Posts

Mentor

One Thing Every Youth Worker Desperately Needs

The Value of a Mentor

You’d think as youth leaders, we would know firsthand the necessity of a mentor—someone slightly further along the path of life that we can emulate and learn from. After  all, the entire occupation of youth ministry is built upon the value of mentoring! But far too often, we spend all our time and energy being the mentor and role model for young people. And instead of investing in our own spiritual walk, we stagnate. You need a mentor!

Mentor

This mentor can be a spiritual director, a counselor, a pastor, a church member, a business person in your town, or a parent of a student you know. Or contact our friends at PRYME, and get connected with a veteran youth worker in your town. It all depends on what you need. Let’s be clear, though—you need this person in your life! If you aren’t growing personally, your life and ministry will, without question, eventually reflect this.  As youth leaders, we are constantly pouring ourselves out. We desperately need to find people that are going to invest in us if we are going to continue to give ourselves away in ministry!

My mentor’s wisdom, counsel, advice, and affirmation help to dispel the false narratives that are trapped deep in the recesses of my mind, and replace those with narratives that allow me to become more of my true self.

Finding Your Mentor

So how do you find a mentor? About ten years ago I was challenged to make a list of the top five people I would ask to mentor me if I could ask anyone. I wrote down the list, mustered up some courage, and typed in the phone number I’d received from a friend for the person at the very top of my list. I’d only briefly met him once before and didn’t think he’d even remember me. A few minutes later, I had a new mentor. Come to find out, people with a lot of wisdom are often looking for ways to share it, and younger people to invest into… A few days later, I showed up at my new mentor’s house and found out that many years before, he’d been mentored by an older, wiser man who was a little further down the road than he was, and it had been one of the most meaningful relationships of his life.

To this day, my mentor speaks life into me. He affirms the gifts and talents he sees in me, and encourages me every time we meet. We talk about the spiritual disciplines and just by asking about my spiritual life, he holds me accountable. If I have a major life decision to make, I want his input, and I trust his voice in my life. His wisdom, counsel, advice, and affirmation help to dispel the false narratives that are trapped deep in the recesses of my mind, and replace those with narratives that allow me to become more of my true self. Because of my friendship with my mentor, I have so much more to offer to those that I lead.  He is a close confidante, he has walked with me through some very trying and difficult times, and celebrated many joyous occasions as well. When we meet, we mostly talk about Jesus, life, and what we’re learning. Sound familiar? Kind of like what you and I do with students all the time!

Who’s Your Mentor?

So, my friends, why not sit down now a make a list of five people that you know of that you could ask to mentor you? I’d be willing to bet that you will be pleasantly surprised after making a couple phone calls just as I was!

My friends and I here at KYM put together an entire e-book of ideas, tips, and tricks like this called “11 Hacks for Youth Ministry.” I hope you’ll download it today at kindredyouthministry.com, and continue to invest in yourself, so you can continue to invest in others. We hope it’s helpful for you and your ministry!

We also want to invite you to join a Kindred Coaching Cohort! Find a sense of community.  Learn practical skills like time management, team building, leader recruitment and training, and how to delegate. Have your entire year planned including all the curriculum and resources you need to make it happen provided by leading scholars and practitioners!

You are not alone! Set yourself up to thrive in the work of youth ministry and in life!  


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.

 

Encountering God in the Stories of Others

Mike is the drummer for the praise team at our church. He’s a young guy, a teacher at the local high school, a drum line instructor, and—perhaps most importantly—a drummer in a band that plays venues up and down the Jersey Shore. Mike is cool. And the young people in our youth ministry know he’s cool. They see him drumming on stage just about every Sunday morning, providing the real cool-factor to the otherwise baby-boomer-style praise team.

Encountering God

Heike is the chair of the finance committee at our church. She attends the traditional service where, instead of a praise team, we have a choir and an organ. Heike comes in the church office, usually when no one else is around, to do the books and make sure the church is in a decent financial position. Heike is also cool, but the young people at our church are less likely to know Heike than Mike.

What do Mike and Heike have in common? They hang out in different crowds, they occupy different generations, and they shop at different stores. But both Heike and Mike have had experiences of God. Both have stories to tell about how they’ve been encountered by God. Their stories may be about as different as they are from one another. But both of them have felt, in some way, the mysterious sense that God is present in their lives.

An Approach to Storytelling in Youth Ministry

This summer, in our youth ministry, we invited Heike, Mike, and a bunch of other people in the church—people who usually don’t go to youth group—to come talk about those kinds of experiences. Each week someone new was invited to come in and talk about a time when they experienced God. As we listened to these stories we discovered that different people encounter God in different ways but God is active in each person’s life.

What we also realized is just how rare it is to hear someone actually talk about his or her experience of God. This is probably explained by the fact that, in our rationalistic and secular society, it is increasingly difficult to talk about faith, let alone an encounter with the divine.

One question I asked each person who told of their experience of God was, “how did you know that it was God and not just indigestion?”[1]

The most common answer was, basically, “I don’t know… somehow, I just knew.” And it was remarkable how “ok with it” some people were with not knowing for sure. Mike, for example, just said, “I guess I don’t really know for sure that it is God, it just feels right to think it is.”

How can we expect young people ever to recognize God in their own lives if they’re not confronted by the stories of God in ours?

While many of us are uncomfortable with this kind of answer, the honesty behind it is compelling. And it was especially compelling to the young people in our youth ministry.

One young man in the group said to me afterward, “it’s nice to know that you don’t have to know.” He was relieved to discover that even these adults, these people who were up front talking about encountering God, were as uncertain as he was. The uncertainty these adults confessed made him more comfortable thinking about his own experiences as experiences of God.

Hearing people talk about their experiences of God gave the young people in our youth ministry a new perspective each week. As common as it is to hear a preacher or youth pastor talk about God, it’s rare to actually hear about people’s personal experiences of God. But it’s extremely important that we find ways to do just that, to tell stories of God’s action in our lives.

Mundane Events as Sacred Narratives

The theologian, Eberhard Jungel wrote, “If thinking wants to think God, then it must endeavor to tell stories.”[2]

It is in God’s action in our lived experience that we are met by God, not just in a feeling or a philosophical position.

So it simply won’t do for young people to have only an emotional or rational concept of God in their toolbox. If we really want them to be able to talk about God, they’ve got to be able to talk about their experiences of God.

It is in God’s action in our lived experience that we are met by God, not just in a feeling or a philosophical position.

According to veteran youth worker and practical theologian, Amanda Hontz Drury, “Narrative does more than describe; it also constructs.”[3] Our identities and the ways we carry ourselves in the world are often shaped by these stories.

Whether we tell them as stories of God’s action or we write them off as mundane events or peculiar dramas will profoundly affect the world we live in and how we live in it. As Drury writes, “While articulation may not affect my status before God, it may affect the way I understand God to be at work in my life and subsequently how I respond to God.”[4]

But what if young people never hear others, particularly (though not exclusively) adults, tell those stories? What if young people see Mike at the drums every week but never hear the story of how he feels God’s presence with him while he’s drumming? What if they pass Heike in the hall between services but never hear the story of how God was with her during her childhood?

They’ll likely mistake these sacred encounters for merely ordinary happenings. How can we expect young people ever to recognize God in their own lives if they’re not confronted by the stories of God in ours?

In our youth ministry, we are striving to learn from the Bible… but we also want to learn from Mike and from Heike. We want to learn from one another, to hear one another’s stories of God, so that we can begin to recognize, even in our uncertainty, the mystery of God’s presence in our own lives.

            [1] I stole this question from Kenda Creasy Dean.

            [2] Eberhard Jungel, God as Mystery of the World, p. 303.

            [3] Amanda Hontz Drury, Saying is Believing, p. 25.

            [4] Drury, p. 44.


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.

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.

Mentor

One Thing Every Youth Worker Desperately Needs

The Value of a Mentor

You’d think as youth leaders, we would know firsthand the necessity of a mentor—someone slightly further along the path of life that we can emulate and learn from. After  all, the entire occupation of youth ministry is built upon the value of mentoring! But far too often, we spend all our time and energy being the mentor and role model for young people. And instead of investing in our own spiritual walk, we stagnate. You need a mentor!

My mentor’s wisdom, counsel, advice, and affirmation help to dispel the false narratives that are trapped deep in the recesses of my mind, and replace those with narratives that allow me to become more of my true self.

This mentor can be a spiritual director, a counselor, a pastor, a church member, a business person in your town, or a parent of a student you know. Or contact our friends at PRYME, and get connected with a veteran youth worker in your town. It all depends on what you need. Let’s be clear, though—you need this person in your life! If you aren’t growing personally, your life and ministry will, without question, eventually reflect this.  As youth leaders, we are constantly pouring ourselves out. We desperately need to find people that are going to invest in us if we are going to continue to give ourselves away in ministry!

Mentor

Finding Your Mentor

So how do you find a mentor? About ten years ago I was challenged to make a list of the top five people I would ask to mentor me if I could ask anyone. I wrote down the list, mustered up some courage, and typed in the phone number I’d received from a friend for the person at the very top of my list. I’d only briefly met him once before and didn’t think he’d even remember me. A few minutes later, I had a new mentor. Come to find out, people with a lot of wisdom are often looking for ways to share it, and younger people to invest into… A few days later, I showed up at my new mentor’s house and found out that many years before, he’d been mentored by an older, wiser man who was a little further down the road than he was, and it had been one of the most meaningful relationships of his life.

To this day, my mentor speaks life into me. He affirms the gifts and talents he sees in me, and encourages me every time we meet. We talk about the spiritual disciplines and just by asking about my spiritual life, he holds me accountable. If I have a major life decision to make, I want his input, and I trust his voice in my life. His wisdom, counsel, advice, and affirmation help to dispel the false narratives that are trapped deep in the recesses of my mind, and replace those with narratives that allow me to become more of my true self. Because of my friendship with my mentor, I have so much more to offer to those that I lead.  He is a close confidante, he has walked with me through some very trying and difficult times, and celebrated many joyous occasions as well. When we meet, we mostly talk about Jesus, life, and what we’re learning. Sound familiar? Kind of like what you and I do with students all the time!

Who’s Your Mentor?

So, my friends, why not sit down now a make a list of five people that you know of that you could ask to mentor you? I’d be willing to bet that you will be pleasantly surprised after making a couple phone calls just as I was!

My friends and I here at KYM put together an entire e-book of ideas, tips, and tricks like this called “11 Hacks for Youth Ministry.” I hope you’ll download it today at kindredyouthministry.com, and continue to invest in yourself, so you can continue to invest in others. We hope it’s helpful for you and your ministry!


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.

 

The Stories We Tell

The Stories We Tell

In youth ministry there is a lot of storytelling going on.

The Stories We Tell - Kindred Youth Ministry

Some of these stories are told around campfires, over a coke, or while taking a drive together. Often we have the chance to stand before kids we love, open stories from the Bible, and tell them in ways that allow the characters to leap off the page. The words we use are powerful, and the stories we tell can often land in the hearts of those we love in ways more impactful than we were ever aware.

However, our scripted efforts to invite young people into the reality of God’s love are only part of our storytelling.

Implicit Storytelling

I’m convinced the talks we give are only one aspect of the opportunity we have to tell of God’s love. What if we began to reframe every aspect of our youth ministries through story?

The stories that often go unchecked are the ones we tell with our actions. Every aspect of youth ministry could be understood as one more element of the grand story we are placing on display. The moment a middle school kid is dropped off they experience a story—we just hope it’s one of welcome, love, and acceptance.

The games we play and the songs we sing are another element of our storytelling. Were kids humiliated? Did we only call upon popular kids, or our youth group heroes to come up front? What kind of story does that tell?

Who are the youth ministry volunteers and leaders? Are they all young, beautiful, and “with it,” or is the whole body of Christ represented by this group of adults?

