Youth Work Time Management… no really!

(edited 14)

Time management – those two terrifying and ridiculous words that send us hap-haphazardly into the very frenzy they’re trying to save us from! As a youth worker with an incredibly spontaneous, sporadic and random timetable I have to learn to take this seriously. Luckily for us there is some great practical help on the matter.


Doug Fields in his book Your First Two Years in Youth Ministry makes four undeniable points on p.31:

  • ‘You’ll be busy!
  • You’ll have only 86,400 seconds to live each day.
  • You’ll struggle in your youth ministry if you can’t manage your time.
  • Plan your time or people will plan it for you.’

This last one is a particular killer!

Whatever life you live time management is going to be important. Some people seem to be freakishly gifted at it. They seem to live as if some supernatural, quirky, trans-dimensional alarm clock imbedded itself into their schema. However, for myself – and possibly the vast majority of youth workers in the world too – it doesn’t come easy. In fact I’ve got as much natural time-management skill as a monkey on a banana bender.

Of course thinking about ‘time-management’ as a productivity skill to develop is kinda like learning about tire friction in order to drive better – it can’t exist in isolation. Time management is all mixed up with procrastination, priority choices, family development, sleep patterns, personality traits, work scheduling, people skills, diet, how well your football teams doing, personal b.o. awareness etc. It’s like a three course meal mechanically blended together (crockery included) that you have to separate out and serve in time for dinner with the in-laws who are picky about food presentation.

The Basics
For me good time management is like getting into a car and driving as fast as I can with my eyes closed and arriving near my destination without crashing or killing defenseless kittens on the way. It’s about the best I can do. However, that doesn’t mean I can’t work at it for the Glory of God right? So I’ve spent a good deal of time (probably mismanaged) reading and thinking about time-management. There are some basic common themes, namely:

  • Set achievable goals & work up
  • Break your day into workable units
  • Organise ‘important’ and ‘urgent’ priorities
  • Shoot elephants and throw off monkeys


First, Setting achievable goals and working up.

Hmmm. I’m personally rubbish at this; I have what I you could call a ‘blitz’ personality. I can happily accomplish a massive task like cleaning the whole house in an afternoon, but I can’t accomplish all the little habitual tasks that keep the house from being destroyed in the first place. I can happily spend three weeks hard core learning a language, but I’m hopeless at doing a daily bout of vocab to keep the language fresh.

However this point is really important for people like me. If we can break down goals into manageable steps we can build a bunch a time management habits that when put together should work a wee bit better than the mismash before that.


Second, Break your day into workable units.

Some people go hour by hour, others Like Doug Fields in go for three timed units: 9am – 1pm, 1 – 5pm, and 5 – 9pm works, while others say simply ‘morning’ and ‘evening’ – whatever works for you go for it!

But that begs the question: how do you find out what works for you? What I did was keep a ‘motivation journal’ for three weeks. I didn’t make any habit changes (other than keeping the journal itself), I simply kept a spreadsheet with me with the headings: ‘time,’ ‘activity’ ,‘who with’, ‘where,’ ‘how I felt,’ ‘what I’d accomplished.’  This told me what my best times to work were, etc.

I found out from this that my best admin time was 8-11am. noon-3 was ‘dead time’ where I just couldn’t get anything done, ‘3-7’ was my best meeting and event time, and ‘7-10’ was my best chilled artistic time.

The other obvious question is, why bother? Surely when you’re on a roll you just go for it, and when you can’t be bothered – you don’t! Well, they’re probably luxuries you can work on once you’ve got your habits down a wee bit better later.  Workable units are just that – workable. They acknowledge that in general there are just certain times that your better at certain tasks and activities. Keeping things in units sets mini goals and keeps priorities (like eating and pooing) in balance.


Third, Organise ‘Important’ and ‘Urgent’ Priorities

This also includes preparation like setting out clothes for the next day, setting your alarm, having a time to fill in your time-sheet, maybe even making a daily schedule. The most important thing to do though is organizing weekly, or even daily priorities from your to-do list and figuring out based off their importance and urgency which you need to do first.

This is how I do it: I make a list of say 10 things then I give them numbers (example below). The first number (1-5, 1 being highest) I give depending on how important it is. The second is based on how urgent it’s due, and the final number is the total two added together. I then can order them based on what they scored. This allows me to have a descent plan for what I will spend time on that day/week and it gives me something tangible that I can look at while I’m allocating time.

– Prepare Bible Study notes,  2,  1 = 3
– Write Bible Study material for partner church,  3,  3 = 6
– Write order for all-age service in two weeks,  2,  3  = 4
– Email leaders with rota for next month,  2,  4 = 6
– Email 2 or 3 leaders with encouragement,  2,  4 = 6
– Finish designing & writing newsletter,  4,  4 = 8
– Write blog post,  5,  4 = 9
– Call old friend,  3,  3 = 6
– Spend time with wife,  2,  3 = 5
– Make dentist appointment,  5,  1 = 6


Forth, Shoot elephants & throw off monkeys.

