come to the right place.

1. Go for Coffee: Get to know the people in your community that are involved with young people. Most cities have a youth programs run out of their parks and rec's department. Not to mention many community groups that work with teens. Call them up - buy them a coffee and find out what they are doing.

2. Volunteer: Once you find out what is going on in the community go and get involved in it. Not only will you meet new youth, but you wont have to plan any of this stuff which is a big headache removal.

3. Invite others: Have the young people from your church or other circles join you at the event and volunteer along side you. Viola - now you have had a great event and have spent no money, gotten better connected in the community, helped your students learn about volunteering and gotten to know more youth as well as helped serve another organization that has a similar heart.

Moral of the story: stop reinventing the wheel.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

HOW TO: Recruit volunteers

How to recruit volunteers.
I remember as a young youth pastor I was starved for help within my ministry at the church.  So much so that I almost saw people as targets.  One time in particular a new couple came to visit the church and my wife and I were ecstatic.  This may of had something to do with the fact the church we were at was devoid of people our age and we also saw a potential fit for our youth group.  We took them out for lunch and I think we came on a little strong because they never came back.  I would like to think I have learned a few things since then.
Now many people have looked at our team here in Langley and asked me how to recruit volunteers.  Currently we have 3 full time paid staff, about a dozen volunteers involved at different levels and several teams of people that help out in other various roles and partnerships such as baking for our events and such.  Over the years I have supervised 7 staff members and dozens upon dozens of volunteers and interns.  Many of these people I still have a vibrant relationship with today if they are involved directly in what we are doing are not.  I don’t feel like I have done anything special in doing this, but I feel extremely blessed.  However here are a list of things I value in working with others and getting them involved.
1.      Listen to the passion of others:  Many times we are very narrowly focused on what we want from people instead of what people are passionate about themselves.  It is a process of trying to jamb square pegs in round holes.  If instead of trying to recruit volunteers and instead just try to befriend people we can help them develop their passions be it with our group or not.

2.      Know your own passion and focus:  This isn’t something that you should make up, but rather something that you should live and breath.  When you talk with people don’t try and recruit them to anything but rather, simply, just share what you are called to – they may just ask to join you.

3.      Network with others:  Get to know your competition.  Who else in your area of work is vying for help?  Get to know them and what they are looking for so that when you meet someone that fits you can pass them on to others.  You may just find they end up doing the same thing for you.

4.      Be willing to give people a shot:  When looking for people to assist us we often look for people that are similar to us because we think we have the corner market on being the “professional” but I have worked with people vastly different than myself and I am thankful for it.  For instance would you allow a volunteer youth worker that smokes?  If their heart is in the right place many vices can be overlooked.

5.      Be a place of practicum:  Taking in interns has been amazing in having other people around.  They needs practice for their schooling and you need volunteers.  It is a great match.  The problem is many times interns are not trusted with real work, but merely with tasks that we don’t want to do ourselves.  Give them a chance to mess around with the real meat of what you do and help them with the consequence.  Even if they fail.

6.      Be a leader, not a dictator:  I think leadership has more to do facilitating others in their passions than it is about getting people to follow us in ours.  I see my volunteers as my peers, not as “just” a volunteer.  I would trust them to operate things on their own outside of my direct supervision.  Good training and support goes a long way in helping people build their confidence.

7.      Encourage people:  look for opportunities to acknowledge that people are putting in the extra mile in being a part of your team.  Especially if someone is volunteering on top of full time work.  For you it is ALL you do for them it is all EXTRA.  When we get past them trying to meet our expectations and instead encouraging them that no matter how small a part they place they are exceeding our expectations help create longevity.

8.      Be flexible: people come and people go – encourage them in their lives not just in their roles within your work for them.  Help them develop themselves and that may even mean pushing them away from what you do. 

9.      Allow yourself to be challenged:  Give your team the right to speak into your own life in the same way that you speak into theirs.  The partnership and ownership that is provided in allowing other people a voice is valuable.  Plus you end up with friends, not “just volunteers”.

10.  Pray.  Most importantly if you want or need people to be alongside of you pray about it.  God is a God of community and he will grant that desire of your heart.  Don’t give up.

Well those are my ideas.  Did I miss anything?  What would you add?

Monday, July 19, 2010

What is the big deal about baptism?

This past weekend I had the honor to baptize some of the kids that I work with.  Despite how I fight my hardest to break myself away from religious observance, baptism holds a special place in my heart. Why?

This is such an interesting world we live in with so many diverse ways of understanding how things work.  So many of us are overwhelmed by the choices that we live in apathy.  A good friend of mine Phil Caan once shared a statistic with me that on average people spend more time in their lives picking their nose than they do thinking about what they believe. I once ran into a bumper sticker that can of outlines the overwhelming complexity of what people feel when it comes to spirituality:
Baptism to me represents a public declaration that a person is willing to publicly stand up for something.  Not only that but they are allowing other people the right to hold them accountable to that choice.  Baptism doesn't mark completion or perfection, but rather a simple understanding that we need a reboot, a fresh start.  It is a symbol of drowning out all the stuff that doesn't work and starting over with God.

For this particular young person I remember when she first texted me saying that she thought she believed in God. I brought it up when I had lunch with her that day with two of her friends.  When I said, "so you believe in God now.  What changed?"  Her friends snapped their heads around so fast I though they might snap off.  She clammed up and didn't want to respond.  I could tell I'd crossed a line that I shouldn't of.  One girl I had only met that day.  I asked her if she believed in God and she said, "not really, no".  Then I knew I had to rescue the conversation so I said, "maybe we got off on the wrong foot, "Do you fold or wad your toilet paper?" That got a laugh and we carried on.  I can't convey how proud I was to stand with my young friend and listen to her boldly and confidently proclaim her faith and love in Jesus.  She was baptized with a crowd of her friends looking on.  Many of whom had never set foot in a church before.  Whether or not any of those young people follow in her footsteps is not for me to decide, and if they choose to believe something else then at least they have made a choice and were not just content to have their finger stuck up their nose.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

UPDATE: A year in pictures from my cell phone

If a picture is worth 1000 words then I hope that these
16 pictures are worth 16,000 words. The truth is there is so
much I would like to tell you but I could never fit it all in a letter like this.

A. A teen tells a crowded room about her dream to change the world. She is going to Africa this summer to make her dream a reality.
B. We took a team of young people to the downtown city streets to inspire them to look out and care for others.
C. This shot is of a prayer time with my staff. We try to visualize out prayers by offering up kids names (on paper) to the alter (the coffee cup).
D. A few of our young people took it upon themselves to organize a coffee shop fundraiser to aid victims of human trafficking in Honduras.
E. We had a prayer night in our home where youth could interact with God—some for the first time. The lighting of candles was a way of offering their requests before God
F. Sitting and doing crossword puzzles with youth has become a staple in our work. As we look for answers to solve the puzzle together conversation about answers in life usually starts to form
G. I represented the USA in our Olympics night—at the end of the night we presented awards to each of the teens for what we saw them victorious in this past year.
H. Here are the shoes of one of our youth. Think what it would be like to walk a mile in those
I. We take regular time out to center ourselves on our true motivations. We are motivated by our faith to love others—not to save them or convert them.
J. One of our young guys is a DJ and he hosted an event to raise awareness of world issues. A fun but loud way to change the world.
K. We make sure to have FUN in our home with the 20 or so kids that come out to dinners and events in our home each week.
L. Here I am holding my daughter one night as she was in pain teething. I prayed more fathers would take time to care and pray for their daughters as many that I work with seem so lost.
M. This is my friend Mike. He is a young guy that is committed to helping us do our work well in Langley. Awesome since he used to be one of the teens we served.
N. We had a super hero dress up night and of my staff Shauna dressed up as another one of my staff Derian. My staff are my heroes. I can’t imagine doing this work without them.
O. This is the key to our new house. Our house is our meeting space with the youth. We feel so blessed to have this place
P. This young lady wrote love on her arms in something like 80 languages. This is part of a movement to help young people get help in the midst of depression, self-injury, and suicide. She also wrote love on my arm.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Meet the creepy Jesus that lives across the street

A young friend of mine sent me a text late on a Friday night. In it she asked me a question about how God could be good while all her friends are going through so much bad.

I was more curious as to why the question was being asked then the question itself. This young lady has never opened up a foot to faith before and I wondered what pushed her to this point.

She and I talked in person for a bit one night after dinner at my place while everyone else was playing video games. after hearing her explanations of things. I asked if she actually believed in God now but she wasn't sure. I asked if I could try to summarize things for her and asked her to correct anything that didn't describe her thoughts accurately.

I painted a picture of the house accross the street as God's house. Something about that house gave her the creeps and so she generally tried to ignore it and to go on her way. From time to time though she would inadvertently gaze toward the house only to see someone peering through the blinds at her. Now on this Friday night she had noticed God step out on his front porch and while she was still scared she noticed he wasn't as creepy as she thought.

She has watched as her friends have gone over and talked to this guy they call Jesus and she has noticed a change in them. So after a long debate in her mind she went over and said hello and when she went to leave again she found he had followed her home.

As I finished up this conversation i was greeted in laughter at the absurd description and a nodding of the head with the words "exactly".

How would you describe meeting Jesus in a picture?
Danny Ferguson
Langley Area Director
Greater Vancouver YFC / Youth Unlimited

I love being married to April