Thursday, October 13, 2011

I was told, "Those kids are not worth your time." I responed, "thbbbbbb"

If you have ever seen the movie, “Chariots of Fire” then you will remember the powerful line made by the Olympic Runner Eric Liddell struggling with his decision to take part in a competition being held on a Sunday, which was taboo in the Christian circles of his day.  The quote goes like this:

I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.

As a youth worker I have seen the ugly side of what life is like for young people.  I have met with kids that have been a part of murders, violence, gang activity, drug deals, rape, sexual exploitation and substance abuse to name a few.

More than once I’ve asked myself.  What am I going to do about this?  Of course I never really know the answer to that question.  Of course I contact the police, counselors, social workers and the like to barrage these teens with “help.” But I am still left wondering… what am I going to do about this?

I decided to start a student leadership team for kids like this.  I figured they needed some empowerment in their lives.  As I discussed this idea with other youth workers, teachers, and social workers it was constantly shot down.  The primary advice was that it would be a waste of my time.  I remember being told, you need to start a leadership team made up of kids that are already leaders.

I am the type of person that doesn’t really care being told by others how I should spend my time.  I also felt like this was a bit of a challenge.  I wondered why kids that were already high achievers needed people to tell them that they could be high achievers.  Talk about a waste of time.

I started the team and it has been messy.  My “leaders” often caused me more problems than the demographic we were reaching out to.  It wasn’t uncommon for them to disappear from the ministry site and come back high and it wasn’t surprising that they had problems with the police.

I just kept thinking of the leadership team Jesus created and I realized that most youth workers, teachers or social workers, would chose the team Jesus did.  I admire that he saw more of what they could be than what they were at the time.  With that inspiration, I keep working with kids that are “not worth my time”.  We address problem, but more often address inspiration as I try to help them feel God’s pleasure in something they do.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

5 Ways To Go From Good Youth Worker To Great Youth Worker

I realized a long time ago that I do not have all the answers to being a great youth worker.  There are so many other people that have traveled the path that are much better than I am.  I am thankful for meeting people like Shae Pepper who has some suggestions for youth workers on what could move them from being good - to being great at what they do.  Enjoy:

I have met some good youth workers in my time. However, I have only met a handful of great youth workers. One in particular popped into my mind when I was asked to write this post. He exemplified all of these areas and now runs an entire youth department of effective, evidence-based youth programs. I am grateful for the time I had to learn from him as he modeled youth work greatness each day.

1. Clear Core Values- Have a clear understanding of your core values. To be a great youth worker it takes more than just being passionate about young people. You need to know what you believe and why you are there.

2. Strategic Thinker- Have a solid vision for what you want to achieve with the young people you are working with. You need to identify the goals for your face-to-face work and in your own professional development.

3. Organized- Develop the ability to plan, book venues and trips and keep track of risk assessments, receipts and permission slips all at the same time. At the very least, you need to be self-aware enough to know that you need someone in your program that can do this for you.

4. Effective Leader- Be able to lead in a way that helps everyone (even your volunteers) on the team feel empowered, creates a sense of ownership for the program and allows for constructive professional development.

5. Teachable- One of the greatest skills is a humble, teachable attitude. Admitting when you've learned something new from your youth, volunteers or other team members empowers them and endears you to them.

Do you agree? What differentiates between a good youth worker and a great one?

 Shae Pepper has been a Professional Youth Worker for six years and a Volunteer Youth Worker for seven years. She has a Master’s in Youth Work and Community Development from DeMontfort University in Leicester, England. Shae has provided training for youth workers in England, the USA and Rwanda. She has worked with young people aged 8-21in England, Rwanda, the USA and Thailand. She recently started Youth Workin’ It, a consultancy service designed to equip and support youth workers and youth organizations around the world. This supports her personal and professional goals to provide better services and programs for young people worldwide.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Book Review: Soul Survivor: How My Faith Survived The Church by Philip Yancey

The title of Philip Yancey’s book caught my eye. 

Soul Survivor: How My Faith Survived The Church

There are lots of things that frustrate me about the intuition of church. 

The politics.

The religiosity.

The people.

What I was looking for were some answers to how to deal with these issues, what the book was about the people that shaped Yancey’s faith and theology.  This was greatly encouraging as I began to realize that God has used a small collection of people to help shape my theology and faith in the mist of my frustration. 

These are the relationships I wouldn’t have had – if it wasn’t for church.

Yancey’s list is interesting and to some controversial.  Some of the people he met and interacted with, some he only read about and some were not even “Christian”.  Some were well know political figures, some people were not well known at all. Who were they?  Here is his list:

Martin Luther King Jr.

