CREATING MEANINGFUL RELATIONSHIPS IN STUDENT MINISTRY

How well do you remember Middle School?  I hated middle school.  The world around me was changing and even my own “world” was changing, if you know what I mean.

Then there was high school and college.  From the age of 11 through about 25, your world never stops changing.  Throw into the mix unstable home environments for many, bullying and the constant desire to advance up the social ladder, it is no wonder why these can be some of the most difficult years in a young person’s life.  What if the church had a different way to respond to the problems?  For years youth ministry has seen the incredible value of creating adult relationships within the context of student ministry.  Now others such as Chuck Bomar (Slow Fade) are coming in and saying the relationships are the key to the transition from High School to College.  What if student pastors and ministers had an even bigger picture of the life of a student and possible impact of their ministry?

The national average tells us around 60% of church kids will walk away from their faith before they graduate from college.  I believe there are several reasons this is happening.  However, instead of just stating problems I want to talk about solutions.  I want to help equip parents better disciple their own children.  I also want to help teenagers connect and develop relationships with other adults in the church, to encourage them and help them to bridge the gaps during times of transitions.  This is where TRANSIT comes in.  Transit will be focus around several key transitional times in the life of a teenager.  First, the move from 5th to 6th grade.  This is an enormous jump in adolescences.  The second jump is from 8th to 9th grade with the transition from Jr High to High School.  The next significant transition is moving from Junior year into Senior Year.  The final key transition comes as they make the jump from High School to college.  Of course there are other milestones that will occur along the way, but I want to focus on these four times.

At Westhill, I have been thinking through transitions for students.  The one thing I am discovering is the transitions are constant.  But what if the relationships we were creating for students to transition from High School to college were the same relationships the student had when they transitioned from 5th grade into 6th when they entered our ministry?  How could this work?  What would it look like?

So here is my plan is to begin this May with students who are finishing 5th grade and moving into 6th grade.  We are going to have a memorable weekend designed for parents and their students.  We will spend time worshiping together as families; and praying over each other, helping to equip parents and students for this huge time of transition.  The weekend will end for the new 6th graders with a Rite of Passage Ceremony.  Parents will sit down with their son or daughter and help them to pick out 3 or 4 adults in our church they consider to significant in their life.  The adults along with their parents will make up the group.  During this ceremony, the adults which the student has invited will share some positive character attributes they see in the student and each adult will give the student a specific charge.  The ceremony is built around 6 key topics, FAITH, HOPE, LOVE, PURITY, INTERGRITY & FAMILY (Concept taken from James McBride’s Rite of Passage).  To close the ceremony, I will give these adults a special charge to walk with these students through Jr. High and High School.  The mentor’s goal becomes helping in their transition into college and career and to them get connected to a church, no matter where they end up.  My desire is this relationship is one that will last a lifetime.

So how do we keep these relationships fresh and the commitment strong?  My hope is to come back each year through Jr. High and High School and have something geared toward the 6 key topics.  Not a full ceremony every year because I think it would lose significance.  Still having something every year to pull the student, parents and adults back together to re-commit to their walk together.  During these events I want to provide parents and students with resources that will be helpful to them in their journey.  My desire for our student ministry to start focusing as much time on the mentors and parents as we do the students.

Here is what I am thinking right now as far as special weekends.

  • 6th Grade – Ceremony – Transition from Elementary to Jr. High
  • 7th Grade – Purity Covenant with parents and the group
  • 9th Grade – Transition from Jr. High to High School
  • 16th Birthday (Equip Parents to do their own Rite of Passage ceremony with their son or daughter.  Rite of Passage is a great resource for the ceremony.)
  • Finishing 11th Grade – Preparing for the next step
  • Finishing 12th Grade – Tying this into our Senior Sunday and allowing the group of mentors to each give a charge, a blessing and a gift to each student.

So these are my initial thoughts and I would love to hear yours as I continue to develop these ideas in our ministry.  As I mentioned, I am beginning with our 6th graders this May so give me some of your thoughts.

THE VISION OF A LEADER

Vision, it is one of our five senses and just like all of our senses we tend to take for granted that we can see.  I can’t imagine what it would be like to live without sight.