So the old saying goes that the hunter’s job is to shoot elephants but he can’t because monkeys keep jumping on his face. It’s not necessarily his calling to throw off the monkeys – but if he doesn’t do it he can’t shoot any elephants either – thus he misses his calling anyway!

Shooting elephants is probably the key things on your two do list. We all know however, that the monkeys are little blighters! They take the form of ‘can I just grab you for ten minutes?’, or ‘can you fill in for this?’  or for me the worst, ‘*bing*…inbox (1)’.

These are the things that we must immediately throw off it order to get back to the elephants. This is simply dealing with and delegating off small diversionary problems as they arise rather than putting them off until you become more monkey than youth worker (see my photos for a living example).

‘What Soul Survivor Got Wrong’… a missed opportunity


(edited 2014)

Last year at Soul Survivor a very young (like 15 yo) member of the prayer or ‘enabling’ team kept showing up whenever anyone in my group was being prayed for and he had a couple of bad habits. First, he pushed! He would stand in front of the person he was praying for and give them a little nudge in the chest or just apply continuous pressure until they went down. As soon as they hit the deck he moved on to ‘get’ somebody else.

The other thing he did – which I found even more annoying – is he’d tell you that you were praying wrong! So he would physically move your hand to ‘more powerful praying positions.’ I was praying for a young person one evening and he came, moved my hand from the young person’s shoulder to their chest, but assured me that ‘everything else your doing is great!’ I wanted to ask whether or not the Holy Spirit has a better line of fire now my hand was out of the way?

I thought the enabling team was there to make sure groups we’re looking after each other and blessing what God was doing – not interrupting experienced group leaders who know their young people well to choreograph hand positions and push people over who looked a wee bit wobbly to ‘get the job done.’ Why was he not supervised or trained properly?


Why The Crit?… Hater!

I don’t want to come off as overly critical (too late right?). Soul Survivor is great! It has a great legacy and done some incredible ministry. I’ve been taking youth groups for years and we always get a lot out of it. We meet God there and are blessed by powerful, Spirit-led ministry. I respect the people running it and it forms an effective part of my annual youth work discipleship and mission strategy. But there is stuff that Soul Survivor has done and does do that causes issues, and it does have a wee bit to answer for.

Mostly I’d just get over the foibles in youth ministries, God knows I have plenty! But Soul Survivor wields an enormous amount of influence in the youth work world and has developed a large proportion of youth leaders in my generation. Big influence means big responsibility, and even though I know they get a shed load of unhelpful criticism – they need to be big boys and set the example for how to properly evaluate themselves in humility and be clear about their mistakes as well as their many successes.


The Opportunity Andy Was Given

I was thrilled therefore when in 2011, Andy Croft was given a huge opportunity to talk at the Youth Work Summit on ‘What Soul Survivor got Wrong.’ This was an opportunity to cut through all the crazy criticism they get and say, ‘here’s how we see it and how we’re trying to grow as a movement and serve your youth groups better – we know we haven’t always got it right and we’re aware of specific areas to develop and here’s how we’ve been doing it.’

No such luck. The ten minute message took on a tone that straddled the lines between subversively defensive and so broad that you couldn’t really blame them for anything! I’ve got mounds of respect for Crofty, but this really was a missed opportunity to lead like the big boys. The only real conclusion you could draw was that Soul Survivor does not effectively evaluate its ministry, doesn’t have a language developed to talk about analysis and is not aware of specific areas that they need to grow in.


What Andy said

Andy talked about the initial phone call where he was given this opportunity, which he seemed a wee bit bugged by. He moved on to say he realized the importance of evaluating ministry and so would give it a shot.

….. 1. Evaluate ministries against their aims

He explained that ministries should be evaluated against what they are trying to achieve – which is right as long as that the aims are specific enough to be evaluable. The aim Andy gave for Soul Survivor was “to reach young people and to equip them to live the whole of their lives for Jesus.”

This is a good aim – but is practically the same broad aim of every other youth ministry in the Christian world. How can we effectively evaluate against that? I guess we can in a very broad way, but there’s no way that we’re going to come up with specifics!

A better way of saying it might be “to reach young people and to equip them to live the whole of their lives for Jesus – by developing an event that works alongside churches to provide a worship and teaching experience that motivates, inspires, encourages direction change and sets trends for Christian youth culture.” That would have been more of a real benchmark to judge by.

As it is, using such a broad aim means we have no effective tool to judge or demonstrate Soul Survivor’s success, or of course issues.

….. 2. What we can’t do

Andy continued to say there are lots of things that Soul Survivor cannot do and shouldn’t be held responsible for. Again he’s right! Understanding the resource scope of what you’re doing is simply a smart thing to do!

He said that “As an event, we cannot do discipleship or effective followup.” And fair enough – that’s true too. But if a key, pivotal part of your aim is to ‘equip young people to live their whole lives for Jesus’, why then are you running something that doesn’t seek to do that equipping though discipleship and followup?

More importantly though, Andy just took Soul Survivor off the hook. With a hugely broad aim, a tip of the hat to ‘well we can’t do everything’ and no specifics of what they can and should do we’re left with nothing but straw men and meanies like me saying ‘hang on a minute?!?’

