“What do I do when the former youth pastor is still attending our church?”
I get this question from time to time and have actually had to work in this environment in both of the churches I’ve served in over the past 20 years.
Sometimes the former youth pastor takes a promotion and ends up a worship pastor or the director of a regional campus. Maybe they were a key volunteer holding together the ministry during transition until you stepped into the role.
In larger churches, he or she might have been promoted to the student ministries pastor and you take over a junior high or high school ministry. In any case, contending with the former head of a youth ministry you are now charged to lead can be unsettling, challenging or even painful.
When it comes to work ethic, I was raised in the old-school by a West Texas dad who felt it was his parental duty to teach the next generation the value of minimum wage, back-breaking, manual labor.
The first job he arranged for me was digging ditches. That’s right, my dad secured my brother and I summer jobs as ditch-diggers, installing underground telephone cables ten hours a day in the 100-degree Mississippi heat for $1.65 an hour.
Since I complained so much about the heat, the next summer he got me an indoor job. So I spent that summer inside an UN-air conditioned warehouse loading 50-pound fertilizer bags onto pallets. During our breaks we would go outside to cool off. The inside of that warehouse was hotter than outside.
Anytime we exalt the men of God above the God of men, the church has been charmed. I thoroughly and wholeheartedly believe in honoring deserving men and women of God. This is right and well pleasing in the sight of the Lord. Paul instructs us in the Book of Romans to give honor where honor is due. Quite honestly, honor is a rare commodity in many Christian circles nowadays. We would do well if we practiced giving honor to those who merit it more. But trouble is on the horizon when we exalt our leaders as if they are Gods and give glory to them that is due the Lord. Men can and should be honored, but they must never be worshipped.
A friend of mine just lost his job. He’s in his 50s with two kids in college, and he’s worried. Another friend just laid off a large number of employees. And a surprising number of recent college graduates that I know are not landing jobs.
That’s a negative headline—but it’s a true headline. There are some job openings, people are getting hired, and there is hope! But we must admit it’s tough out there right now.
I talk with pastors around the country every week and “church finance” is all over the place. Some churches are doing well financially, and many are not. Few are just holding steady, it’s more like holding on.
We have all heard it said that our priorities should be:
But what if your work is ministry? You are working for God—does that make a difference? In your list of priorities, does ministry equal God—and therefore trump family? Amazingly, many people think so.
A Sad Beginning
I remember a concerned young lady coming to me after class while I was teaching at a Bible school. Her fiancé, John*, was one of the more “on fire” students. Everyone loved him. He had a big heart and was a fearless evangelist.
I am in youth ministry because of one conversation.
OK, that isn’t entirely true—I’m in youth ministry because of a myriad of things: being raised well by godly parents; shaping moments throughout my childhood by amazing Christian men and women; seeing the need for leadership and love in the life of a teenager; and my own specific passion and shape.
But I do remember one specific conversation with a guy named Jerry. Jerry was the dean of men at the Bible college I went to, and one of two very influential men at that school for me (the other being the football coach and Bible teacher, Terry).
Overhearing other people’s conversations can be dangerous! I stood in our church office and overheard someone talking about our benevolence giving.
“But is it reaping a return? Do any of these people ever come back and be part of the church?”
That short moment of eavesdropping changed how I view life and church. Do you give in order to receive?
We are all guilty of it. We work hard all week, but if all we get are negative reviews, we feel cheated and let down; or we stay with a family because it is our job, and hope that when this crisis is over they will become stalwart members of the congregation. We give to a woman in need and then feel let down when she doesn’t bring her kids on Sunday.
It was a frank conversation about money with other leaders at our church. We tackled what most of middle-class America considers a taboo subject and faced some hard truths. As a result, I was awakened to my habits and how they influenced the financial situation of our closest friends.
For example, in our community of friends, eating out had become our cultural gathering point—church and then lunch. It had become our Sunday ritual. We love to eat together. Unfortunately, this ritual was causing friends to increase their personal indebtedness to credit card companies.
With the spate of national tragedies in the last few months, all parents are asking, “Is this a safe place for our kids?” That includes churches. As children’s ministry leaders, we’re charged to take our role as both physical and spiritual guardians very seriously, and we should do everything we reasonably can to make our ministry environments a safe place for kids to be. It’s too important to “wing it” or think that the chances of something happening are slim.
Ask yourself and your team: Where are the weak spots in our ministry? Where are the places that need to be shored up to keep kids, families and volunteers secure and safe?
I was watching my friend Parker the other night. He is an incredible student leader and a talented young man.
He was working lights at our Saturday night service during our "You Own the Weekend" series. He was killing it, super passionate, incredibly creative—even his parents came to see his work!