We have an opportunity to tell far more stories than just the ones in our talks if only we would pay attention.

Stories and Place-sharing

In my early years of youth ministry I was trained to walk the halls of the local high school and pray for kids. I would show up at practices, games, plays, and just be around. I was told that this was part of the proclamation of the good news and that somehow the relationship between my actions and my words would enable the young people I loved to understand more about the God I was pointing towards. I still believe this today.

We read of storytelling like this in 1 Thessalonians 2:8 where Paul describes the love he has for the church in Thessalonica as being on display both in their words, but in their actions; “Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our very lives as well.” Here we understand that while our words indeed matter, the ways in which we put those words on display are also an important part of this announcing of God’s love. There must be continuity between our message and the means, or said another way—continuity of word and deed.

We never want to fall into the trap of either extreme, thinking that we need only words or just deeds. This would be a misunderstanding of the whole endeavor! Instead, we must understand that our words offer an explanation for our deeds, and our deeds put our words on display. When the two work hand in hand, both our words and our deeds, we are able to communicate with those we love more faithfully.

Actions Speak Loud(er)

I’m convinced the talks we give are only one aspect of the opportunity we have to tell of God’s love.

I’m convinced the talks we give are only one aspect of the opportunity we have to tell of God’s love.

What if we began to reframe every aspect of our youth ministries through story? What if from the moment a student arrived the storytelling began? What if our games, our songs, the people we involve, our leaders, even the spaces in which we meet all pointed collectively to the truth we so long to share?

What could this look like in your ministry? I’d love to see some ideas below in the comment section!

May we all be faithful storytellers, pointing with our words and deeds to the good news of Jesus Christ!


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.

Criticism - Kindred Youth Ministry

Ministry Survival: Criticism

Listen, let’s just be really honest with each other. Deal? Good. Truth time: People are the worst. I mean, not all people are terrible, some of them are great and you end up marrying them or asking them to be the godparents of your children. But outside of those folks, everyone is just a big dumpster fire of vitriol and criticism. Am I right?

Of course I’m not. But as someone who is in vocational ministry with you, I can attest that it starts to feel that way. Let me tell you a story…

Criticism - Kindred Youth Ministry

Criticism Sucks

Imagine if you will, Little Eddie, the fresh faced associate pastor. Oh those were sweet days! I had endless dreams, a piping hot seminary degree, dry cleaned shirts, and nothing but love and praise from the congregation—until Jerry.

Who is Jerry? Jerry is the guy who, for reasons that I still don’t understand, called a meeting with me and the senior pastor and yelled—like for real—yelled at me for being “unprofessional, sarcastic” and in need of being fired from “his” church. Freaking Jerry, he wrecked everything, and he introduced me to a harsh reality.

People are brutal on their church leaders.

You’ve felt it, you’ve lived it—you know. There are Jerry’s in your church and there are Jerry’s in your history that, when you recall those moments (both dramatic and subtle) they turn your stomach. But why is this? Why do people treat their pastors like punching bags?

It’s You 

I don’t want to go another moment without asking all of us to stop looking at those people (i.e. Jerry) and start looking at ourselves. Because maybe, just maybe, the criticism and pushback you received was valid. Now listen, I know it hurt—I do. It stings to be wrong. It’s gut wrenching to miss a meeting, have a kid break an arm because of your ill-conceived game, etc.

But sometimes, the criticism is just, and we need to allow that to be so. Because we are imperfect, and we are in a business that requires the feedback of others to know if we’re doing our role well.

And while it can be painful to hear (and often delivered in less than desired ways) we still need performance reviews. Learning to cut through your own embarrassment, hurt, and ego in order to hear what’s true in the criticism will do wonders for you actually improving at your job.

But sometimes, you didn’t do anything wrong and…

It’s Them

It’s one thing to realize that someone’s criticism of you is valid and worth internalizing. However, it’s quite another to process that criticism, run it through your filters (more on that later), and then realize that—holy smokes, that person is crazy!

Here’s the kicker though—they’re not crazy. They’re people, whom God loves, and even if no rational person would see their side, you have a higher authority to answer to. So, you do what every good church worker does when the angry email comes in—you take it. Then, you go home in a swirling eddy of emotion—hurt, confused, angry, and wanting justice. But of course you remember, “Oh right, I work in a church and I can’t shoot off an angry reply that calls them out.” You have to be the good guy. Which means there’s a lot of unanswered pain inside that mind of yours. And that pain, somehow, is going to find its way out.

I don’t fully understand why people are so hard on the church staff. Maybe it’s just human nature and no flight attendant, waiter, or youth director is guarded from the shrapnel. But for others, I think that the church—their home church—represents something deeply personal. And it is the depth of caring for this home that drills up some of the most loving and hurtful feelings a person has. They want their sanctuary to be their sanctuary, and if it seems like anyone is messing with that, they can’t control the emotion.

In any event, there you are. Angry, figuring out if it’s you or them (or both, or something else, or the man, or the failed institution of church, or whatever) and you need something to ease the pain.

So what can you do?

Find a Spinning Top

Remember that movie Inception? Well, I barely do because for some reason I fell asleep on three different occasions trying to watch that thing. It’s odd actually. Anyhow, what I do remember was that Leo’s character had a spinning top. And the purpose of that top was to give him some sort of indicator of what was real—or not.

You need a spinning top. So often, when we get hit with a criticism bomb, we go out of control. Especially for those of us who are mildly to severely insecure (i.e. all of us), when we get pushback we can’t see the forest for the trees.

This is when things get dangerous.

Our mind replays the situation over and over. We start to tell ourselves that we suck and we really aren’t cut out for this. We barter with God. We indulge our weaknesses. We cry. In short, we fall apart.

This is when you need your top. That is, someone who you can dump all of this on and get some honest, helpful bearings from. In other words, someone you can tell the problem to and hear what is true. What is actual.

Maybe they’ll tell you you really screwed up. But more likely, they’ll tell you that the situation is not as dire as it appears to be. You need this person (or people) because when the derailing happens, very few of us can course correct on our own. Find someone who will tell you what’s true. Spouses, friends, trusted co-workers, even counselors to a great job filling this role.

Which leads to the next thing you must be doing…

Stay Healthy

I hate it when people tell me this—. Yet despite my shortcomings, the times that I’ve been most successful in dealing with criticism are the times when I’m caring for my body (i.e. God’s creation). There is plenty of science and theology to prove this point, but we really don’t need that proof to know it’s right, do we? A brisk walk and some good foods put us a better place. And we need to be in that better place for our mind to do the work it has to do to settle itself and live to fight another day.

Finally…

You Can Quit

You really can, you know. It’s okay. Some of you reading this need the permission to start backing away from the role you’re in—and start planning the escape route. Because the truth is, there are some environments that are just too toxic to work in. Now maybe it’s you and you’re kind of messing up, or maybe it’s them and people truly are thrashing you unfairly. Whatever the reason, you must know that the work you’re doing isn’t happening because you’re you—it’s happening because God’s God.

And because of that fact, you must value yourself enough to know that having your soul crumble isn’t what God hoped for when he knitted you together.

The work you’re doing isn’t happening because you’re you—it’s happening because God’s God. And because of that fact, you must value yourself enough to know that having your soul crumble isn’t what God hoped for when he knitted you together.

I don’t want you to quit, I really don’t. I want you to find a way to persevere through the criticism, learn from what’s true, release that which is not yours to own, find some trusted help and try to be healthy. However, if that’s not possible for you, it’s okay. God still has a plan for you and isn’t critical of you at all.

If you want to chat about this more, let’s do that in the comments section below!

 


About the Author: Eddie Kaufholz

Eddie Kaufholz

Eddie regularly speaks about justice issues and writes on topics of faith and counseling. In addition, he is a podcast host, counselor, and pastor living in Orlando, Florida. He is married and has two daughters. Check out his website and find him on Facebook.