G.K. Chesterton

Dr. Paul Brand

Dr. Robert Coles

Leo Tolstoy

Feodor Dostoevsky

Mahatma Gandhi

Dr. C. Everett Koop

John Donne

Annie Dillard

Frederick Buechner

Shusaku Endo

Henri Nowen

Each person on his list helped him to form his thoughts, philosophy and life actions in different areas of thoughts blended into a beautiful strength of ideas to help propel him toward a deeper relationship with Christ.  His soul survived church because he surround himself with people that modeled a Christ like behavior that he wanted to imitate.

The book is a challenging read and leaves you wondering who you would write about in a similar book about your own life shaping relationships. 

Monday, September 19, 2011

Success in youth ministry…is waiting on God

Attribution Some rights reserved by U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service - Northeast Region

In July, I introduced you to Rachel Blom who runs the website:

She wrote this article that I think many youth ministry veterans can relate to, and need a reminder of: Waiting is hard.  I hope you enjoy this post:

We had just started out in youth ministry in a church and we didn’t know any of our students. So we spent a lot of time getting to know them. Sunday after Sunday we would eat together, hang out, have small group sessions or go to youth group together.

Besides having fun we were having some good discussions and we could share a lot of our experiences and beliefs. We tried to come up with creative means to teach, using songs, paintings, games, videos, independent study and group assignments. We did everything we could. We did a three session study on the basics of the Christian beliefs (called the “Fifteen steps of Christian Faith”),

But while it was clear these students were having a good time with us and loved hanging out together, we didn’t see much ‘result’ or ‘fruit’. Nothing seemed to change in their beliefs, in their behavior. I had worked hard and it somewhat frustrated me that I wasn’t as effective as I had hoped I would be.

Were we missing something?

Were we doing something wrong?

Were we having any impact?

I started praying more.

After a year and a half of investing in these students, we couldn’t really come up with something good to teach on, so we just sat down with them and asked them what their ‘spiritual new year’s resolution’ was.

I wasn’t expecting that five of them to say that they had made the decision for Christ and wanted to get baptized. I was completely stunned, and then overwhelmed with joy when two of them mentioned the Fifteen steps study in particular and said that that had convinced them they wanted get serious about their faith.

I learned something that day.

I learned that being successful in youth ministry is sometimes about waiting, and waiting and more waiting… on God to do the work.

All that time that we weren’t seeing results, God was at work in their hearts.  We just couldn’t see it.

I have to confess, I’m still not good at waiting.

I’m a doer, impatient as ever to see immediate results, but I’ve tried to remembered that lesson and be more content with trusting the timing of the Lord

Rachel Blom is a youth ministry veteran from The Netherlands, currently residing in Germany with her husband of sixteen years and their wonderful three years old son. She spends most of her time on her daily youth ministry blog, aimed at training youth leaders world wide to better serve in youth ministry. You can also find her on Twitter via @youthleadersac

Monday, September 12, 2011

Can you encourage teens when you feel like scolding them?

I had a young person sitting across the table from me.

They had just confessed a whopper of a tale to me.

I believed in them and they had failed.  The silence between us was deafening as they waited for my response.  In reality this was as much a test for me as it was for them.  I wanted to be truthful and loving at the same time.

To say, “it’s no big deal.” would be a lie. 

To say, “how could you?” wouldn’t help.

I waited, letting my own emotions subside.

I prayed, asking for God to take control of my mouth.

As I prayed, I was able to think more clearly. 

I knew that what had been done could not be undone.  There was no point in scolding them. 

I knew that this was weighing on their heart or they wouldn’t care what I thought.  There was no point in objecting.

I knew that if I were in their place, I would want my confession to be met with care.

I asked a few clarifying questions to buy time for my true answer.  I knew that this was an opportunity to mentor them through a learning opportunity and I didn’t want to blow it.

Then with one last prayer, I spoke.

What I said was for their ears.  I can’t share it here.  What I can say is this.  I have been honored time and time again for laying aside my emotion, speaking the truth with confidence and offering care in the midst of great turmoil.

Kids mess up.  They need someone that will care about them from prisons to mansions and someone that in the midst of that to tell them how it is.

As a youth worker, be a coach – not a judge.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

How Not To Run Your Youth Ministry.

My first cell phone was cutting edge. I carried a phone in my backpack before most people even had answering machines. It was an amazing innovation. Now it is a laughable piece of technological history. If you don’t know what I’m talking about do a google search of Motorola 8000X and you will be laughing with me. You would also laugh at some of old school methods of doing youth work. For example, there were those attaching a spark plug to a metal chair so you could shock an unknowing newcomer to the youth group. “Welcome to Church!”

Besides the obvious health issues and risk of legal liabilities that we see, we also see that such a method would not encourage an emotionally safe environment for those looking to start a relationship with God. At the time however, such an activity was seen to create a fun environment that appealed to young people as opposed to the lecture style of most churches. And… it worked. (But please, please, please, do not repeat it.)