I looked around the room and was so happy—adults were around talking to students and generally keeping order—but in most cases, students were serving in a ton of areas.
Got me thinking—when did this happen? I can think of a time not too long ago when we didn’t have students serving in any significant way. When did students really start serving at our services like this? When did Parker move from attendee to ingenious lighting guy extraordinaire?
When I was learning to drive, I lived in the country. Roads were narrow, one lane in each direction.
One of the first things you learn when driving in tight quarters is to keep your eye on the right edge of the road. The problem is that you tend to steer where you are looking. If your eyes are on the headlights coming at you, chances are high that you will steer your car right into the oncoming traffic.
What does this have to do with church leadership? What your leadership team focuses on and where you spend your energy will impact your entire congregation.
Every summer my family and I read a book together. We’ve been doing this through the kids' teen years, and now even in their college years. Last summer we read Mark Batterson’s book, The Circle Maker. What a great book on prayer!
Our summer book discussions are a simple but meaningful experience for us. We eat dinner together, then discuss a chapter or two of the book. That’s it! But what a cool time! I’m always amazed at the insights, comments and questions that come from our conversations.
This article isn’t about Mark’s book, it’s about prayer, but I want to say what makes this book different to me. There are so many good books on prayer, and in the end, they all say the same thing. Pray. And that’s good. But this book seems to inspire people to pray, and there is no price tag you can put on that. When the Holy Spirit is at work, He is at work!
We’ve got some incredible student volunteers in our ministry. Students as young as sixth grade, all the way up to seniors in high school, are critical members of our kids' ministry team. We wouldn’t be as strong without them.
And when I have an audience with my student volunteers, there are three things I want them to remember:
1. Be present. I mean, really be present with the kids. Get eye level with them, smile and let them know that you want to hear all that they have to say. Play with them, ask about their dog and tell them about yours. There is a big difference between you and me. I remind these kids of their mom. You are like the big brother/sister who actually plays with them. This is your chance to be someone’s hero. So have some fun.
Recently, I had the privilege of speaking to more than 400 Filipino children's ministry pastors, coordinators and volunteers at our annual Victory National Kids Ministry Summit. The delegates came to Island Cove from fifty Philippine cities, plus Singapore, Cambodia and Dubai.
My topic was the “why” of kids ministry. I told some stories, read some Bible verses, and asked four questions. Here are the Bible verses and questions:
Are we bringing kids to church or to Jesus? Getting kids to church is a good start, but it is only a start. The goal is to get them to Jesus. Let’s not be like the disciples in Mark 10:13 who completely missed the point: "People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them" (NIV).
As our church ramps up to plant a church a year for the next several years, I’ve had conversations with five of my key guys about becoming church planters. Church planting is one of the most challenging sub-categories of pastoral ministry.
One of my guys confessed recently, “I’m struggling with this potential call. I don’t know if I’m willing for my son to grow up hating the church.”
His statement took me back to dozens of pastoral nightmare stories of pastors' kids (PKs) who have walked away from God and the church because they felt forgotten and forsaken by parents who loved the church more than they loved their children.
I was out for a run for the first time in months. A “runner’s injury" to my right foot has been slow in healing. It was great to be off the exercise bike and back outside!
While I was out, another runner passed by me in the other direction and greeted me with a cheery “Hey, keep going!” and a big smile. It was a lifting moment and brought a smile to my face. The next runner passed by within inches of me. I offered a cheerful “Hey!” and he never looked up. The difference was staggering.
That moment was a fresh reminder of how much I appreciate people with a positive and cheerful spirit. They bring life! Others steal life. Both options can take place in a moment.
I spent three days recently at a cabin with five other pastors, holding what we call a roundtable.
I’m from California. We met in Illinois, where there was a blizzard one day and the temperature hit minus 7 degrees one night. I didn’t care. What we were doing was so important, we didn’t need to go outside. We do this every year. We plan to continue doing it until our last days of ministry.
Here’s why I’m involved in a roundtable:
1. These guys inspire me. They’re my friends, all are pastors, and seeing how they live out their commitment to God inspires me. There aren’t too many people who do what we do. One of the guys lost his wife and best friend to cancer in the same year. Another adopted and is raising four high-risk children. A third runs triathlons. All of them are devoted to their wives and to walking in close quarters with Christ. During dark seasons in my ministry, I think of them and it boosts my determination to keep going.
This past weekend, thousands of youth ministers participated in the Simply Youth Ministry Conference. As a participant in the past few, I know that feelings of empowerment and encouragement are flowing through this year's attendees' minds and souls.
The reason these conferences can be such a powerful experience is because of the camaraderie and the opportunity to take a youth ministry “time out”.
The problem with a conference like Simply Youth Ministry is that it’s only a weekend. After a weekend of euphoria you are forced to go home and face: