3 Challenges for Today’s Youth Leaders

In a previous post, I outlined five important lessons for 21st century youth pastors. Today, I’m going to switch gears by discussing three of the biggest challenges youth leaders face on a daily basis.

1) The Parent-Youth Pastor Relationship

As a parent of two under two, I can’t fully relate to the stress of seasoned parents; however, while I may not have conquered potty training or the volcano science fair project, I do know:

  • While parents understand their youth better, this doesn’t mean they understand the youth group better1.
  • While parents can be a youth pastor’s most challenging relationship, if trust and communication is established from the get-go, it will have a greater opportunity to flourish.

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In my experience, I’ve seen it all: parents asking other parents or staff questions they should be asking me, parents criticizing my effort to other pastors and parents, parents pulling their kids out of youth group without explanation, parents not making any effort to connect, parents not making any effort to encourage their youth to connect, parents who think they know me because they know my parents, parents who volunteered with hidden agendas, parents overprotecting their kids based on vain assumptions…I could go on.

Yet, by conquering these offenses, I’ve often found the motivation to not only tend these challenging relationships with a pure heart, but maximize parental buy-in with a clearer understanding of God’s vision for their youth. Remember to the extent you press through, to that extent you’ll find it easier to:

  • Believe the best, not just hope the best
  • Be faithful in the big andsmall
  • Bury grudges
  • Fully rely on God without interdependences
  • Proactively own mistakes
  • Partner with parents2

For instance, after learning one of my parents had a gift for teaching music, I decided to extend him an opportunity to help me create a youth worship band. In this way, I not only invested in one of his passions and spiritual gifts, but also invited him into a piece of the overall vision.

2) The Engage Factor

As much as I love student ministry, engaging families skeptical of youth group is a consistent challenge. From my end, youth should have a defined place of identity and influence in the body at large. Unfortunately, with each passing year, I see many youth and youth parents disconnect from youth ministry fearing youth group will conflict with their standards.

Perhaps you’ve noticed the same thing, wondering why parents are so quick to withdraw before a conversation can be had. If so, remember if their standards are to be extended, then they must be empowered to be encouraged.

Again, I may be a fairly young parent, but I’m also a seasoned youth leader appreciative of having learned the heart of worship, the value of dependence, and the necessity of Hebrews 10:24-25 community in youth group.3

So, if you’re like me, having learned the essentiality of youth group through years of experience, it makes sense for us, as shepherds, to want ‘fence families’ (i.e. uncommitted attenders with uninvolved youth) to know the same; however, it’s in these moments we must exchange entitlementfor encouragement.

For while it’s true more people are basing their engagement on circumstance and convenience as opposed to conviction, we must remember it’s not our responsibility to reverse the trend. Rather it’s our privilege to pray God inspires understanding of what commitment in community looks like…while modeling it along the way.

I remember with one family years back, understanding the needs of their rising youth was a huge challenge. Often times, they’d reach out inviting me to pray over their youth on a Sunday morning and then go into radio silence for weeks leaving me to wonder if I had done something wrong. Thankfully, the more I started to pray outside my understanding, the more I started to relate within my understanding. As it turned out, the youth wrestled with autism and the parents, who thought they had communicated this to me, went years assuming I knew. Only once we bridged the misunderstanding did communication and community between me and the family begin to improve; however, looking back, it’s clear had I not repeatedly surrendered my questions to God, I likely would have lacked the humility to own my ignorance.

3) Pressure to Perform

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Perhaps the most oppressive challenge in this list involves the pressure to perform. While this struggle may vary from person to person, the common denominator is usually a fear of appearances.

For example, as a rookie youth pastor, arguably my greatest insecurity was feeling less spiritual than my superiors. Accordingly, I started embracing a performance mentality, growing more concerned over aesthetic matters than shepherding community.

However, after a moment of counsel with one of my mentors, who also happened to be a youth parent at the time, my eyes were opened to the places I was unnecessarily striving in. For that reason, I was able to repent and turn from my pride.