Yet, many people are completely capable of living without sight; they find ways to make it work.  However, they will never be capable of doing everything they could do as if they could see.  A lack of vision greatly limits life.  In leadership a lack of vision is magnified many times over and is far more detrimental.  In a leadership role lack of vision no longer simply affects the one without sight, it also effects all who follow.  It truly becomes the blind leading the blind.

I find it amazing; with vision being as important as it is, how easily as leaders we lose sight of our vision.  For a church when the leadership loses sight of the vision the people lose their way.  When the church loses sight of the vision it turns inward.  Once the vision turns inward it is impossible to truly follow Jesus because Jesus was constantly focused on what was happening out in front of Him.  He was constantly focused on building His Fathers kingdom.  Think of it like this, Jesus said in the Great Commission to “go into all the world.”  Going requires vision.  Of course you can go with no vision, but you will never be capable of accomplishing all God is calling you to as a leader if you can’t see where you are going.

As leaders there is an incredible burden to continually be refocusing yourself and others on the vision.  But how as leaders do we stay focused?

  1. We must continually be pursuing Christ, through prayer, study and communing with Christ.  As leaders we should be saying to people, as did Paul, “follow me, just as I follow Christ.”  As leaders we must fight against vision loss in followers, but that fight begins by making sure we do not lose sight of the vision our self.
  2. We must continually check our direction.  It is so easy to lose sight of where we are headed and it is even easier when people feel there is no one leading them to wander away.  How do you check direction?  With a compass.  As God gives you vision you must be developing action plans and goals from that vision.  You have to have a way to measure and see where you are.  This should be done on a weekly basis, because it does not take long to get lost.
  3. Most importantly keep pushing forward.  It is far too easy to lose sight of where we are when we stop moving.  What can cause us to stop moving?  Other people can distract us from the vision, through complacency and complaining.  Busyness can also distract us from the vision.  It is imperative as leaders to learn the word no.  We have to learn to say no to good things for better things.

Leaders, I want to encourage you to stay focused on where you are headed because your vision is vital to your leadership.

Where there is no vision, the people perish.  Proverbs 29:18

A NEW BEGINNING

So this week I am getting back on track. My New Year’s Resolution hit a quick bump in the road as 2012 began… and then fell off a cliff. I have had several people ask me how my resolutions were going, which is great, but I had to answer, “not so well”.

January 1st through the 8th breezed by, things were going great. On Monday the 9th I began a short course to complete 3 of my final 7 hours on my MDiv and our house showed for the 4th time in 3 months. By Wednesday we had a contract in hand for a cash offer and they wanted us out of the house by the 27th. 16 DAYS. WOW!!! Everyone had been asking what our plan was if the house sold and we would tell them, we don’t have one, it’s not going to sell. I am pretty sure God has a sense of humor. So we began frantically looking for a place to live and packing. In the midst of all the chaos we had Winterfest a 3 day retreat in Arlington, the 20th through 22nd. The day after closing I had a 2 day UPLIFT meeting in Arkansas.

Needless to say we have had a pretty chaotic last month and I have done awful at sticking to my resolutions. So this past Monday, with our new house finally unpacked, I have been trying to settle back into my routine and started back on the path to health by eating healthy. This week I will restart my workouts, blogging, and morning study time. I am taking my final 4 hours of my MDiv and will walk across the stage on May 4th. I am still excited about 2012 and all that God is going to do in my life and in my family. So here I go again!

2012 RESOLUTIONS: FOCUS ON MY OWN FAMILY

This week I am going through all of my goals for 2012.

As I said in my last post I have made a lot of effort going through these goals and determining the obstacles I will face as well as the benefits of accomplishing these goals.  I am always hearing people say they won’t make any new year’s resolutions and to be honest I have spent most of my life in that crowd.  But whatever you want to call them, resolutions or goals, they are important because they help us to stay focused on a specific issue or moving in the right direction.  All of us, no matter how focused we are can lose sight of where they are heading.

This goal is the one I am most excited about.  So much so I preached on this at Westhill this past weekend.  You can access it on my Sermon Page, “The Art of Brick Making.”  This is a difficult goal for me on several levels.  First, is the most obvious and I acknowledge it in my obstacles below.  “I am really busy.”  Newsflash, so is everybody else, I am not the only one and that is the point; we are all so busy the thing that most often gets neglected is our family.  The second reason this is difficult for me, a huge part of my job is helping and strengthening other families.  So here is another one of my goals for 2012… Focus on my own family!  That does not mean neglect others, but it does mean my family takes precedent.

We have done really good as a family with these at times in the past and have also lost focus over time.  So this is our family focus for 2012.

  • Goals:
    • Memorize a weekly family memory verse.
    • Bible story time each night before the kids go to bed.
    • Pray with Cami daily before bed.
    • Date Night with Cami every other week.
    • Game night with the family one night a week.
  • Reasons:
    • I want to be very intentional this year with the amount of time I spend with my family.
    • I want to teach my children to love Jesus with all their heart.
    • I want to be a better spiritual leader in my home.
  • Obstacles:
    • Work schedule can be overwhelming.
    • Being lazy is easier but this is too important.

Have you set any goals for your family in 2012?

MY NEW YEARS RESOLUTIONS

Around 55% of Americans make New Year’s resolutions.  What is ironic is the 10 most popular resolutions never really change.  Most likely because we are not real good at keeping the resolutions we simply make in haste with no thought and planning.

I have never been real big on New Year’s resolutions, but this year I have decided to approach them differently.  I can thank Michael Hyatt for a couple of blogs which really changed my thinking. The fist was “How to Make New Year’s Resolutions Stick” and the second was “5 Steps to Developing More Disciple”.  So this year I have made 6 resolutions and actually written them down.  I have also come up with the reasons why I want to accomplish these goals, the obstacles I will face in achieving them and the new habits I must develop if there will be change.

So over the course of this week I will share with you my six New Year’s resolutions and all the ins and outs of each resolution.  The second reason I want to put them on my blog is for accountability purposes.  In the Making Resolutions Stick article Hyatt suggest you go public with your goals, so here they are.

I will weigh 215 lbs by May 1st.  I am beginning at 255lbs.

  • Long Range:
    • I have 4 months to work really hard and reach my goal.
    • I want to run the Cow Town 10K in February with Brian. (Saturday, February 25, 2012 – 7AM).
      • Weekly Goals:
        • Make a menu each week
        • Go shopping weekly
        • Record Meals daily
        • Record daily stats
        • Don’t miss a workout
  • Reasons:
    • I want to have more energy to spend quality time with my kids and my wife.
    • I want to be healthy, feel good and look good.
    • I want to be a good example to my children.
    • I want to be ready to climb the mountain in August.
  • Obstacles:
    • I like to eat out a lot and I don’t like to say no to foods I really want.
    • It is very hard to get up at 5 AM each morning.
    • My schedule gets very difficult, especially in the summer.
  • New Habits:
    • Eat 5 to 6 meals a day.
    • Plan ahead.
    • Don’t skip a workout for any reason.
    • Share meals with Cami at restaurants.
    • Drink only water, milk or juice in 2012.  No tea!

These resolutions will be in no particular order and I will post 1 a day for the next six days.  Cami and I are doing P90X together.  Tomorrow I will share my resolutions for my family in 2012 with you.  I hope 2012 is an amazing year for you and I can’t wait to see the new ways our Father will bless us in 2012.

IF YOU DON’T LEARN THIS, YOU WON’T LAST

Over the past several years I have really began to work on delegating.  I am still not where I want to be but a couple of years ago I began to see the benefit of it in my ministry.  In ministry if you do not learn this skill you will not last long.

I am responsible for several major events every year as well as the ministry I am leading.  When I try to do it all I burn myself out and become ineffective.  I am finding the more I pass off to others the more effective I am becoming in ministry.  There are still those voices in my head though, telling me, “don’t ask them,” or “you can do it yourself.”  So here are the reasons I can think of, not to delegate.

Reasons NOT TO Delegate:

  1. It is faster to do it myself.  Yes, it takes time to teach someone how I want it done.  I don’t have the time to find someone and then train them to do it.  Really, I am just creating more work for myself.
  2. I am very particular and I want things done my way.  If I hand it over to someone else it won’t come back the way I pictured it.  So instead of taking the chance I will just find the time to do it myself.
  3. I don’t want to be a burden on other people.  Think about it, if I don’t want to do it then why would they want to do it.  I don’t want to be “that guy” who no one wants to talk to because there is always something he wants you to do.
  4. I am getting paid to do this.  This one is probably the most difficult one for me to get past.  It is my job and I receive the paycheck, how can I ask someone else to do it.

There they are, these are the reasons, cancel that, excuses I will typically use to avoid the delegation game.  Here is the problem with just doing it yourself.  Over time you end up “just finding time to do it” at the expense of your family, your health and your spiritual health.  I am finding there are significant counters to all of the excuses I come up with.

Reasons YOU MUST delegate

  1. Yes, initially it is faster to do it yourself but not in the long run.  Once you have trained someone who is passionate about the task, you have the ability to turn it loose.  This opens up more time for you.  In the past I have always ask for a volunteer and then trained them. At Catalyst this year Andy Stanley changed my thinking on delegation.  Andy talked about the importance of choosing someone and doing it with them for a short time and then turning them lose.
  2. Just because things are not done the way you would have liked them does not mean it’s not done well or that it is done wrong.  It is just different and that is okay.  Maybe your idea was not the best.  Maybe there is a better way to do it.  When working with students I can clearly do a better job at some tasks, but as they do it more and more they will get better.  It is the only way for them to learn.
  3. Our job in ministry is not to simply get things done but rather to equip people for ministry.  However, when we do it our self we are robbing someone else of the opportunity to use their talents and abilities to serve in an area God has gifted them.  This is Youth Ministry at its core.  When we began our student ministries several years back I turned a lot of things over to students and I no longer do them.  Most importantly, I gave up all song leading in our ministry, and the world is a better place because of it.  But so are the students who are leading worship now because of the decision.
  4. I am not getting paid to do “stuff” and I am getting paid to minister to people.  Part of ministering to people comes through training and equipping them for ministry.  Delegating allows me to focus on my strengths and allows others to use theirs.

So the obvious question would be “what are the things I need to be delegating?”  However, I think we need to begin with a different question.  Let’s start here, “what am I really good at and what do I really enjoy doing?”  When I find these, they are the things I need to keep doing because these are the reasons I really enjoy ministry.  These are the things which energize me.  I need to keep doing these things.   Everything else, someone else can do and would probably enjoy doing.  So here is my goal over the next 6 months, delegate and get rid of everything I can.

WHAT DOES FANATIC DISCIPLINE LOOK LIKE?

Are you a great leader?  What is it that separates the great leaders from ordinary leaders?  Jim Collins says there are 3 specific traits he has found in great leaders.

At Catalyst, Jim Collins stated there are three consistent traits seen in all great leaders.  Fanatic discipline, Collins defines as the discipline to not deviate from the plan.  Second, empirical creativity, which is creativity based on the concrete knowledge you have access to.  Third, productive paranoia, always asking “what if” questions, this is the leader who is prepared for anything or at least has tried to think through lots of scenarios.  For the purpose of this blog I will focus on the first trait, fanatic discipline.  This is new material for Collins’ new book, “Great by Choice“.

Collins told this story to illustrate what fanatic discipline looks like.  On October 19, 1911, two teams of adventures headed out in a race to be the first person to reach the South Pole.  Roald Amundsen and Robert Falcon Scott led their teams in a journey that would ultimately cost Scott’s team their lives.  Amundsen began with a plan; each day his team would travel 15 to 20 miles, regardless of the weather.  The first day of the journey the weather was great, but just as the team had planned they did not go over the 20 mile mark, even though they could have easily done more.

Scott’s team began the first day and traveled an incredible 40 plus miles.  However, the next day they did not move at all.  Everyday depended on their circumstances.  If the weather was good and they felt good, they would put in 20, 30 or 40 miles.  If the weather was bad or they were extremely worn out from the previous day, they would stay in their tents, sometimes for multiple days.

Amundsen’s team continued day after day to move 15 to 20 miles.  With only approximately 45 to 50 miles remaining in the journey, Amundsen got an incredible day to travel, but just like every previous day Amundsen advanced only 17 miles and set up camp.  It amazes me, because when most of us see the finish line we want to press and press to get there.  After all Amundsen had no way of knowing where Scott’s team was.

