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Listening Youth Leader

The Listening Youth Leader

“I won’t care about how much you know until I know how much you care.”

Have you ever heard that phrase before? It is a key phrase that I heard over and over again, emphasizing the importance of listening while leading youth ministry.

Listening Youth Leader

As I have shared in previous blog posts, I grew up in youth ministry around giants who did not know (or care) that they were giants. This is the kind of wisdom they would remind us of.

Humble Leadership

In those early days I don’t have a single memory of someone driving home the point that we needed more kids to show up. I don’t recall anyone hyper-critiquing my Young Life talks to ensure they were 100% theologically accurate or delivered with perfect diction. I don’t remember having a smoke machine or the best music. I certainly don’t remember having a multi-million dollar worship space.

There is nothing more nutritious to the soul than being listened to well.

What do I remember?

I’ll never forget the day our Young Life area director, Reid Estes, invited me as a confused college kid to drive out to the local high school with him and visit with some kids during lunches. As we pulled into the parking lot of the high school, Reid confessed he was pretty nervous and really didn’t feel like going into lunches that day.

His vulnerability left a mark on me. His prayer was no different: “Father, we are nervously here to visit with some folks who You know and love. May they be attracted to You in us, nothing more.”

I was struck by this moment. Here was a man—a leader—authentically confessing his fear and weakness.

Listening Leadership

It would be Reid’s tears the following summer that struck me again. Just like the trip to the high school, Reid invited me to join him as a co-leader in his cabin of high school guys at Windy Gap.

Midweek sometime, Reid invited me to play disc golf with him to check in. Over several holes, he gently floated a handful of questions that I casually answered as we meandered from hole to hole.

I remember glancing over at Reid at one point and noticed that he was tearing up. So I inquired and he simply said, “Hayne, I am so, so sorry.”  

My story and my pain were as common as the rain to me but Reid appeared to be listening beneath the surface. He risked allowing my pain to affect him.

Good Leadership

What do I remember? In other words, what made Reid a good leader?

  • He was really tuned in as a listener.
  • He walked with me. He stayed nearby and allowed our conversation to be the centerpiece, not the game. We walked slowly.
  • He was genuinely curious and his questions were laced with compassion.
  • He reflected my own pain back to me and gave me permission to begin acknowledging my neediness.
  • He did not offer advice or remedies…just his quiet and gentle presence.
  • He hugged me with tears in his eyes.
  • He gave me permission to cry over my own story…and the stories of others.

There is nothing more nutritious to the soul than being listened to well.

Rushed Leadership

It angers and saddens me to remember how ferociously I chased the idols of event-making and crowd-gathering. In the fury and frenzy of crafting the latest greatest pop-up events, I literally raced right past kids in whose eyes I saw a hunger to be heard and known. I write this with tears in my eyes even now…I really wish I had possessed the awareness to do more listening.

There is this idea that the most influence will be made on a platform, standing in front of a large crowd with a mic in your hand… I’ll be super honest. I can’t remember what any youth leader ever said from the platform under any spotlight. Not a single sentence.

What would those kids (now adults) remember about what we offered them?

  • Funny skits?
  • Large crowds?
  • Amazing trips?
  • Obnoxious program budgets?
  • Random event promos and flyers?
  • Packed parking lots?
  • Stuffed youth rooms?
  • Millions of pieces of pizza?

None of these are bad or evil. And I know I did some listening in there along the way. Maybe even some good listening. I grieve not having done more of it. I mean…I feel like I should write letters of apology to former students for being so unavailable.

How To Be a Listener

There is a great book that every human should push to the top of their reading lists. It could even be called “Being Human 101.” The actual title is The Lost Art of Listening, and it’s written by Michael Nichols.

Let this wisdom land on you…

“When we attempt to listen we can impart to the speaker our unawareness of hearing them, by the shift of our the eyes, our glance away, letting our eyes glaze over, looking around, or interrupting them to speak to someone else. All of these signals leave the speaker knowing they have not been heard.

Not  being heard limits our responsiveness in all areas of our living. We long to be understood by someone listening to and hearing us, with understanding and compassion. We become stronger when we are recognized.  The simplest things can trigger a sense of rejection, even an unreturned phone call.”

Do you want to know something? Listening is good for students. It’s good for you too. Listening cultivates empathy in the listener. It provides a context for noticing. It catalyzes discovery. It promotes vulnerability. It helps eradicate shame.

Ed Dobson frames it for us simply and beautifully.

“It is one broken person talking to another broken person. And there is power in that.”

How To Lead as a Listener

Allow me to offer three simple suggestions:

1) Begin with one

There is no earthly way to listen effectively to more than one student at a time. Let that be a word of freedom. You don’t have to be superhuman. Live within your means and be with kids one at a time…even in a crowd. Especially in a crowd.

Recently in a leader meeting with youth leaders, one middle-aged woman whose large heart for students could not be restrained spoke up…

“How do I offer this kind of empathic listening to the girls in our small group when there are as many as 40 girls showing up this year?”

I think you’ll see the answer slowly lift off the page. Begin. With. One.

2) Be yourself

When opportunities present themselves, avoid the temptation to be anyone other than who you really, really are. Teenagers can quickly sniff out a fraud. And they are quick to flock to someone who is willing to honest, open and vulnerable.

There is this idea that the most influence will be made on a platform, standing in front of a large crowd with a mic in your hand. I chased it for years. Like a dog chasing his own tail.

I’ll be super honest. I can’t remember what any youth leader ever said from the platform under any spotlight. Not a single sentence.

But I can tell you intimate details of moments when one of my youth leaders sat with me and simply listened. I can even remember what we talked about. I can remember their questions. I can remember the expression on their face. I can remember how it made me feel. Human. Normal. Loved.

3) Be there fully

When a student begins to speak with you…relax. Make eye contact. Be careful not to divert your eyes to more interesting things happening in the background. Lean into the conversation. Linger. Rest easy. Be grounded in that space.

So when your next event is over…

…and the crowd clears out…

…and the fluorescent lights get turned on…

…and all of the mess is cleaned up…

…and all the leaky trash bags get hauled down to the dumpster…

…and the doors are all locked up behind you…

…and you head out to your car under the glimmer of street lights…

…and on the drive home you start to evaluate the evening’s agenda…

…can you confess that you have done more listening than being listened to? 


About the Author: Hayne Steen

Hayne Steen - Kindred Youth MinistryHayne Steen is the Director of Counseling and Care at The SoulCare Project as well as a Marriage and Family Therapist in private practice with Elbow Tree Christian Counseling. Hayne grew up on surfing on the northeast Florida coast where met his wife Ruth Ann while attending Flagler College in St. Augustine, FL where they were both students and Young Life leaders together. Since then they both have been serving in full time ministry with Young Life and the local church all over the state of Florida, in Atlanta and most recently serving on the ministry staff of Signal Mountain Presbyterian Church and the Chattanooga Youth Network. Hayne and his wife continue to live on Signal Mountain with their three children where they enjoy living, playing and worshipping in an amazing community of family and friends.

The Pain We Carry

The Pain We Carry:
7 Strategies for Supporting Hurting Teens

Kids, Concrete, and Care

Ten years ago, while on church staff, I helped to initiate and co-lead a $4 million building program to build a state of the art youth ministry wing. One of the key aspects of the final design was a stained concrete floor.

Once the building construction was underway, I eagerly anticipated the day when the concrete floor would finally receive that deep mocha stain. Painters initially arrived with sand blasters and not paint rollers. For the next two full days they blasted every square inch of concrete.

The Pain We Carry

When a surface is placed under that kind of dynamic intensity it becomes unbelievably porous. Whatever is poured onto the surface of the concrete sinks in and fuses deeply.

Let’s play with this metaphor for a minute.

Humans are incredibly porous. We have a dynamic capacity for absorbing the hurt and trauma of others.  When we enter into the mix with hurting teenagers and their families who have experienced trauma, we can expect to carry it with us.

Being needed is very seductive. Don’t be fooled by an abyss of opportunity to respond to hurting people in crisis. It is not your job to fulfill every need.

The more intense and enduring the trauma we enter into, the more deeply we can expect it to sink into us.

If we are not careful we can get awfully lost in the trauma of those we seek to serve. Their trauma can quickly become our trauma.

I would like to suggest 7 strategies that have been helpful as my wife and I have walked with deeply hurting individuals for the last 20 years together.

Strategy #1: Show Up

There really is no need to think through helpful strategies for entering into human pain if you are not actually showing up in the life of someone who is hurting.

When you show up, be fully there. Enter into the messiness.

Practice the lost art of listening. Sit down. Relax. Breathe in deeply. Breathe out slowly. Lean in with an open posture. Make eye contact and reflect back what you hear and understand people are sharing with you.

So, be gentle. Be warm. Be curious. Be near. But be there.

Strategy #2: Move Slowly

When you orient your life toward those who are stuck in pain, move in slowly. More than likely, trust has been compromised in the life of the hurting individual. We honor their pain well by not spooking them by need to be needed.

Ease into relationships with hurting people at a pace that your own life can handle. There will be moments of overwhelm when we overestimate our capacity. We are served well when we pay attention to those feelings and make adjustments accordingly.

Don’t over-program. It’s easy to sell your soul to the devil of busyness.  Hurting people need men and women who are grounded.

“Slow” is the only way forward.

Strategy #3: Practice Saying NO

Believe it or not, it’s not cruel to tell someone NO. In fact, it may be the most loving thing they have ever been offered when it flows from a healthy heart.

Strategy #4: Don’t Go Alone

Build an infrastructure of others who will help you discern when to say NO. Invite people in around you who care more about your flourishing than what you can produce.

Cultivate a network of highly specialized clinicians skilled at entering into trauma in an ethical and competent manner. Ask other therapists who they respect in this arena.

Read. There is a wealth of wisdom available now in the area of trauma. We’ve learned so much about how the body heals. Adopt a spirit of teachability and receptivity in this area. Don’t just externalize it. Allow it to form you as well.

Strategy #5: Take Self-Care Seriously

Self-care is not selfish. It’s good stewardship. If you destroy your “self” then you really have nothing to offer.

Before jumping into the hurt of another, be willing to dive into your own. Meet with a counselor. Have lunch with a spiritual director. Seek out silent spaces for quiet reflection. Go on a soul care retreat. Hang out with monks. Incorporate play. Live!

Strategy #6: Cultivate Healthy Boundaries

Being needed is very seductive. Don’t be fooled by an abyss of opportunity to respond to hurting people in crisis. It is not your job to fulfill every need.

My brother in law says, “You have to teach people how to treat you.” My therapist told me, “No one will value your time more than you.”

Become unavailable to need. Practice sabbath keeping. Isn’t it interesting that of all the commandments God handed down to us, “Remember the Sabbath” is the only one that includes the word “remember”? God knew we would ignore this one.

Strategy #7: Prepare Yourself for Feelings of Inadequacy

It is inevitable that you are signing up for intense feelings of inadequacy. You will let people down. Accept that you can’t fix it. It simply comes with the territory of working with hurting and wounded people…which could be you or me on any given day.

We Are Called to Deal with Pain

As caregivers, we need to be surrounded by a healthy community of wise men and women who are not so impressed by us that they forfeit concern for the well being of our souls.

Over the course of the last twenty years, kindred friendships have sustained us as we have entered into the depths of pain with students and their families. Sometimes these friendships have cheered us on as we have taken those necessary risks to really be there with kids. Other times those same friends have confronted us to let go of our need to be there.

The reality is that “being there” and “not being there” are both really hard. Lingering in pain or leaving pain is the tension that we live in as those called to care for others.

Who are a handful of people who really know you and care for YOU more than your work?


About the Author: Hayne Steen

Hayne Steen - Kindred Youth MinistryHayne Steen is the Director of Counseling and Care at The SoulCare Project as well as a Marriage and Family Therapist in private practice with Elbow Tree Christian Counseling. Hayne grew up on surfing on the northeast Florida coast where met his wife Ruth Ann while attending Flagler College in St. Augustine, FL where they were both students and Young Life leaders together. Since then they both have been serving in full time ministry with Young Life and the local church all over the state of Florida, in Atlanta and most recently serving on the ministry staff of Signal Mountain Presbyterian Church and the Chattanooga Youth Network. Hayne and his wife continue to live on Signal Mountain with their three children where they enjoy living, playing and worshipping in an amazing community of family and friends.

9 Ways to cultivate community

9 Ways to Cultivate Community

Is it possible to have a team that cares deeply for one another, shares life together, encourages and supports each other, and loves each other so well that ministry naturally flows out from within?

That’s a tall order, but one that we should all strive to make a reality amongst the teams we work with.

9 Ways to cultivate community

What if our big goal was that kids, other leaders, church members and the community around us would all say about our teams, “Look at the way they love each other, I want to be a part of that!” Loving our team well, and putting into practice with one another what we’re asking students to do may be the best witness we have to offer!

So, how can we work to cultivate missional community on our team? Here are nine very practical things you can start doing now that will move you and your team in that direction.

1. Share life stories.

Over the course of a month, semester, or year, depending on the size of your team, start off every meeting by giving team members a chance to share their story. Take 15 minutes to do this—ten minutes of sharing followed by five minutes of questions. It’s helpful to set a timer at the nine minute mark so people know to wrap it up soon. Be the first to go to set the standard of how you want people to share.

This will allow everyone on your team to have deeper insight and understanding into one another’s lives. It allows for grace and understanding about choices, actions, and motivations that team members bring to the table.

2. Get away together for an overnight.

Just do this. Spending time doing an overnight retreat can dramatically strengthen a team. The best parts are the unscheduled, late-night conversations. Plan some time to celebrate what God has done or is doing in your ministry. Play a game or two, or make up a new team tradition like a corn-hole tournament or whiffle ball game.

A team that can play together will grow deeper as a missional community. Plan some time for strategizing and planning the year together as well, of course…

Loving our team well, and putting into practice with one another what we’re asking students to do may be the best witness we have to offer!

3. Have them over for a meal.

There’s real power in breaking bread together. Great conversations happen around a table. Practice hospitality when you do this and show your team what it means to invite people into your life. Break out the good dishes, prepare some good food, and go all out to make it a great time together.

4. Start every meeting with five minutes of silent, centering prayer.

This is a great way to practice praying together. For starters it allows you and your teammates to be more present in the meeting by letting go of all the distractions and things you’ve had on your minds leading up to the meeting. It also reminds you all that you’re God’s beloved, chosen and called according to His purposes, and teaches you to listen for His one voice to speak to all of you collectively. I’ve found that even in silence God draws us together as one in Him, sometimes moreso than when we’re speaking.

5. Encourage one another on a regular basis in your team meetings.

Every couple meetings, take five minutes towards the beginning of the meeting and ask team members to share ways they’ve seen God at work in and through one another. Doing this will help to cultivate a culture of encouragement and gratitude on your team. Team members will be empowered and uplifted as this becomes a regular practice. Encourage team members to do this outside of meetings as well.

6. Read The Following Article Together

Read Henri Nouwen’s article, “Moving from Solitude to Community to Ministry,” together and discuss it as a team.

This short article outlines a template for how ministry should naturally flow, starting with our internal, loving union with Jesus. Through our solitude with Jesus we should be naturally driven to long for and move towards community and fellowship with others. Out of community and fellowship, ministry should naturally flow. Read this together and teach your team to live in this way!

7. Start and end every meeting by circling up and holding hands or grabbing a shoulder in prayer.

Our physical posture points to and represents what we want to simulate or create internally or emotionally. If we are physically joined together this will help us think of ourselves as one unit, one body, working together. I’ve done this with groups of as few as three or four, and with groups of as many as 150—it’s always a powerful picture of what we are really after. It’s so simple, just make it a point and give it a try!

8. Lead in transparency and vulnerability.

Have time in your team meetings to share what’s happening in your lives and lead that off by being honest, transparent, and vulnerable about real struggles and joys that you are experiencing. Invite your teammates into the realities of your life and ask them to do the same. We are after authentic relationships and authentic ministry. You have to lead this with your team to make it okay for others to do the same. Create a space that welcomes vulnerability and honesty.

9. Have a giant late-night nacho party after an event!

Cover a table with nacho chips and pile on the cheese and toppings, then invite your team to share stories, laugh, and play games as you try to take down the whole table of nachos. Be creative and create fun memories of warmth, hospitality, and authentic friendship.

Summary

These are nine practical things you can start doing today! Go try at least one of these ideas and see how God brings your team together so ministry can naturally flow out of community. Add a comment to the section below about your experience with one of these nine tips! Also, we’d love to start a dialogue below about other ways you’ve cultivated community. Let these nine tips be just a starting point for a conversation and add your own ideas to the comments section below. Let’s see how many ideas we can come up with collectively to spur on missional community for the Kingdom!


About the Author: Zach Gurick

Zach Gurick

Zach started in youth ministry in 2001 and has developed ministries for middle school, high school, and college aged students in cities throughout the state of Florida. He’s also the co-founder of Kindred Youth Ministry. He loves to study theology, leadership development, and is especially interested in spiritual formation. Click here to read more about Zach.

11 Books to Read

11 Books Every Youth Leader Should Read

Every once in a while, the team from Kindred Youth Ministry wants to point out great resources available for youth workers. So, we have decided to put together a list of books we think every youth leader should read.

11 Books to Read

Now, if you know me personally, you know it was challenging to keep this list short. In fact, I’ve decided to do another post in the future about books we should all read that aren’t specifically about youth ministry, but are incredibly helpful. This list is short – only 11 books! And that means we won’t cover everything, but instead will offer a great list of books we think are really important.

The kids we love and serve deserve our best. They deserve pastors, leaders, and mentors who are thinking critically about life, culture, and ministry.

They deserve to have voices in their lives who have done the work trying to understand how to speak faithfully about the Lord, the Kingdom of God, and their lives.

Reading might be one of the best way to cultivate that kind of leadership in our ministries. We must be students of scripture, always pointing back to the work of Jesus, to the love of God, and to big ideas like creation, sin, justification and many more.

We must also be students of culture, able to offer developed thought on how to see the work of God in the world, how to discern what is happening through our own lived experience, and what it means to be faithful witnesses in and through our lives.

Reading great books and working through them, together, might be one of the most accessible ways to do this work. What if you picked one of these books each month and read them with other youth pastors? What if you read them with your volunteers, staff, and leadership teams? We don’t promise you will agree with everything mentioned in each of these books below. That simply isn’t the point of reading.

Somehow, Christians seem to have fallen into a trap where we believe we have to agree 100% with an author in order to learn from their work. This seems foolish to me. I imagine it keeps many of us from reading authors who might challenge our presuppositions, push us to think through our commitments, or simply read a book from another perspective.

The Plan

So here is the plan… I am going to offer these 11 books as resources I think we should all struggle with. This list isn’t exhaustive by any means. I haven’t covered every perspective or theological background and my biases will show, I’m sure. But… I think these books are great gifts to the larger church. Over the next few months, we will release in depth blog posts on each of these books in order to further invite you into the work of these authors. We hope to interview some of the authors as well.

So, in no particular order, here are 11 great books!


Revisiting Relational Youth Ministry:

From a Strategy of Influence to a Theology of Incarnation 

by Andrew Root

Revisiting Relational Youth MinistryThis book is a must read. Andrew Root invites the reader to reconsider what it means to be in relationship with kids. Helping us understand a theology of the Incarnation; Root rejects influence as the primary goal of ministry, as often seen in relational approaches to ministry, and helps us move towards a more faithful vision of what it means to be with and for kids. This book was convicting, helpful, and is a graduate level piece of work on theology and youth ministry.


Practicing Passion: 

Youth and the Quest for a Passionate Church

by Kenda Creasy Dean

Practicing PassionWe could probably make a top 10 list of books just by Kenda Dean, but this one has to be included here. Dean is convinced that the church has lost its first love – a deep theological understanding of Jesus – and settled for educational approaches to working with kids. The problem is that kids are wondering if there is anything out there worth living for, and not experiencing that in the church. Dean helps us learn how to recover the art of cultivating this passion in the lives of the kids we so dearly love.


Sustainable Youth Ministry: 

Why Most Youth Ministry Doesn’t Last and What Your Church Can Do About It

by Mark DeVries

Sustainable Youth MinistryThis book is a must read if you want to do ministry for more than just a few years. Mark DeVries is the founder of Ministry Architects and brings a wealth of insight into the long-term health of a youth ministry. This book is simple, straightforward, and incredibly helpful not just for a youth minister, but their supervisor as well. If you want to stick around for any length of time, read this book.


Amplifying Our Witness:

Giving Voice to Adolescents with Developmental Disabilities

by Benjamin Conner

Amplifying Our WitnessAlmost 20% of adolescents have some sort of developmental disability, and I would say youth ministry, in large part, is failing these kids. We can do better. These kids, and their families, have so many great gifts to offer the church, belong in the church, and are sadly rarely even seen. Conner offers this excellent book that helps us re-imagine what it could mean to be a church that offers hospitality and friendship to every kid out there. This book has changed my own personal experience of youth ministry and church; I can’t recommend it enough!


Almost Christian: 

What the Faith of Our Teenagers is Telling the American Church

by Kenda Creasy Dean

Almost ChristianGrounded in the largest study on adolescents to date, Dean takes the data and gives us a front row seat to the kids we know and love. Taking a hard look at the apathetic faith lives of kids, Dean exposes “do-good, feel-good spirituality”. The scary thing about this book is Kenda suggests kids are doing exactly what we, the church, have shown them! This phenomenal books helps us recover an accessible yet deeply theological response to this crisis of youth ministry today.


Contemplative Youth Ministry: 

Practicing the Presence of Jesus

by Mark Yaconelli

Contemplative Youth MinistryThis book is a must read for those of us trying to invite kids into a deeper relationship with Christ. Yaconelli helps us move beyond a consumer model of youth ministry and goes further than a content model focused on a transfer of information. He, instead, suggests we should invite kids to walk with us as we experience and follow Jesus. This is an excellent book.


Beyond the Screen: 

Youth Ministry for the Connected But Alone Generation

by Andrew Zirschky

Beyond the ScreenAs we try to figure out what it means to faithfully minister to millennials, we must learn to engage with technology, social media, and the ultra-connected world that we live in. Zirschky does the work of theological reflection and cultural engagement, showing us a way forward that offers more than the run of the mill frustration about cell phones. This is an important and timely book for today’s youth minister.


Presence Centered Youth Ministry: 

Guiding Students into Spiritual Formation

by Mike King

Presence-Centered Youth MinistryPlacing the presence of God at the center of all things Youth Ministry, Mike King helps us reframe the work of the youth minster. Knowing and being known by God replaces the typical obsession with frantic busyness and programs. I think this is good news for youth ministry! King suggests a return to the ancient spiritual practices of the church and shows us how to carry this out.


Hurt 2.0: 

Inside the World of Today’s Teenagers

by Chap Clark

Hurt 2.0Grounded in his sociological tool-belt, Chap Clark shows us that todays adolescents have been systematically abandoned by society, the church, and their parents. Left to figure life out on their own, kids develop two worlds- the world they share and the world beneath where real life happens. This book is a helpful introduction to the reality of kids today, offering a framework for how we can better understand their lives and how we as youth ministers can relate.


Sticky Faith, Youth Worker Edition:

Practical Ideas to Nurture Long-Term Faith in Teenagers

by Kara Powell, Brad Griffin, and Cheryl Crawford

Sticky FaithPowell, Griffin, and Crawford face off with the challenge every youth minister and parent wrestles with… what happens when our kids leave high school and head off to college. The terrifying number of kids who abandon their faith and fellowship warrant a read of this book for sure. Sticky Faith looks to invite parents and youth ministers to partner in more faithful practices to address these issues.


Family Based Youth Ministry

by Mark DeVries

Family-Based Youth MinistryMark DeVries wrote this book out of his own experience raising kids and ministering to hundreds of kids over the years. Here is the big idea… get more adults involved in your kids lives and embrace a larger view of family as grounded in the family of God. With an “extended family” point of view, DeVries invites us to surround our kids with people who will love them, support them, and point them to Christ.


Ok, there you have it! 11 books that are important, helpful, and easily accessible by all. Now pick a few, and get started!

But first… a question… what did I miss? Which books have been most helpful for you and your ministry? Tell us why and lets all keep the conversation going… Thanks!


About the Author: Justin Forbes

Justin Forbes - Kindred Youth MinistryJustin serves as the director of the Youth Ministry program at Flagler College in St. Augustine, FL and has been involved in youth ministry since 1998. He’s also a co-founder of Kindred Youth Ministry. His passion is teaching and mentoring youth ministers. Click here to read more about Justin.

Youth Ministry Games: Do We Need Them?

Keep the games. Youth in Hong Kong need to play.

This was the first advice I received from Dale, one of my parents-volunteers, as we were chatting over a plate of sushi about my arrival as the new Youth Director. It was a few weeks ago in Lai Kwan Fung, one the busiest neighborhoods in Hong Kong. “Gotcha,” I replied.Do we need games?

But inwardly, I was not convinced. As I went back home that day, I recalled all my experiences being a youth leader in churches and scout troops. “I have always played with youth,” I realized. Games are not only needed for the youth in Hong Kong. All youth need to play. We all need to play. But why?

We all know that games are great tools to be used when working with youth. Games are the best icebreakers, they create a good atmosphere within a group, they help to tire out our super-energized teens, and—let’s be honest—games are also an easy way to fill empty time.

All these arguments are legit. But they are also superficial. Could we try to go a little bit deeper into our theological understanding of games?

In order to offer a theological frame to the action of playing, we must look for our underlying motivations beyond just the utilitarian use of games.

To Be in the Present Time

A recurring theme that I have observed in many parts of the world is our human nature to worry about the future. In Western Europe, where the economic situation is depressing, I have seen young people starting to think of their retirement as soon as they got their first job. In Asia, I have seen parents worrying way too much about the future of their kids.

Games do not answer questions… Games are a proclamation that our actions should not always be utilitarian, useful, and relevant.

Games do not answer questions… Games are a proclamation that our actions should not always be utilitarian, useful, and relevant.

Therefore the first theological theme that I see about games is time. When playing games, we don’t usually worry about the future. Games represent a “time-out,” when no one needs to answer the dreaded question: “What’s next?

When they play games, kids are allowed to forget for a few minutes what they want to do in the future or who they want to be. Games are about enjoying the present moment. And I believe that the enjoyment of the present time is a value we need to rediscover.

Jesus talked about it long before me, and more beautifully, in the famous parable of Matthew 6:25-34, when he asks us to consider “the birds of the air.” The conclusion of the parable turned out to be not advice, but a command: “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.”

We play because games help us to be in the present time, and not to worry about the future.

To Feel Joy

Close your eyes for a few seconds and try to recall the best games you ever experienced. What do these games have in common? For me, the best criterion to differentiate a good game from an “okay” game is the level of joy that is felt during the game. The more laughs there are, the better.

Maybe we ought to play games with youth simply because it makes us laugh a lot and have fun. Games are important for everybody because they inherently provide joy. If we believe that joy is at the heart of the Gospel, then games become a way to share Christ’s love and joy authentically with others.

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Joy is a spiritual practice. The more we play, the more we are transformed into the joyful people we are, in part because we train ourselves to see real life as a wonderful game.  Slowly, repetitively, the joy that is developed in the games starts to spread to other parts of our life. Maybe that is what Mother Teresa had in mind when she told us: “Life is a game, play it.”

To Affirm Irrelevance

I am a newbie in Hong Kong, but it did not take me long to realize how this society is heavily driven by material success. It is a place where kids have very few opportunities to play because worried parents who aim for their kids to triple-major in an Ivy League University a few years from now see games as unproductive and useless.

I have been told many times that the calendar of a 12-year old kid in Hong Kong is just as jam-packed as a senior executive. Therefore I fully understand Dale’s visceral attachment to games.

But sadly, this situation is not just the case here in Hong Kong. Most of us are doing youth ministry in content-oriented cultures and performance-driven environments. In all these places, irrelevance is not welcome.

The theologian Paul Tillich, in his great lecture The Irrelevance And Relevance of The Christian Message, defined irrelevance as not answering “the existential questions of the humanity of today.” Games do not answer questions. They do not provide any measurable content and knowledge to the kids. Unlike competitive sports, music or volunteering activities, games cannot be added on a résumé. Games are irrelevant by nature.

Henri J.M. Nouwen based his book on Christian leadership, In The Name of Jesus, on the encounter between Jesus and Satan in the desert. For Nouwen, the first temptation that Jesus had to face—to change rocks into bread—was the temptation to be relevant.

By turning down Satan’s invitation, Jesus refused to be useful to the world. Of course,  Jesus was ultimately relevant to the world! But he also knows that one cannot always be relevant.

Games are more than time-killers.

Relevance and irrelevance are both needed, but each in its own time. What we need is a healthy blend of relevance (trying to answer the questions of the world) and irrelevance (not answering these questions).

Games are a proclamation that our actions should not always be utilitarian, useful, and relevant. Games help us to overcome a temptation that Jesus himself went through: to always make things relevant. Irrelevance becomes a virtue to develop, and games a great way to develop this virtue.

Keep the Games!

Games are today usually limited to a very narrow segment of our church population: children and youth. After a certain age, we stop playing games, falsely believing that older teenagers and adult would find them childish. But that should not be the case.

Games are more than time-killers. They help us to be anchored in the present moment, they are amazing tools to develop joy, and even more importantly; games can be used to reclaim the spiritual virtue of irrelevance.

So please—fellow youth workers, parents, volunteers, youth—follow Dale’s advice: “Keep the games. And not only in Hong Kong. Everywhere.


About the Author: Antonin Ficatier

Antonin Ficatier - Kindred Youth Ministry

Antonin Ficatier studied in three different continents and holds two Master Degrees in Business and Education. Born in France, Antonin is currently based in Hong Kong, where he works as Youth Director for an international and interdenominational church.

Ministering out of Community - Les Comee

Video: Ministering Out of Community

Youth Ministry veteran, Les Comee, teaches about how we practice Youth Ministry out of a place of community. This interview took place after Les’ presentation at the Flagler Forum on Youth Ministry at Flagler College in St. Augustine, Florida.

Excerpts:


Community

“Jesus begins with calling a group of people – instead of being alone.”

“‘Encourage – stand beside’ God’s people will know they’re saved when there are people standing beside them… Salvation equals community standing with each other.”

“Kids AND leaders want to belong.”

“We’re going to get together, and we’re going to eat, we’re going to enjoy food, we’re going to enjoy each other, and then we are going to share our lives… if you’re going to have a community or a real team – somebody has to hear the call of God and articulate this is what God wants us to do.”

Ministering out of Community - Les Comee

“We learn about community or team from our first community – our family.”

Les’ Childhood Family Rules 😉

  • If you have a problem in your life, there’s only one answer – you just work harder.
  • You never ask anyone else for help, you did it on your own
  • All boys in the family have to eat their peas.
  • If anybody needed a place to stay, our house was always open.

Community begins with the call. Jesus says to the disciples – come follow me. Pretty simple. My wife said let’s eat together and lets share our lives… Community begins with the call. Community continues with people standing beside each other. The community decides how they are going to do that. Not just the leader, but the community decides this is what that is going to look like…”

Community begins with the call. Jesus says to the disciples – come follow me.

Slowing Down

“We got this group of people and I still remember our first meeting when someone really listened to me. I thought – wow! What else I found out was as I listened that there were a lot of volunteers that were just about as tired as I was. And we needed to listen to each other and we needed to figure out how are we going to do this so that everybody isn’t burned out, tired, exhausted all the time. You know what amazing thing they came up with? We’re going to start playing with the kids. We’ll take them to the beach. We’ll jog with them. We’ll do all the stuff we like to do, but we’ll do it with the kids!”

What else I found out was as I listened that there were a lot of volunteers that were just about as tired as I was.

“Our problem as leaders (and I’m quoting Mike Yaconelli) our problem wasn’t sin, our problem was speed. We were going all the time. And we weren’t slowing up. And we weren’t listening. We weren’t paying attention to God. We were performing.”

“The Hebrew word for breath is the same word for Spirit – Ruah. So when you take a deep breath, you are breathing in God’s Spirit, God’s life. You’re having a mini sabbath, you’re renewing yourself. I know that’s true and I don’t do it enough.”

“Your team needs to learn how together to slow up, listen to the Lord, depend on God, play, relax.”

Conflict

“If you are going to be in a real community, you are going to have conflicts. You are going to have different expectations, different hopes, different dreams, people are not going to come through for you… so you are going to have to learn how to deal with conflict.”

“If you’re going to help you team grow, or help your kids grow, speaking the truth in love makes a huge amount of difference.”

If you are going to be in a real community, you are going to have conflicts. You are going to have different expectations, different hopes, different dreams, people are not going to come through for you… so you are going to have to learn how to deal with conflict.

“Then, you walk with them, and walk with them, and walk with them, while they deal with what you said. And you ask them how they are doing with what you said. It’s not a one time ‘speak the truth in love’.”

“‘Speak the truth in love’ then you walk and walk and care and talk and listen. That’s how kids grow. That’s how your leaders grow. You shoot straight with them.”

“Transformation is a part of a process and you are a part of a process.”

Ministering out of Community - Les Comee

VIDEO: Ministering Out of Community – Interview with Lester Comee

In this video, our own Zach Gurick talks to Youth Ministry veteran, Les Comee, about how we practice youth ministry out of a place of community.

This interview took place after Les’ presentation at the Flagler Forum on Youth Ministry at Flagler College in St. Augustine, Florida.

Transcript:

Zach Gurick: So we are sitting here at the Flagler Youth Forum, with Lester Comee. He is a legend in youth ministry because, you have been doing it for so long and you have influenced and impacted so many lives in the last 47-48 years that you’ve been walking with youth, standing beside them and you have just spoke about mission community and doing ministry out of a sense of community. So rather than having a team where you’re just focused on pushing them out to perform, reach more kids, grow, do more, you’re saying- we need to share life together. We need break bread together, have a meal together, focus more…

Lester: …many meals together.

Zach: And out of that ministry natural flows, we go out in this community together, we go, enter into kids lives together. And a lot of time we are going to need each other. So we talked about, Ruah –the breath of God and being reminded of being renewed with every breath that we take and helping our volunteers especially our leaders that we work with, to so slow down, to take a Sabbath, to take rest, to play together. And the other thing that really came out was, when you have this sort of community, this team, there is going to be a lot of conflict and so maybe tell us a little bit about how you work with that on your own leadership and in your life.

Ministering out of Community - Les Comee

Lester: One of the things I have talked about in the seminar, Zach, was, in my family growing up, we didn’t learn how to deal with conflict, so here I am in the leadership position and they’re all people like me broken, hurting, lonely. And so we’re bumping heads with each other all the time, without skills. We maybe have a theology out of Matthew 18 says ‘Care for one another, talk to one another, one at a time, two at a time’ but we don’t know how to do that, so we talked for a little while in the time about dealing with conflict, and who can help us deal with conflict.

So, rather than having a team where you’re just focused on pushing them out to perform, reach more kids, grow, do more, you’re saying- we need to share life together…

I went to a couple of people that were my mentors and just watched them and then asked them ‘how do you deal with conflict?’ Cuz’ that’s different. I had to learn, I have to learn all those skills to help work with the community. And you read in “Life Together” about community and Bonhoeffer is very honest about people not getting along. Cause’ we don’t. And we’ve had pro’s come in when I didn’t know what to do. I go online on Youtube and look for conflict, what is Brene Brown had to say about conflict? And actually she, for some National Management forum, has some incredible stories, that’s great stuff on YouTube. You just do a little research, but the hard thing is spending the time to take it into yourself. And how’s it been for you learning how to deal with conflict? – I’m dead serious.

We maybe have a theology out of Matthew 18, it says ‘Care for one another, talk to one another, one at a time, two at a time’ but we don’t know how to do that…

Zach: That is a struggle of mine as well and I feel similar (you and me brother). I would much rather avoid, deny, run away from conflict and so it’s a lot of internal work for me to really shoot, shoot straight for someone. A classic two on enneagram, a classic people pleaser. I don’t want to upset anybody, so having those hard conversations is so challenging. Something that, I see as I grow and as I’m transformed then, I’m able to lead others in that much better. So you mentioned Dietrich Bonhoeffer for life together, Brene Brown fantastic resources, you mentioned Bill Hybels…

Lester: … Intervarsity has numerous books on building a team that deals with all kind of stuff and conflict is one of them. I don’t remember the titles, but a lot of Intervarsity books on that. But as much as anything ,it’s finding somebody who can help you understand who Zach is, or who Les is, as a denier or as a run from person and then how do we deal with that? How do we work with that, it’s a slow process, for sure.

Zach: Yeah! Well thanks a lot for sharing with us today and thanks for continuing to pouring into the lives of young people.

Lester: Thank you Zach.

How Should We Think About Young People? - Wes Ellis

Video: How Should We Think About Young People?

In this video, Zach Gurick of Kindred talks with Wes Ellis about how we as youth pastors should think about young people.

Transcript

Zach Gurick: Alright so we’re here with Wes Ellis, just finished up the Flagler youth ministry forum, we have these amazing people all gathered together, so we had to take the opportunity to hear from Wes who is somewhat of an expert of bringing together youth ministry and theology, studying for your Ph.D. at Aberdeen right now. Maybe you could tell us a little about, how should we as youth workers think about young people? We call them youth, kids, teens, adolescents; tell us about that because you’re one of the leading experts on this.

Wes Ellis: Haha well thank (you). First of all I don’t know if I’m a leading expert but yeah there is… there has been, always been this debate about, what should be call kids? Obviously a bias right there, but how should we think about young people, what we call them and does that matter. I think it matters because I think there’s a sort of an impulse in youth ministry to think about young people as sort of potential adults, and that’s sort of what adolescence is all about, what adolescence means.

How Should We Think About Young People? - Wes EllisThat has been, kind of the running theme and the strongest paradigm in how to think about young people in youth ministry, and it’s been helpful to us in so many ways, but I also think that when youth ministry is about developing young people, developing adolescents, into mature Christian adults, what tends to happen, is we as youth workers feel like we failed when our young people in our churches aren’t developing the way we think they should. Also, we tend to leave behind those young people who aren’t developing the way we think they should.

So we elevate the kids who fit our paradigm, the kids who model those things in the present that we look like what we want to exist in the future. And, as youth workers with limited time having to choose where to invest that time, we tend to leave some kids behind.young people - kindred youth ministry - 1

And I think it would be powerful for us to begin to think about young people not as adolescents in a stage of development toward adulthood, but actually to think about them as human beings who are engaging in a practice, in a social practice of youth, and teaching the church some things about the way God is working in their lives. The fact is, the God who’s working in the lives of young people is not a junior Holy Spirit, this is not… this is the same God who is working in you and me, is working in 13 and 15 year olds, and we have some profound things to learn from that.

So youth ministers can think of young people as people, as human beings, and expect to find not just a ball of clay to be molded into an adult, but someone who can actually reveal to us something that God is doing in the church.

Zach: That is a fantastic paradigm shift for us, and I think that as you are talking I’m thinking about kids in my mind that I have learned so much from by doing this and I’m getting just as much out of it as I’m giving to them.

Wes: Yeah it’s a two way street like we are…

Zach: … God is revealing to us through them as well and us.

Wes: Absolutely, we always sort of co-mentoring each other. And the church, we can think about all the ways youth people can transform and give energy, we don’t even know all the potential for what they can teach us because I think we’ve been so set on what the path of development should look like. So maybe let’s just get out of this… let’s stop thinking about a path of development and start thinking about ministry. And I think there is a difference.

young people - kindred youth ministry - 2

Zach: Yeah. That’s fantastic, I think that’s an amazing overview of who you are and what you’re working on and I can’t wait for more to come.

Wes: Cool. Thank You.

How should we think about young people in youth ministry?


About the Author: Wes Ellis

Wes Ellis is the Associate Pastor of First United Methodist Church of Toms River in New Jersey. He earned an M.Div. and an M.A. in Christian Education from Princeton Theological Seminary. He’s a husband, a father, and a youth worker.

YM Internship

The Youth Ministry Internship

Experiential Learning

In an age of cyberleaks and the ongoing “millennial” search for authenticity, I think it’s fitting to disclose a timeless youth ministry secret. Cue the lights.

YM Internship

Youth ministers make mistakes.

Yikes. I hate to say it, but most likely you already knew.

It could be because youth ministry tends to be the research and development wing of the church. It might be that we tend to throw some of our most inexperienced (mind you, enthusiastic) leaders into the fire to minister to our young people. It’s also 100% because we’re human, and messing up is kind of our thang (see: human history; every sitcom ever; old diary entries).

Thankfully, grace abounds, and failure leads to innovation. But the beauty is that youth ministry tends to be an area within the church which expects, allows, and sometimes even encourages mistakes to be made. One way this happens is through experiential learning.

Intentional Experiences Transform

Wait. What’s experiential learning? Put simply, it’s learning by doing. You do this instinctively when you engage youth in service and mission trips or when you introduce a topic or Scripture through a game.

At its best, experiential learning is transformational learning. It creates a fundamental change in learners and their worldviews. The ‘doing’ becomes part of the being, as it reorients learners’ sense of self and world.

Judy Steers notes, “At its best, experiential learning is transformational learning. It creates a fundamental change in learners and their worldviews. The ‘doing’ becomes part of the being, as it reorients learners’ sense of self and world.”

According to Steers, experiential learning is marked by the following components: compelling encounters, reflection, agency in response, and community. Although often neglected, Steers advocates the necessity of experiential learning as part of Christian formation since that’s how Jesus engaged his disciples:

The disciples had repeated encounters with the grand narrative of God’s grace and with the small narratives of Jesus’ parables and the lives of people he met. The disciples reflected together on Jesus’ questions, on their own mistakes, and on their life together. Jesus gave them agency, calling them to follow him and sending them out in his name, and he called them together into a community. These followers of the tradition of Jesus were experiential learners. When we engage in experiential education, we follow in their footsteps.

Experiential Learning and Interns

There are countless other ways to engage youth and young adults in experiential learning, but since summer is quickly approaching, and we are entering prime-summer-youth-intern season, let’s focus on Christian formation through youth ministry internships.

The intern-supervisor relationship is holy and powerful: an agreement of mutual benefit and investment.

As Christ-followers, we ought to keep in mind that there are two ways (at least) of viewing an intern. One way to view an intern is a task-driven assistant who makes your job easier (think: gets you coffee, teaches the class you don’t like to teach, etc.). The other way—the way I would advocate you view an intern—is to view them as a partner in ministry; someone who you welcome as a disciple, someone you intentionally form, love, and serve.

I’m not saying an intern shouldn’t do any tasks. Of course they will. But the intern-supervisor relationship is holy and powerful: an agreement of mutual benefit and investment. With that in mind, let’s consider these…

Top Ten Tips to Supervising a Youth Ministry Intern

1) Select wisely.

Develop a clear criteria for evaluation of candidates, and work with your team to find the balance between “how can we hire someone to enhance our ministry?” and “how might this intern grow through this experience?”

2) Commission and set apart.

One of the most meaningful gifts you can give as an intern supervisor is to mark the sacredness of the internship experience: for the intern, for the congregation, and for you. The first summer I spent as an intern in children’s ministry, a commissioning service transformed my summer job into a holy calling.

3) Set expectations.

Like any internship, clear expectations and defined roles help minimize conflict and develop mutual understanding. Make it clear. Put it in writing. Sign it, and refer back to it. (And don’t forget to keep your end of the deal too. If you say you’re going to meet to talk about their progress, meet and talk about their progress.)

4) Involve a team.

It’s tempting to do ministry as a lone wolf… or a lone wolf with a summer lackey. The more congregants that can connect to the intern in support, encouragement, and discipleship, the more you will resource and build the faith of the intern (and that’s the point).

5) Offer time for reflection along the way and at the end.

In Luke 10, when Jesus sends out the 70, the disciples engage in ministry and then return to Jesus who frames their experiences, offers feedback, and affirms their work in proclaiming the authority of God and their place in God’s kingdom. As an intern supervisor, you have the opportunity and the wisdom to frame their experience theologically. In other words, point out God in action through their ministry. Even if the intern isn’t ministry-bound in a vocational sense, all Christians are bound to ministry. Open the door to conversation about how they will serve Jesus in any potential vocation.

6) Play to their strengths.

If we’re not careful, it may be tempting to assign an intern the tasks that you’d rather not do. This is the difference between a good supervisor and a bad supervisor. If you’re a youth minister, you’re in the business of discipleship and formation. Don’t miss out on an opportunity to help someone identify and use their God-given gifts in a meaningful ministry setting just because you don’t feel like doing something for a summer.

7) Coach, encourage, and correct.

Along the way, your intern will need advice. You’ll make mistakes. You’ll give too much freedom or not enough. They’ll flop or under-prepare. The goal is to plant seeds and nurture growth, not demand the flower to bloom.

8) Provide closure and celebration.

Summer has a way of building relationships that stand outside of “real life.” Part of what you can do to prevent this disconnect for your intern and your youth is to mark the end of an era through some kind of celebration or service of blessing. You might ask your intern to preach, to write a closing reflection for the newsletter, or have a send-off party. Goodbyes matter, and supervisors hold the power to initiate some healthy farewells.

9) Pray.

For the months leading up to the internship period, encourage your congregation to pray for the future intern and the committee that will be supporting them. When your intern begins, make a habit of praying for and with them regularly. Praying with someone regularly teaches them how to pray for others.

10) Know that every intern will be different.

Interns do not come one-size-fits-all. Some interns will need different styles of coaching and maybe different responsibilities based upon their giftedness and goals for the future. An internship program should live, breathe, and change with each new intern.

And as always, learn from inevitable mistakes. Have you supervised an intern or been supervised as an intern? What worked for you? What didn’t? Comment below with any tips you have!


About the Author: Zach Wooten

Zach Wooten

Zach Wooten is a third year M. Div student at Princeton Theological Seminary and a co-pastor at the First United Methodist Church of Mount Holly, New Jersey. He has served as a minister to children, youth, and adults in American Baptist, United Methodist, and Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) congregations.

Volunteers

Volunteers: What’s Your Calling?

Got Volunteers?

We’ve all been there. Sitting in a classroom with the teacher getting ready to call on people. Everyone darts their eyes away quietly whispering, “Don’t call on me, please, don’t call on me.”

Volunteers - What's your calling?

It can feel the same way in the church when the refrain goes out through the halls of churches across the nation, “We need more volunteers!” Can you feel all of the eyes darting away?

The request comes from understanding the truth that one person can’t do it all when it comes to caring for our youth. That’s of course, hoping you’ve even found that one person.

Every church is a different setting and scenario. Some churches are able to hire full-time staff and are working on building a thriving ministry. While these churches can do excellent ministry, they can also fall into the trap of putting on a professional show instead of loving young people.

Other churches have far fewer resources, but they are seeking to respond to the needs of families who are asking for someone to minister to their youth. They are desperately looking for a volunteer who will do “something” with the three kids that attend the church. Both situations, and the ones that fall in between, are repeated far too often throughout the church and the ones who are losing out are our youth.

Having Volunteers Isn’t Enough

A widely taught axiom of youth ministry suggests that a good ratio for youth leaders to youth is five to one. The axiom means that a leader can effectively pour into and truly know five youth and what is happening in their lives. Some stretch the ratio to six or seven (Mark DeVries, Sustainable Youth Ministry).

Almost every faithful youth ministry has used this axiom to make sure there are enough leaders who are there, loving youth, connecting into their lives, and being one of the tangible expressions of Jesus in the lives of kids. Praise God! But if these leaders only pour into both and fail to connect them to God’s larger church, we still have a big problem.

But if leaders fail to connect youth to God’s larger church, we still have a big problem.

Most recently, Sticky Faith has done a great job of picking up the banner of helping us understand we have been failing youth in connecting them to the larger church. As a result, a high percentage of youth and their faith have fallen by the wayside as they move into the college years. Youth have not been helped to build long-term faith relationships within the body of Christ, and, all too frequently, their faith has therefore died on the vine with no one there to nurture it.

As youth leaders, we are often powerless and heartbroken as we watch young people who have graduated slowly walk away from the faith we wanted to instill in them. We have new young people in our programs with their own needs, and we lack the time and energy to care for both current youth and graduated youth.

Volunteer As Calling

My challenge to all of us in youth ministry is to re-evaluate our understanding of who our volunteers are. All too often, we have been so desperate to fill holes, we have taken any “warm body” who seems to be willing. The problem is “warm bodies” hang around for six to twelve months and then move on to wherever the next desperate need is. Rather than having people who are stable in the lives of our youth, our youth often experience a revolving door of adults, who would seem to leave just like the world does.

I could be wrong on this one, but I’m pretty sure the word “volunteer” never shows up in the New Testament. Sure, you could probably volunteer to be in David’s army to go up to Jerusalem, but when it comes to the New Testament and ministry, Jesus called the twelve to himself. Paul was called as an apostle. Jude says we have all been given this calling. Jesus didn’t go around looking for volunteers. The Apostle Paul turned down Mark who volunteered to go with him. Over and over again, God looks for those He has called to ministry to respond to Him. And God equips each of those called for the work of ministry. Maybe the greatest example of this is God calling Moses to be His person to lead Israel out of Egypt and His promise to equip him fully.

Purpose-Filled Volunteers

How does this play out in ministry? Rather than having volunteers who fill holes, a ministry that is built upon helping people to discover their callings ends up with people who are equipped for the long haul. More than that, when people discover a call that is connected to their passion, they begin to see it as “their” ministry. They aren’t just putting in time. They are living out their life purpose.

Rather than having volunteers who fill holes, a ministry that is built upon helping people to discover their callings ends up with people who are equipped for the long haul.

Let me give you some examples of people who discovered their calling and are living it out still today.

Jerry’s Care

Jerry is a very successful tech hardware systems salesman. What makes him successful is the care he gives to his clients. Jerry started working in our ministry in 1990. He wasn’t sure if he had anything to offer, but he was willing to step in and start loving kids. He has been loving kids since for 25 years as they sense in him a genuine concern and compassion for their lives. He is the one who meets them for coffee, counsels them through challenges, teaches them how to make a budget, and helps them move hay bales for their wedding. That’s because they know he is there for the long haul with them.

Susie’s Notes

Susie wasn’t sure what she had to offer, but she was willing to come and learn. Her gentle demeanor made her incredibly approachable for even the shiest high school student. What we didn’t know was that Susie discovered her gift as an encourager through letter writing. Hundreds of youth have received a “Susie Note.” It’s not just a signed card, but a letter written from the heart—often filled with glitter—received by kids for over 15 years.

Cullen’s Projects

Cullen was a pretty new Christian, married with no children. When he was baptized there were also high school students baptized that day and he saw something that caught his heart. An electrical engineer with strong relational gifts, Cullen thrived when we was turned loose with projects that allowed him to engage kids in making a difference. Whether it was planning out service projects, helping with Eagle Scout projects, going on mission trips, Cullen encouraged kids by walking with them. Now, 10 years later, he is still there and has started his own STEM program as a way to minister to homeschool students.

Calling and Passion

Each of these adults are examples of people who discovered their calling to ministry, which, coupled with their passion with youth, have made them lifetime ministers, not temporary volunteers. As a result, youth have people who are connected into their lives for the long haul. Youth are connected to the Body of Christ because the Body of Christ is committed to them.

Youth are connected to the Body of Christ because the Body of Christ is committed to them.

As leaders, our job is not just to look for volunteers—although I totally understand the desperation of the moment. It is to help people find their calling to ministry. That means, if they aren’t called to youth ministry, turn them loose and encourage them to discover where they are called.  I believe this is what Paul meant in Ephesians 4:16: “From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” 

Come and See

One of the methods I use is the “come and see” approach. I invite people to just come and see, hang out for a month and see if God is putting this ministry on their heart. Rather than just throwing people into the fire, I want to allow them to discern where God is calling them. I find this gives people great freedom to explore and discover.

God calls us a royal priesthood and a holy nation in 1 Peter 2:9. This isn’t just the lead youth worker or the pastor, but all believers! Think about how you discovered your call to ministry. How qualified were you the first time someone gave you the reins?

While it may be scary to give away parts of a ministry you understand to be yours, it is necessary, both for youth and the larger church. When we do an effective job of recruiting leaders who are called and give them space to live into that calling, two amazing things happen: 1) Youth receive love and care for the long haul, and 2) Youth get connected to Christ and His community for a lifetime.

How would your youth ministry look differently if your leaders had permission to live out their calls among your students? If you don’t know, why don’t you come and see? This week, watch what happens when your volunteers are set free to love and serve—to pursue their calling.


About the Author: Drew Hulse

Drew Hulse

Drew is a youth ministry veteran with almost 40 years of experience. His last two calls were for 21 years as Associate Pastor for Youth Ministry in Vancouver, WA and 8 years as Associate Pastor for Youth Ministry in Honolulu, HI. Drew has had the opportunity to train over 100 interns, while mentoring new youth workers across the West Coast. He has M. Div. and a D. Min. in Youth and Family, both from Fuller Theological Seminary. Drew and his wife, Cathy, have two grown daughters and a son-in-law. They recently moved from Kailua, HI to Tucson, AZ, in order to be close to their two grandkids.