Whatever the case, it’s critically important for youth ministers not to let fear generate action since a priority of execution as opposed to service will hinder what relying on God looks like. To paraphrase Alistair Begg, in modeling only partial dependency, we compromise our equipping of young people to conquer sin and walk with God.

Bottom lineIf our initiative isn’t “simply Jesus”, then we not only dilute our leadership, but also minimize the potential of God’s Spirit transforming youth from the inside-out.

Selah.

Footnotes

  1. Specifically vision and mission. Also, it does concern me how some are not taking ownership of their kids’ spiritual growth. While some parents are extremely overprotective, others can rely too heavily on the church to change their kids.
  2. As opposed to settling for intermittent interaction
  3. In ways I could only learn in youth group
  4. Specifically, knowing what’s going on behind the scenes

Photo credits: youthministry360.com, thegospelcoalition.org & zachhaas.com

Setting Boundaries in Bivocational Ministry: Part 1

As young pastors in bivocational ministry, we’ve had to learn many things on the fly.

From working with volunteers and engaging with older staff to developing curriculum and teaching the Gospel to diverse audiences.

But perhaps the hardest element we’ve had to adjust to is boundary setting.

bible_hammer_web‘Cause truth is: with limited time and relational opportunities, providing pastoral care while faithfully holding down multiple day jobs can be challenging.

Knowing when to sacrifice, when to engage, when to say ‘yes‘, when to say ‘no‘ …

…I mean, let’s face it: it can be doggone hard discerning the right move at the right time, especially without a solid game plan.

Yet, we don’t have to feel helpless or lost in the dark.

‘Cause when we look at Scripture, we find that game plan in Christ and his ministry.

Now, for many, when we think of Jesus, we think about the cross, a parable he taught or one of his many miracles. But perhaps one of the most underrated aspects of his ministry was how he shepherded his own heart by setting boundaries and accepting the limitations of his humanity.

Could Jesus have done more on certain days?

Absolutely.

Yet, could he have also overstepped the boundary of authority given to him?

You bet.

After all, it’s not like Jesus forsook his divinity when he took on human flesh.

However…even though Jesus fully knew his identity as the Son of God, he never abused this by trying to bite off more than he could chew. Why? Because Jesus…

  1. Understood the importance of rest…
  2. Understood how rest encouraged a lifestyle of obedience…and…
  3. Understood how rest maintained a posture of yieldedness, anchoring his priorities and needs to the will of God.

Thus, Jesus never flirted with the temptation to overextend himself, since he knew the right time to speak the truth in love, knew the right time to withdraw or redirect authority, knew when to call out unholy behavior and knew when to engage the expectations he had for people.

Bottom line: Jesus knew if people were to step into his yoke, then he had to have one to begin with. And he knew in order to cultivate the yoke, he had to rely on God so his allegiance, hunger and drive could be refreshed.

However, just because Jesus was driven, didn’t mean he was hauling 60, 70+ hours a week…as hard as that is to believe.

Rather, Jesus could have cared less about how busy life got because he knew he could rely on what God provided…and knew he could know God’s heart if he daily postured himself.

You see, Jesus’ ministry didn’t end with rest, it started with rest* . Jesus didn’t spend quiet time with God when he had the time. He made it his priority before anything else happened. Thus, when the time came for action, for teaching, for healing, for loving the outcasts, Jesus had the capacity to fully execute because his pace was still rooted in obedience to God’s will.

And for 21st century ministers, caught up in a “work hard to reap the rest” mindset, it’s easy to forget what Jesus did behind the scenes. But it’s here where we must redirect our focus and realize it’s not about how many hours we put in during the week, but what we do with those hours that counts.

Stay tuned for next time, when we’ll talk about the difference between walls and boundaries…and how pastors can effectively establish these boundaries (whether personal, ethical or relational) while also making time for rest, family and quality time with God.

Footnotes

* Gaultiere, B. (n.d.). Ministry Begins with Rest – Soul Shepherding. Retrieved September 9, 2014.

 

 

 

Staying the Course – The Importance of Not Quitting: Part 1

I’m going to be quite frank: I’m not a fan of my day job.

I mean…don’t get me wrong. I take great pride in being bivocational, serving as a full-time volunteer youth pastor with a permanent governmental position on the side.

But on some days, I’m telling you…I seriously consider buying some “Just for Men” products just to combat premature greyness potential.

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After all, it’s hard to stay engaged at work when you sense your passion bucket is drying up…when the only thing keeping your midday heart afloat is a splintered desire for excellence.

‘Cause truth is: Sometimes, it’s easy to want to quit…to unplug and refresh, especially when you feel you’re heart and résumé are headed in opposite directions.

However, when we soak in the Word and rest in the arms of Christ, we can find value in steadfast persistence, even when our circumstances don’t make sense. Yes, we may be burning for a reset compass to the tune of 90°, maybe 180°, but this doesn’t have to compromise our faith in staying the course.

Think about the ministry of Christ…

Whenever Jesus encountered a difficult situation, what’s the first thing he did? He yielded. He relinquished his prerogative and instead, referenced the Father so he could be filled with wisdom and understanding.

In other words, Jesus lived what God said…because he saw his life as a pure reflection of the Father’s heart and continually established the hope of glory as his vanguard.

Thus, the more Jesus yielded, the more supernatural strength he received, which in turn, helped him not only stand firm in the midst of trials, but also live a lifestyle of perpetual obedience.

Essentially, when we discern the ministry of Jesus, we see how holy surrender is the best way to never give up.

But maybe you’re still scratching your head, wondering how this relates to the humble workingman stuck in cubicle country. I mean…it’s not like these factoids can ease the burden of two rush hour commutes a day or the patronizing, unprofessionally filtered dialogue ponging up the airwaves and hallways…

or can it?

You see, studying the nature and ministry of Christ not only inspires us to live a life worthy of the calling set before us (Ephesians 4:1), but also compels us to take up our cross (Matthew 16:24-26). Without it, there’s no way we can expect our natural perspective to calibrate to where it needs to be.

And yet, on the flipside, I understand the profile of the unfulfilled employee whose frustration mounts whenever a co-worker is promoted out of bias or when another is  intentionally disregarded.

However, whenever I feel suffocated or ignored by a colleague, I remember the attitude Christ had whenever he encountered animosity.

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And suddenly, my crap doesn’t feel so…crappy anymore.

True, I may be tempted to vent steam in the face of what feels like discriminate functionality. But glory to God if I’m hard-pressed. Glory to God if I feel abandoned…if I’m stuck in a jam and the only way out is reliance upon His unfailing masterheart.

Bottom line: You may find yourself in a bland situation, feeling like you’re filing your creativity away …or stuck between provisional responsibility and a dream pursuit.

But whether you feel pinned under overwhelming pressure or hardened by lifelessness, the point is: Don’t quit…but stay the course!

Remember each season of your life is a stepping stone in the direction of the unfathomable calling God has for you. So don’t believe the lie that God doesn’t care about the job you do…or that everything has to make sense in order to embrace the opportunity in front of you.

Instead, press in, press through and put yourself in a position to hear God’s heart and voice, so when you hear His call, you won’t hesitate to obey even if you don’t fully understand the answer. For God always sees the ultimate goal and nothing is impossible with him (Luke 1:37). After all, He not only sees the light at the end of the tunnel – He is the light.

Let’s pray…

God, we want to be difference makers at our jobs, even though it may seem most of the people we work with tick the living shrek out of us. God, we want to love what’s hard, not just what’s easy. We don’t want to give up and surrender the chance we have to be light in the darkness. We may not be a fan of what we do. We may not see how this pertains to our calling. But by faith, we’re going to believe there’s a purpose behind the position you’ve blessed us with. We don’t have to see it to believe it and we don’t have to like it to live it. At the end of the day, we’re going to be obedient. And we trust that you’ll create and develop in us a stronger desire to selflessly serve while standing tall in adversity. It’s not about us. It’s all about you. So take this numb heart and breathe life back into it so we may be able to give life back to others. Amen!”