With fanatic discipline, Amundsen reached the South Pole on December 14, 1911 Amundsen’s team reached the South Pole, 35 days before Scott’s team would.  A 700 plus mile journey.  On January 17, 1912, Scott’s team reached the South Pole only to find Amundsen’s team had reached the Pole first.  On their return Scott, along with his team died of starvation and frost bite, a mere 11 miles from their supply outpost.

Out of this story come many lessons, but there were two Collins really brought to life.

  1. Slow and steady always wins.
  2. You will not succeed without a plan.

I am finding these two principles to be so true in my own life; in my fitness journey, in our finances, in my ministry.  Collins refers to it as the 20 mile march, it is the need to develop a plan and not deviate from it.  For me in ministry this is hard because I am a big picture person.  I come up with the ideas but I really have to work hard to make sure the big ideas happen.  Most of the time it is not just one big idea, it is multiple ideas and I want all of them to happen at once and to happen right now.

I came to the realization this past year when I found myself in the midst of about 5 major projects I had taken on.  All of them great and all of them important but I could not give the time I needed to all the projects at once.  After getting all of them going and feeling completely over whelmed I decided to put three of them on hold temporarily and really focused on 2 of them.  I am developing a plan for them and working through these two with all of my attention.  I am getting very close in the two projects I have been focusing on to bringing someone along side of me to mentor and train to take over and maintain.  As I am in the process of passing them off I am ready to go back to another one of my three remaining projects.

This is why a “Life Plan” has become so important to me, as well as weekly planning.  It is helping me to focus on where I am going, and helping to keep things in perspective, because it is so easy for us to allow things to slip out of perspective.  Develop your 20 mile march and don’t deviate from it.

LEARNING TO ORGANIZE MY LIFE

Organization has never come easy for me.  I can always get organized, but staying organized is not as easy.  Over the past year I focused on organization.  I have learned a lot in the process, the most important lesson being organization is still difficult, and it takes work.   Here are some of the things I have learned.

  1. PLAN – Organization takes planning.  Each Sunday I try to sit down and plan out my week.  This idea came from Michael Hyatt’sCreating Your Personal Life Plan” which I would highly recommend to everyone and the best part is it is free when you subscribe to his blog.  I use a weekly planner (cannot remember who I got it from) I modified to work for me.  (If you would like the Illustrator file let me know)  When I plan out my week, I have found I am far more productive.  It is funny, I use to just walk into the office and work on what came to mind.  I was fine with this and I always had freedom.  Since I started planning I get really irritated when people mess up my schedule.
  2. FILE – Find a system that works for you and stick with it.  I know it sounds simple, but far too many people jump from one trend to another.  I have found Evernote works incredibly well for me.  After experimenting with it for several months I even upgraded to the Premium version (around $50) a year.  It is web based; which means I can access everything I have from my PC, iPad and iPhone.  The premium version will allow me to upload any file type.
  3. SCHEDULE – It is imperative to keep one master calendar somewhere.  It does not matter; hand written or electronic, but you need a master calendar.  I use Microsoft Outlook because I like the color coding options.  This has been so important for me trying to balance, ministry, family and school.  It is so easy if you are not careful to overbook or double book yourself.
  4. REST – I know it sounds funny when talking about organization, but if I do not plan for rest, it will not happen.  I must find time to rest and refresh myself.  It is a Sabbath.  There is a great tendency in our culture today to produce, produce, produce and never take a break.  Sabbath reminds me I am not defined by what I produce.  When all I do is work I limit the quality of what I produce as well as my creativity.  Someone in ministry once told me, “I never take a day off because Satan doesn’t take a day off.”  At first I thought, that is great, it is what I should do.  As I spent more time in ministry it occurred to me Satan is not who I am trying to model my life after.  Jesus is and He observed Sabbath.

This past week at Catalyst I was reminded of  the progress I have made in this area of my life over the past year by a statement made by Jim Collins, author of Good to Great.  Collins said one of the distinguishing traits of a great leader is “Fanatic Discipline.”  Fanatic discipline is the discipline to not deviate from the plan no matter what the situation.  He defined it as the “20 Mile March,” which I will go into great detail on later this week.