Through my innovative methods of youth work over the past 15 years I can safely say I’ve learned more about how not to run a youth ministry than how to create an effective one. It reminds me of walking through the home of Thomas Edison and seeing the pile of failed attempts of creating a lightbulb and reading his famous words, “I have not failed 10,000 times, but have learned 10,000 ways in how not to make a lightbulb.” Yet as I look above my head at the light fixture I realize his pursuit of innovation has impacted the entire world.

As youth work professionals we too need to be innovators. But standing on the cutting edge will give you scars on your feet. You may face criticism, discouragement and humiliation, but if you haven’t failed, maybe you haven’t really tried. Maybe your next attempt will be the one the ends up changing the world. Why give up now.

I’ve gotta run, my brick is ringing.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Youth Culture Update: Wishes Vs. Hope

Every once in a while I find a song that really captures the youth culture that I am exposed to on a daily basis.  Music, more than textbooks, is an indicator of the way that teens think and feel.  It is the chorus of this song by B.O.B. that really ring out to me:

Can we pretend that airplanes
In the night sky
Are like shooting stars
I could really use a wish right now (wish right now, wish right now)

Here are a few of the situations that I’ve watched kids face:

A teen whose mom refuses to acknowledge she has a daughter.  A dad that has ignored her, and friiends that have turned on her. 

She could really use a wish right now

A teen who has never met his dad and for Christmas – his mom died

He could really use a wish right now

A teen that has spent more time in the hospital than in their home.

They could really use a wish right now

A teen that walks the streets trapped in the grasp of drugs and prostitution

She could really use a wish right now.

Of course, as the song portrays, shooting stars are rare.  Too rare for the amount of wishes needed to change the world.  I have sat with these young people and listened to their stories.  The snippets that I have portrayed don’t even do the stories justice. 

When you sit next to a real live teen telling you these things – the only appropriate response you can have is to cry.

Of course even a shooting start wouldn’t be able to make things right.  But as long as they are staring up into the night sky they still have hope that something can change.  It is those that don’t even notice the stars any more that I worry about.  And around this part of the world, a clear night in which you can even see the stars in rare.  Then what?

To each of the above kids I have shared what I know about the God who created us and walks alongside us.  Each of them has responded with hope, but when life continued to throw unimaginable things at them.  Each of them has rejected whatever hope they did have in him.  I think they have more hope in the airplanes than in him.

Yet, I can’t give up hope.

I can’t abandon them.

I can’t leave them staring up into the sky.

They have told me they want no part of God, but that they are ok with me. 

I can only hope that in time, they see God shining through me and that they realize that even if they have lost hope in him, he hasn’t lost hope in them.  Thanks for reading, praying, wishing and hoping with me.

Meet David Roberts, A ProYouthWorker from Seattle

 The online world of social networking is an amazing place to meet other people in the youth work field.  In any given day you can seek help for resources, event ideas, connections for venues and speakers and the list goes on and on.  However the greatest part of this, if you allow it to be, is to connect with the person behind the profile picture.  I know that we are all busy and can only connect 140 characters at a time, but try to slow down and get to know someone new today.  For that reason, I'd like to introduce David Roberts who has been a proyouthworker for 18 years.  It is good to learn from those who are truly youth ministry veterans.  You can get to know him better by following him on twitter.

What is your name?
David Roberts

What trait are you known for?
I am passionate, funny; creative…this is beginning to sound like a dating profile.  I am also a photographer and a communicator.

Current Youth Work Role:
Director of Student & Family Ministries at John Knox Presbyterian Church in Seattle, WA

Number of years in the field:
I have been in vocational youth ministry for 18 years, and have been serving at my current church for the past 9 years. 

What made you choose to pursue youth work as a career?
Let’s be clear about one thing here…I never wanted to be a youth pastor.  It was definitely a call of God on my life during my sophomore year in college.  I was at the point in my faith where my only two options were: walk away or total surrender.  I chose to surrender to Christ and almost immediately sensed the call of ministry. 

What does a typical week look like for you?
I’m not sure ministry has a “typical” week, but almost all weeks include: staff meetings (necessary evil), study and preparation time, online content creation time, meeting with students and leaders, prayer, planning, times of collaboration and some eating thrown in there.

If you wrote a book based on your experience in youth work what would it be called?
“You can’t make this stuff up” subtitled with “what I have learned about the relentless love of God from almost 2 decades of youth ministry.”

Favorite memory with a teen(s)
During a mission trip to Belize we were debriefing on a small island in the Caribbean Sea.  During the evening we were having worship and sharing on the roof of the hotel overlooking the sea.  There were thunderheads forming in the distance and lightening was going off, and on the other side the sun was setting into the sea in the most gorgeous hues of red and pink.  Our group had just experienced one of the most powerful weeks of ministry and mission, and there we were sharing and praising God in worship on the roof of this hotel.  It was a holy moment and one that I will not soon forget.

Worst nightmare (what has happened, or what you fear has happened)
Worst nightmare happened almost 16 years ago, before cell phones.  I had almost 200 junior high students on an event call the All Night Blitz.  It was an event I helped organize and run for almost 2500 junior students in the Twin Cities (Minneapolis and St. Paul.)  The first step of the All Night Blitz was a rally at a church downtown.  After the rally, we were supposed to go to Camp Snoopy at the Mall of America.  We made a count on each of our 4 busses, and came up one kid short.  After figuring out who that student was, we began searching all over for him.  We searched and searched for him…I began to fear that maybe he was snatched by someone as we were all coming out of the rally.  I had to call his parents and tell them that we couldn’t find their son.  They immediately came to where we were and continued to search.  His mom reluctantly ended up going over to the Mall of America to see if somehow he ended up there.  She was insistent that her son would know better than to get on another groups bus.  It turns out after almost 2 hours of near panic he was found riding rides at Camp Snoopy. Apparently he decided to get on the bus with another church who didn’t believe in counting their students.  His reason for doing so was that one of his friends was in that group.

What are you most passionate about in youth work?
Seeing students come to know Christ and grow into disciples.  I am also completely passionate about missions and getting students involved in them.

What is the best idea you have ever come up with for youth?
One of the most fun things we did was create an amazing game for junior high students involving hidden glow sticks, nerf guns, darkness and a creepy church building that was like a castle.  We called the game espionage and it became a cult classic.

I am also proud that at every church I have ever served, I started junior high mission trips, which are still continuing to this day.

What is the best idea that turned into the worst event?
Why live in the past?  Let’s just move forward…I think it is best for everyone really.

What is one thing that would make your job easier?
Besides an unlimited budget?  I would say a team of interns and directors.

What is one thing you wish you didn’t have to do?
Besides staff meetings?  I would say expense reports and fundraising

Friday, July 22, 2011

Book Review: Reclaiming Our Prodigal Sons and Daughters: A Practical Approach For Connecting With Youth In Conflict

Reclaiming Our Prodigal Sons and Daughters:
A Practical Approach for Connecting With Youth In Conflict

By Scott Larson – Larry Brendtro

My entrance into the field of youth work started 15 years ago as I volunteered my time to lead a group of middle school kids at my local church.  I quickly realized that needed help in my approach to be effective.  Now years later as a paid “professional” youth worker I still search for ways to be better at doing my job by connecting and understanding young people.

When I picked up this book entitled: Reclaiming our Prodigal Sons and Daughters: A Practical Approach for Connecting With Youth in Conflict, I must admit I did not have high expectations.  Most books of this type are either overly scientific and dry, or have an agenda that is misaligned from the practical aspects of working with young people in a secular environment on a daily basis.

I couldn’t have been more inaccurate.  This book provided me with encouragement on things I didn’t know what I was doing right and some insights on some more useful approaches.

The book begins with a history of youth work.  This may not seem all that exciting, but the better understand how our jobs came to be in existence and the lessons that were learned in the past.  The better we understand the past – the more effective we can be in the future.

The core of this book is spent on unique challenges in working with teens that come from difficult backgrounds.  There is a strange tension within the Christian community that recognizes the problems but has historically had difficulty in connecting with this demographic.  The authors, Scott Larson and Larry Brendtro, cite this example:

When we tried to place a youth from a foster home in a volunteer position at a Bible camp, the director rejected the application, saying, “if he’s an at-risk child, I don’t want him around here!” Although churches understand that delinquency is a spiritual and moral crisis, faith communities generally have not been on the front lines reaching out to prevent delinquency or to reclaim troubled children. (24)

This revelation is quite troubling and motivating all at the same time.  Even if faith communities are not widely understood or valued in the communities like they used to be, there are still a great many ways that churches and other religious groups can make a positive impact upon “at-risk” teens, besides the obvious spiritual components.  The primary way is just providing a place of belonging and acceptance which is very much a gaping void in the life of many teens.  This lack of care in their life stems into deeper issues into their future.  This book points out that,

Children deprived of caring become children who do not care.  The most damaging effect of attachment problems is the failure of the conscience to develop properly. (25)

Conscience is developed through mentoring and care on an individualistic basis; or in other words, through parenting.  Most churches understand that youth work is connected with family work and not merely isolated on just the troubled children and teens.  There is also a hope for change among most faith groups that goes beyond reason.  That can be a great place to start.

Larson and Brendtro continue to talk about the power of positive adult relationships and the rebuilding of the family.  However the culture in which we live is much more fragmented than it was historically which is having some adverse effects upon the youth in our communities.  As they point out,

Contemporary society is faced with scores of underparented kids.  Most neighbors no longer become involved, contending that these youth are someone else’s problem or a job for professionals.  Many educators and youth workers try to keep a “professional” distance” but an unbounded child will never be reclaimed by an uninvolved adult. (99)

Frustrations such as what the un-named camp director arise when things get messier than we were anticipating.  We often think that when we present helpful and hopeful things that change should naturally happen.  When it doesn’t happen then we quickly move toward establishing rules and the teen leaves.  We call it rebellion.  They call us hypocrites.  When the next kid roles around we apply the same rule to them as a starting point, and while we have excellent intentions, generally this approach is not perceived as care, but as something else.  I like how the authors put it when they say,

Rules minus relationship equals rebellion (60)

This is really where I felt affirmed as a youth worker.  We make it our business to build relationships with young people.  In my own experience there are a ton of kids that simply fall between the cracks of society and go unnoticed until they do something so bad that the only solution is punishment from the very society that has so long ignored them.  We may have lots of complex reasons as to why kids turn out this way, but it may be more simplistic than many of us realize,

Albert E. Trieschman (1931-1984) was on of the first to recognize that the core problem of many troubled children is profound sadness.  Some children have suffered so many losses that they are “cried out” unwilling or unable to handle any more sadness.  Some losses may be obvious, such as the death of a friend or family member.  Many are small losses that accumulate and overwhelm the a child.  These children desperately need adults who can help them develop the courage to master loss and sadness in the circumstances of their daily lives. (67)

This is the kicker of it for me.  “These children desperately need adults who can help them develop the courage to master loss and sadness in the circumstances of their DAILY lives”.  This is difficult for many church based workers as they are often stuck in their offices preparing for a weekly youth meeting, while they could be on the street and volunteering in the schools nurturing relationship on a day to day basis.  If kids have to wait a week for a chance to interact with you, they will find someone else.  Illogical as it may seem often youth will associate a lack of presence with rejection,

In most cases where youth are ignored or rejected by caregivers, they find substitute relationships of belonging, perhaps with a relative, teacher, neighbor, or with siblings or peers.  But if no substitute attachments are found, the child may rage or become increasingly empty and devoid of affection (27)

It seems like a small thing but just showing up at the corner store after school every day and buying slushies’ can make a huge difference for a youth worker to establish trusting relationships with troubled teens.  At first it is just about the free food, but in time it is about consistency.

I also tremendously respected the authors of this book for making bold statements aobut the spiritual needs of modern teenagers.  It is often a social faux pas to bring up the topic of spirituality in secular environments.  And yet they say this,

Modern youth are suffering from a deep spiritual hunger.  Yet most schools are so narrowly preoccupied with academic achievement and superficial behavior that they fail to meet the most basic emotional and spiritual needs of their children.  Likewise, many courts are no longer committed to meeting the needs of our most difficult children.  Even professional counselors may not know how to speak to the hearts of the youth they serve. (173)

This is a longer post than I am accustomed to writing, and there is still so much I could write about.  The benefits of this book to anyone that presently is, or is hoping to work with at risk kids is indefinable.  Get it.  Read it.

Pick up your copy of this amazing resource by clicking on the following:

Reclaiming Our Prodigal Sons and Daughters: A Practical Approach for Connecting with Youth in ConflictChildren's Runaways Books)

Thursday, July 21, 2011

How Youth Work Is Like The Surrender Of Japan In 1945

AttributionShare Alike Photo contributed by Marion Doss
It was of unbelievable tension and excitement as the assembled dignitaries stared at each other in a surreal disbelief of the events unfolding.  However the ceremony concluded with the signing of the Instruments of Surrender, there was officially peace between the nations of the United States and the Empire of Japan.

However, it took years to for this fact to become reality.

Japanese soldiers that had deployed to fight in the pacific islands were cut off from communications refused to give up the fight.  Many never knew that peace was a reality, others refused to believe the propaganda.

Victory had been declared.

Yet victory had not yet happened.

It makes me wonder… What is victory?

The definition of this word can seem far from the manifestation of it when comes to war and also to work with young people.

Recently I was told on two separate occasions about a hope for more stories of inspiration or victory in the stories I communicate about youth work. 

We want to know that what we are investing in is worth it.  We want to know that our beliefs are not merely pipe dreams.  I have days when I wish for the same thing.  I wish I saw more people fall head over heels in love with God.  I wish that these kids I work with would realize that their choices are leading them toward a life of needless suffering and pain.  I wish they could find peace.  Occasionally this does happen, but it is so rare that I have ceased looking for it lest I become disappointed in God.

Instead of looking for things that I wish God would do, I look for things that he is already doing.  These may seem trite, but these are some of the things that inspire me.

The moment the a kid uses the word Jesus to refer to the person and not an expletive.

The moment the teen decides to keep the baby and not abort it.

The moment the teen moves from defining themselves as an atheist and instead define themselves as apathetic.

The moment the kid says they know they should change, but are not ready to do it just yet.

The moment the young person that says they never want to talk to me again calls me to apologize

The moment I read the text message that states: You know, you are like Yoda in my life.

 In my work I maintain that I have not been called to be successful in the traditional sense of the word. 

I am not trying to make converts. 

I am not trying to achieve victory. 

I am not trying to save anyone. 

I am merely trying to be faithful to the people God has sent me to.  Occasionally I look for opportunities to listen to the life story of an older person.  Someone that has lived a hard life and has found God in the midst of a mid-life crises.  I listen to them tell how they encountered a sliver of truth when they were young but didn’t actually change until they were much older.  My job is to plant seeds – not to harvest the crop.  Some seeds grow.  Some don’t.  But that is something I can’t control nor should I try. 

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Meet Rachel Blom, A ProYouthWorker from Germany

All to often youth workers feel very isolated as they do much of their work independently.   It is for that reason that I pursue getting to know youth work professionals all around the world.  Today I am honored to introduce Rachel Blom. 
What is your name?
I’m Rachel Blom, Dutch of origin but now living in southern Germany. I often joke I’m American at heart, but for now, I’m very content living in the beautiful part of Germany with my husband of almost sixteen years and our three year old son.

What trait are you known for?
Being addicted to yellow M&M’s and Coca-Cola ;) Other than that, a very sunny disposition, my fabulous memory for names and my preaching I guess.

Current Youth Work Role:
In my last church I was on staff as youth ministry coordinator. At the moment, I’m not involved in youth ministry in a church. I am however filling my days with my blog called Youth Leaders Academy, which is aimed at training youth leaders worldwide to serve better in youth ministry. I’ve discovered I love writing and so using my experiences and knowledge to help other youth leaders. But I’m hoping and praying God will have an ‘active’ youth ministry job for me in the near future.

Number of years in the field:
About twelve years, of which two on staff and ten as volunteer, doing everything from small group leader and communications team leader to actually leading the whole ministry.

What made you choose to pursue youth work as a career?
I started out as a volunteer in teen and student ministry and discovered I had a passion for youth. When the former student pastor left in our last church, my husband and I took over basically because there was no one else and that’s when I realized that was what I wanted to do. After two years I was offered a paid position and I took it. I simply love young people, I love being around them and most of all I love showing them how great and awesome our God is.

What does a typical week look like for you?
It involves a lot of sitting behind my MacBook to write blog posts, catch up with people on Twitter, Facebook and stuff and to research ways to improve my blog. I look after our son when he’s not at Kindergarten. Then there’s a huge garden to be maintained and a lot of household chores…All in all, I’m happy to have sort of a sabbatical after a couple of very busy years in youth ministry. I do miss the day-to-day contact with young people though, even though I’m still in touch with a lot of my former students via social media.

If you wrote a book based on your experience in youth work what would it be called?

With a big wink to the famous singer Edith Piaf I’d say ‘non, je ne regrette rien’, or ‘I don’t regret anything’.  If I look back at how I started out and what I’ve seen and learned and experienced, I’m just so grateful that God gave me a chance to do this. It’s surely been a ride, including some bumpy parts, but I loved every minute of it…even the difficult moments have shaped me as a person and I’m thankful for them.

Favorite memory with a teen(s)

The moment when completely unexpected five students in our small group announced they wanted to get baptized. Well maybe the actual baptism service was even better. I cried buckets! To hear their testimonies and realize that our small group had made a difference in their lives, that was so awesome, I’ll never forget that.

Worst nightmare (what has happened, or what you fear has happened)

When two girls decided to bring alcohol to the youth retreat and we found them (and a third girl) dead drunk. For some reason, I took that very personal and it took me a while to get over that.

What are you most passionate about in youth work?

To see students ‘get the message’. We have a lot of kids who grew up in church, yet they don’t really understand the gospel. When they grasp the concept of grace, it’s an amazing sight to see. And I love seeing teens get radical about their faith, that inspires me to keep doing what I do.

What is the best idea you have ever come up with for youth?

That’s a hard one, as most of our best ideas were a group effort…Some of our best ideas have included special youth retreats. One that worked really well was the theme ‘pure’ where we kept everything as pure and simple as we could, including acoustic worship, old fashioned games and a breakfast picknick-style in the woods – it was one of our best retreats!

What is one thing that would make your job easier?

There was a lot of tension between the two pastors at [my former church] that really affected my job.It made working in the church building so difficult that I vacated my office and started working from home again. They’re working on a solution to that right now and I understand that takes time, but that was really awful having to witness that.

What is one thing you wish you didn’t have to do?
 I don’t particularly like making phone calls in general, especially with people I don’t know very well. I’m much better in face to face talks, even Skype works fine for me…I’d be very happy if I could skip the calling part!

Rachel Blom is a youth ministry veteran from The Netherlands, currently residing in Germany with her husband of sixteen years and their wonderful three years old son. She spends most of her time on her daily youth ministry blog, aimed at training youth leaders world wide to better serve in youth ministry. You can also find her on Twitter via @youthleadersac

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

How to Make a Living Raising Financial Support

I have a dream that the youth of my city would have the means to live a healthy life, physically, emotionally, intellectually, socially and spiritually.  To do this we intersect in the day to day lives of young people, invest in their lives, intercede between our young friends and the rest of society, incubate an environment for growth and development of ourselves and young people, and to inspire teens to take on the challenges of the world.  It is an amazing God given dream and exciting things have happened as a result of my team and I being faithful to this calling.  However, it takes a huge amount of time to work on these things.  So much so that I don't have the ability to get a job to fund it.  I do work for an organization that helps crazy people like me with a method of raising our own support to do fulfill our dream.

As great of an opportunity this is, it can be very difficult and discouraging to raise funds year after year.  In chatting with my twitter friend Jeff Goins, we were discussing many of the emotions and obstacles that people encounter while they try to "make a living" through support raising.  I asked him if he would be willing to post his thoughts on this topic.  Jeff is an amazingly talented writer and is well loved in the online universe of writers.  I think that you will enjoy what he has to say.

I've worked as a missionary for six years for two different organizations. During this time, I've either had to raise all of or part of my salary.

This is not fun, nor easy.

At first, I really resented having to raise support.

Then, for a season of temporary insanity, I really loved it.

Now, you could say that I have a healthy respect for the process.

Raising support is like having a second job -- in addition to your mission work, ministry, or whatever it is that you do. Like I said, not always fun. But definitely worth the cost.

In my time of raising support and working with others who do the same, I've noticed that people really like to complain about this part of their jobs, which really annoys me. Not only that, I've seen people go about raising support in all the wrong ways.

So, I thought a brief list of rules for "best support-raising practices" might help. Here they are:

Rule #1: Never apologize for your passion.

If you are called to something, don't feel like you need to apologize (in a newsletter, over the phone, or in person) for doing what God has called you to do. It sounds ridiculous, but people do it.

Rule #2: Never diminish your calling.
This is similar to #1, but don't think for a moment (and definitely don't communicate to someone else) that the fact that you have to raise support somehow makes what you do less important than receiving a traditional salary. It doesn't. In fact, it means that you are working harder. Be proud of it.

Rule #3: Never make a weak ask.

The bottom line: Don't begin an "ask" of a potential support by saying "no" for him or her. Don't say things like, "No pressure" or "you don't have to…" Of course, they know this already. And if you communicate a lack of confidence in your work, do you think that inspires them to want to invest in your ministry?

Rule #4: Never judge the other person's motives.
If you walk away from a conversation or meeting in which the person has told you "no," don't assume that you know why. Don't judge -- as tempting as it might be -- because you never know why someone can't or won't financially support a ministry endeavor.

As someone who has been down this road before, I've broken all these rules:

-I've said sorry for asking for support

-I've made it seem like what I was called to do wasn't a big deal

-I've often made apologetic (and pathetic) "asks" for support of my ministry, assuming people wouldn't want to be involved.

-I've often judged people who don't support my ministry or assumed that someone who wasn't wealthy wouldn't be able to give (finding out that the opposite is often true.)

It all comes down to believing in your work and trusting that God will be faithful to provide.

It's not easy, but it's not supposed to be, is it?

And yes, it's worth it.

Bio: Jeff Goins is a writer, missionary, and mobilizer. You can follow his blog ( or connect with him on Twitter ( and Facebook (

Monday, June 20, 2011

Meet Austin Walker, A ProYouthWorker from Arkansas

One of the greatest things you can do as a youth worker is to network with others in the field.  However, many of us are too busy with the day to day demands of the job to really make many meaningful bonds.  The internet can be a great place to begin to make some connections with youth workers in our community and globally as well.  That is why it excites me to introduce a new feature to Youth Worker Interviews.  I want to thank my first participant: Austin Walker for taking the time to share some of his story with us.  He is fresh in a new youth pastor position in Cabot, Arkansas and is looking for ideas on how to get things moving in his first year.  I love talking with guys like this, it reminds me of the passion I had when I started and it renews my resolve not to give up on the hard days.  Without Further ado, our interview:

What is your name? 

Austin Walker: Student Pastor at Fellowship Bible Church's satellite campus in Cabot, AR
What trait are you known for? 

I'm a fairly high energy guy!  I'm told that I do very well with the "wall flower" students bringing them out of their shell and getting them to open up!  However, I also feel like I'm a solid communicator that can take a passage of Scripture and help students know what to actually do with it when they leave.
Number of years in the field:

I've been doing youth ministry for years, but in different roles.  I started as a behind the scenes guy at our community's college worship experience named "Refuge."  I also served at churches in Arkansas, Texas, and Mississippi.  After that, I came on staff at Fellowship Bible Church as a junior high intern.  When the internship ended asked if I could stay on in a continuing role.  It worked out!  God is good.  I continued to serve as doing all things from buying hundreds of ice cream sandwiches to organizing big parts of some of the summer mission trips.  In early 2011, I got a call from one of our teaching pastors asking if I'd be interested in a full time position as a Student Pastor at one of our satellite campuses.  ALL OF THAT TO SAY, I've been "in the field" for about 4 years, but full time, paid, vocational staff as of May 1, 2011.

What made you choose to pursue youth work as a career?

When I was in high school, one of my youth pastors in Southaven, Mississippi was super influential in my life.  John took me in and really cared for me as a person, not just as a number in a youth group.  He was the reason I first started looking at it.  As I moved on into a different season of life, I started wrestling with what I wanted to do.  I knew I wanted to be in full time ministry, but I didn't know what that was supposed to look like, and I didn't know if I was supposed to be vocationally outside of ministry, and a super involved volunteer.  After I graduated high school in January of 2007, I went to South Africa for the semester.  I had prayed leading up to the trip, and all during the trip, that God would really open the doors and give me some wisdom in how to prepare for my life while I was in college.  On that trip, he made it abundantly clear that he had full time ministry, and full time youth ministry, for me!  I was psyched!  I truly believe that students are not the church of tomorrow, they are the church of today, capable of radically changing their families, schools, teams, and communities.
 What does a typical week look like for you?
At this point, I don't know that I really have a "typical week" because I've just been working during the summer.  As of now, I spend Monday mornings getting emails sent, catching up on phone calls and any administrative work, then have Bible study that day.  At some point during the week, we have a "hang out" event as well.  Thursdays I spend the day studying for Bible Study and prepping for any weekend work I have.  That's one thing that's been kind of "off" so far, is not having a set groove.  But for now, I just take it as it comes!

If you wrote a book based on your experience in youth work what would it be called?
 If I had to write one about my life in general, it'd probably be something along the lines of "This Is Real Life."  I tend to attract situations that are...sitcomish?  Last week, I booked a hotel room in a hotel that no longer exists, and managed to walk into a bank when the bank was closed, and potentially set off the alarm.  The doors were unlocked though, so I just turned around, left, and got in touch with the bank manager!
 Favorite memory with a teen(s):
One of the things that sticks out to me was a few years ago.  I spoke on Mephibosheth during one of our student ministry events.  The sermon bombed.  I didn't prepare nearly well enough, I forgot my notes on the way to service, and a couple of the creative elements I really wanted to incorporate ended up completely wrong.  I walked off the stage with that feeling of "well...some kids are probably never coming back to church because of what I just did.  They're probably laughing at how awful that was on the inside.  Oh, look, there's a kid smiling, he's about to be laughing at how awful that was on the outside!"   About five or six weeks later, Mephibosheth was mentioned in "big church" by one of the teaching pastors (random...not really a character you talk about on a continuing basis).  After service, a couple of the junior high students came up to me super pumped saying, "My parents, they didn't know who Mephibosheth was or what he meant or anything, and after service we were able to tell them.  Remember that one time you talked about him? That was soooo cool.  And then today I got to tell my parents who he was and what the story meant and everything!  IT WAS SO AWESOME!"  It was an awesome moment, but at the same time, an incredibly humbling moment.  It was very obvious through it that God was saying, "Austin. Moron.  I work through you, and you never know how I'm going to use to change a student's life.  You just do what I've called you to, and do it well next time, and let me handle the changing of lives. Not you."
 What are you most passionate about in youth work?
 I want to see students that leave the youth ministry with a sustainable passion.  It's nothing new to have seen countless students leave a youth ministry and fizzle out.  My goal is that FSM would not be a youth ministry that cares about how many atomic fireballs an 8th grader can fit in his mouth in 60 seconds, but that FSM would be a youth ministry known for unleashing passionate leaders who have a knowledge of God's Word and a passion for His Kingdom.  One of the first things my mentor ever taught me about youth ministry was to stress that high school ends, the Kingdom of God lasts forever.
 What is the best idea you have ever come up with for youth?
  Again, I'm really green in youth ministry.  BUT, the first thing we did to kick off this summer was got a trailer grill and went out to a city park for the first annual FSM Family Picnic.  It was an awesome time to see families come out and just hang out for the evening.  We had some music over a speaker, everybody brought a side or dessert, and we had a couple frisbees and balls.  We finished the night by having a students vs. adults "Semi-Fair" game of kickball.  Naturally, the adults won...thanks to some rule bending, some might say.

What is the best idea that turned into the worst event?

We used to do redneck games.  I’ll leave it at that.

What is one thing that would make your job easier?
 Right now, we're in a time of transition.  The previous guy was there for five years, so naturally, especially with the older students, there are some reservations.  Some of them, I feel like, are standing back and saying, "Let's see what this dude is about, and what happens."  So really, buy in from older students and from parents would be huge.  I have no desire to be seen as that guy who rocks the boat for boat rocking's sake.  We'll see once the school year ramps up what happens!

What is one thing you wish you didn’t have to do?  

In you are interested in being featured on send me an email and we can set up an interview by clicking here