Friday, March 25, 2011

250th Post! Youth Workers Share Their Definition Of Success

I remember an old episode of the TV series “ER” in which one of the young emergency room doctors tired to treat as many people as fast as he possibly could.  He didn’t feel he needed to waste his time chatting it up with his patients and simply to treat their ailments.  Things were fast paced and efficient, something that most of us do not associate with Emergency Room visits.  However trouble arrived when his new definition of success came to crashing halt when some of the people he released came back in struggling to survive.  He learned a lesson that the stuff that seemed like a waste of time is sometimes the key to saving a life.  How we define success can have major repercussions in our work.  Over the course of this month I have been exploring what it means to be a successful youth worker.  This is a theme that I will continue to explore as time goes on, however I was curious about how others defined success in this field.  I took the thought to twitter and I asked youth workers, youth pastors and other professionals to give me their 140 character definition of success.  Here they are.  Do you have one?  Feel free to share it.

Enabling young people to come alive in joy and to be everything they were made to be!! - that's an attempt!! – @RCYOUTHWORKER

Building Relationships- student to student, student to caring adults, everyone to Jesus- & then sharing Jesus w/ the world. - @YouthGuy07

Success in any ministry is about cultivating leaders. Have great leaders so you can be concerned about creating community.  - @TerryRamoneSmit

For us it's when we see growth/maturity in a student. When they're able to critically think & make their own decisions.  - @Pastor LT

Simply helping students realize their potential in God's Kingdom.  - @Markhcox

A culture of students who have authentic relationships w/ Christ & who lead other youth 2 do the same. #GreatQuestion! - @Wendelmartin82

less of me, more Jesus--trusting him to make his kingdom come tangible (holistic) in young ppls lives - @julihn

when you can leave, and no one knows you're not there.  - @Jessetheradical

depends on your context. It's like describing success in global missions. It'll be different in Ghana & India. Same in YM.  - @Chrisharrell1

they have learned a walk with God,witness for God, and are doing work for God. - @Chrisharrell1

students loving God and loving others in and out of the walls of the church; discipled students discipling others - @shawnmichael

Success: A student knowing they were loved unconditionally by me & them experiencing the grace, mercy & presence of Jesus.  - @DavidMatinTX

hmm.. to brainwash kids into getting married having 1.5 kids and maintaining the church bldgs their parents built.. psych! - @Gavoweb

seriously: Minimum, to know people love them. Beyond that, willing to sacrifice, love generously, dream creatively in Christ - @Gavoweb

Building teens self-esteem! - @Talkingteenage

Radically transformed lives. I don't even need all 140. - @Final_night

if ur describing ur unwritten job description u missed-- Preventing the 3 D's: Drinking, Drugs & Doing-it!  - Anonymous

That's very difficult to measure in that field! I think you can measure it by how much of the love of Christ is shared.  - @Jgrdaniel

Successful youth work creates a space that celebrates, motivates and empowers youth to create the life they want to live.  - @ Youthsuccessdoc

I think it's as simple as glorifying God. That's true for anything.  - @Timschmoyer

i define success in youthwork as equipping youth & adults together as the Body of Christ for God's mission in the world.  - @Ymprof

knowing that You gave your all to God through ur youth, and praying that the youth you worked with life will never be the same once they leave you, ur succsess can't be based on Event, and numbers but the spirtual Growth of your young ones...140 charater aren't enough lol  - @MrMonroe85

If you look in the future and your youth are following Christ then you know your youth ministry was a success.  - @3ric_yp

Discipleship is happening.  - @Scottymct

obedience to God's ways  - @DougFields

success is using ur platform to glorify christ and build relationships with people around u! - @Tbayne21

the ability to witness our youth learn positive things and acting on improving their own lives for themselves. #success - @f4girls

Success in youth work= Loving students in spite of them and leading them to Jesus in spite of us! - @gamersguide2god
Agree, Disagree.  Please Share. To celebrate my 250th post  A $20 Starbucks card will be rewarded to a random commenter.  Contest Ends April 8.  No lie.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Success in Youth Work Is About Organization And Lack Of Sleep

Success in Youth Work Part 3

I have been a youth worker for a long time and through many different phases of life.  At each new phase it becomes necessary to stop, catch my breath and reevaluate why and how. 

The situation:
As I was working through the challenge of trying to figure myself out I realized I needed to concentrate on getting my life foundations figured out before trying to figure out what to build on it.  I enrolled in Bible College, not to become a youth pastor, but to simply explore what following God was really all about. However this required a serious amount of volunteer hours and it so happened that my church youth group, which was in the midst of looking for a new youth pastor allowed me to lead the group in the interim.  To me, running a weekly event and connecting with students was effortless, but I found out for the first time that there are a lot of pressures faced by full time youth workers.  Parents would call me all hours of the day with various opinions for the group needs.  I was expected at leadership, board and committee meetings.  Along with this came budgets, reports and mentoring expectations.  I struggled with how to make everyone happy.

Why am I doing this?
I was only doing this to meet a need I had for a school requirement and for a love I had for my church.  Yet, unintentionally on their behalf, I felt like I was being taken advantage of.  I realized that my why needed to include a certain level of sacrifice. I realized that needed to prioritize and organize my life.  I had to look at the realities I was facing.  I needed money to pay for school, my car, insurance and gas.  I was still living at home, but really wanted to make my own way.  The sacrifice that I made was sleep – why was I wasting all that time unconscious anyway?

How would I do it?
I bought a laptop (which was rare for college students at that time).  I could then simultaneously take notes in class as well as plan youth group, fill out my reports, email students and volunteers, design flyers and correspond with students.

Conclusion:
This experience showed me that technology could help me to multiply my time.  I remember feeling quite proud of myself when people looked shocked at how much I could successfully be involved in.  However, looking back this set a trend of severely overworking myself and becoming all consumed with “ministry”.  I stopped eating well, sleeping well, spending enough time with God on my own and setting unrealistic expectation on myself that became normal from my employers.  These are repercussions that I am still dealing with today.  Did God intend for us to “work” 80+ hours per week? But if you try to cut back – or even if you are told to cut back – no one reacts well to that.  They may say, good for you but they simultaneously shoot you disappointing eyes. So should we try to be successful in our own eyes or in the eyes of others?

Monday, March 14, 2011

Success in youth work is changing yourself more than trying to change others

Success in Youth Work Part 2

I have been a youth worker for a long time and through many different phases of life.  At each new phase it becomes necessary to stop, catch my breath and reevaluate why and how. 

The situation:
As a high school student I was a part of vibrant and growing youth group in my church.  I learned a lot and was challenged to grow in my knowledge of the bible, I was given opportunity to serve and most importantly I felt like I belonged and was loved. However as I this group graduated and transitioned into post high school life, the church noticed a disintegration of our group’s attendance and commitment.  After several attempts to figure this out I was approached to take leadership of the group.  I stepped into this figuring it was a great opportunity to hang out with my friends more and be serving at the same time.  What happened was that I was overwhelmed by complaints about meeting times, length, content, etc, etc, etc.  I was busy trying to balance relationships, work and school so I took a lot of this personally and figured that the hostility that I was facing must be directly related to something I was doing wrong.  After all, we never had faced these issues when we were all working in ministry together in youth group.

Why was I doing this?
I realized that I was asked to provide leadership to a group of people that was grieving their community.  They were missing the belonging and security that they had found within the youth group and were being asked to move on.  The “college and career” groups felt as though they were tossed aside by the church.  You don’t belong in youth group and hey you don’t really belong in “big church” either.  In trying to base a group that tried to incorporate everyone’s schedule and personal wish lists was not working.  Instead of collaboration I needed to provide leadership. 

How would I do it?
I set a date, time and format.  Lost a lot of attendees, and ended up with little more than a hangout time once a week.  Some people were upset that it didn’t work with their schedule, so I directed them to other churches and ministries to find something that would work for them.  I even attended some of these with them until they found new friend there and were willing to go by themselves.  Ultimately the group I was leading was really nonexistent. 

Conclusion:
Through this experience I was able to learn that success in youth work is being able to adapt to the changing culture of young people rather than simply trying to corral people into my list of goals for their life based on my organization’s wishes.  In other words a good youth worker is a kinda like a Universal Adapter.  You don't change the fact it is electricity but you change how it is delivered. I was fortunate that my church was willing to let the group change and was not too upset about the young people moving on to other places that better met their needs.  However,  I felt that somehow I had failed.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Youth Culture Update: Teens: watch your mouths or face fines!

A few weeks ago I was taking my three year old son swimming when some teens came into the locker room.  They were carrying on a conversation littered with colorful language.  My son is quite adroit in his language skills, and the last thing we need is for him to pick up swearing at such a young age.  I have to admit that I was bit rude in my tone as I told them to watch their choice of words.  They looked over, saw us and immediately responded with an apology.  I actually felt bad because their tone was much more respectful than my own.  With this experience fresh on my mind I was curious when I saw a headline about a Dallas area teen that was fined over $600 for swearing in school. You can read about the article here:

Aside from wanting my son to pick up some of the more eccentric words of the English language I have a pretty passive stance on the issue of cursing.  For many it is little more than a bad habit and reflection of the language use of their peers.  For others it is simply a filler word when they want to put an emphasis on something.  And as demonstrated in my experience in the pool locker room it can be turned on and off at will. But where does all this stem from? I believe that many youth swear as a means to reflect the intensity of emotion that they experience in their lives as adolescence.  There are occasions where an alternate swear word just doesn’t capture the emotional experience that teens are facing. 

So I think cursing should be addressed in some situations, but the majority of the time I would rather ignore the swear words and take the opportunity to address deeper issues.  For me it is the process of choosing my battles.  What do you think? Should we fine it or forget about it?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Success in youth work is linked to offering free food

Defining success in Youth Work: Part 1

I have been a youth worker for a long time and through many different phases of life.  At each new phase it becomes necessary to stop, catch my breath and reevaluate why and how. 

The Situation:
When I started leading a youth ministry in my late teens it really wasn’t much of a process other than looking for an opportunity to be used.  Success was measured in how much fun I was having.  This bubble burst in just a few short weeks when one of the Jr. High kids I was teaching pulled me aside to tell me, “I don’t like you.”  This was my first glimpse into the reality of working with young people.  What I may think is successful is little more than a chasing after the wind.  I recognized myself in the kid that was looking for amusement in their abrupt attitude.  I had been very similar in Jr. High myself.  And yet it sucked my passion right out as this harsh evaluation erased all the positive reinforcement that I had received in terms of my creative teaching and passionate calling by my mentors. 

Why was I doing this?
I was doing this because I had recently gone through some life altering situations.  I had faced death and I had made a promise to God to give everything I was back to him.  After all I didn’t deserve to be alive anyway. 

How would I do it?
I stopped trying to replicate my youth group experience and realized that I needed to gain the trust of these young people.  So one Sunday morning I helped the entire Jr. High group play hooky from church and we went to McDonalds. 

Conclusion:
This experience showed me that success in youth work was directly related with how much free food I was willing to give.  There was also the fact that no matter how cool I thought my bible lessons were, without being able to relate with me as a real person these kids didn’t want to listen.  Also I had to recognize that just because these kids were a part of my group, it didn’t mean that they wanted to be.  Rather than force them into the mold of my ideals, I allowed them to be themselves.  Skipping church led to deeper conversations about what was happening in their life.  Unfortunately the parents of these kids didn’t appreciate their kids missing out on the church service all the time.  We had to transition back to the same bible study model.