….. 3. No history to measure by

As Soul Survivor is only “19 years young” it’s harder to evaluate how successful it’s been, says Andy. Under that logic though the vast majority of the UK’s youth ministry to can’t be clearly evaluated or held to account either. Nor can – as my wife pointed out – most of our marriages.

Because of Soul Survivor operating over the last two decades, Andy says that the group to look at are the 20s and 30s of today’s church and culture. Andy makes some insightful and important observations here: 20s and 30s are missing from our churches and sexual ethics in that age group is messed up! Bang on.

Because of these two points Andy says Soul Survivor could have done better; particularly showing more clearly the cost of following Jesus and teaching better about relationships. And good on him – yes Soul Survivor can take a measure of responsibility here and should work on those two areas. However, so can just about everything else in society!

These are not Soul Survivor specific points. All of us – education, church, politics, the leadership of previous generations – have had a hand to play in today’s 20s and 30s culture. Even though I share Andy’s passion to teach the cost and be clear on sexual ethics – if that’s the only thing Soul Survivor takes away from two decades of youth event ministry we’re going to be found seriously wanting.


So what did Soul Survivor get wrong?

Well nothing! At least nothing that can’t be shared with just about every other part of society and every other Christian group of the last 50 years. Andy ended with a short ‘what we’ve got right’ plea and called it a day.

It sounded like practiced criticism-rebuffing rather than showing leadership by demonstrating effective evaluation and humble honesty.

I’ve not yet read or heard anything from Soul Survivor that shows a language for evaluation and improvement. It must be there because Soul Survivor has developed and got better every year. From this message four years ago though, it looks like Soul Survivor still thinks of itself as the underdog trying to get a seat at the big boys table.


What we need from you Soul Survivor

Soul Survivor please please please, you need to set the example and lead the way. Help us on the ground know that even you get it wrong and show us how to effectively evaluate, own up to and change our own shortcomings. We need you to set the example!


Some personal observations of where Soul Survivor may have got it wrong

I think Soul Survivor has got some specifics to answer for. I’m sure they have answers to some of these, different opinions on others and have better insight for some I’ve missed – however with no language from them I’m throwing a few that I think out there:

– It’s part in the increased commercialization of Christian media
– The consumerist approach to the events that only nominally (or awkwardly) create space for genuine community participation
– The events effectively replace many youth groups short term mission trips that always used to be the first weeks of summer
– Copycat events all over the UK trying to replicate the Soul Survivor feeling, splitting churches and keeping young people in youth groups rather than growing into full Church life – not to mention draining resources and people
– Assuming everyone wants to be the happy, sweaty extrovert for the week
– Not always explaining the Gospel before asking people to respond to it by becoming a Christian
– Creating a generation (my generation) of youth leaders who think the Soul Survivor formula is the way to run week-in-week-out youth work
– An odd approach to lament and joy
– An energy sapping approach to spirituality that doesn’t take health seriously in emotional encounters
– Although getting better, a poor respect historically for Bible Teaching
– Inspiring people to be on stage rather than on the front lines (made better with Soul Action’s work)
– Not properly training their prayer / enabling team!


End thought

I want to end by saying I have masses of respect for Soul Survivor – but I want them to lead! They are not a reactionary group any more – they are mainstream and need to be taking their place as servant-hearted, wise and humble sage leaders in the UK Youth Ministry scene.




7 New Ninja Rules To Make It More Extreme


We all love the game of ninja right? Jumping around and freezing trying to look like Bruce Lee is always epic and hilarious. Although, admittedly it can drag a wee bit after a while. Never fear – here are a few ways to spice up your ninja games!

1. Push-up Ninja.
Every move must begin, and end, in a push up position. You get somebody out by knocking their arm away and they hit the deck.

2. Rabbit Ninja
Every move must begin and end in a squat position. People are out when they fall over.

3. Blindfold Ninja
A great ninja must learn to use all their senses… just in case they loose one!

4. RNG – Random Ninja Generator
A large dice is rolled after every round, on a 1 or 6 a dead person comes back… and they come back deadlier – they start in the middle and can go after anybody they want.

5. ‘You can’t kill me!’ Ninja
Simple rule – everybody starts with two lives. When someone looses a life they must put one of their hands behind their back.

6. Mermaid Ninja
You can jump and leap as normal, however your feet must ALWAYS stay together.

7. Carnage Ninja
Every now and then insert a ‘carnage point’ where everyone does a random attack move at once!

8.? Got any more great Ninja rules?
Comment and let me know!

The Gospel, Now With Added Freshness


I’m a sucker for big brands on a budget, so when I saw ‘Toni & Guy Deep Cleansing Shampoo’ for a third off in my local Boots, I snagged it up!

It was when I was in the queue that I finally read the tagline, ‘guaranteed added freshness!’ After a pointed cough behind me I’d noticed I’d been staring at this exclamation on the bottle for quite a few uncomfortable minutes without moving.

Guaranteed added freshness? What is that supposed to mean? How can you guarantee ‘added’ freshness. Is freshness an ingredient you can add after the mixing of the bottle? Would I miss it so much with another brand that forgets to add the freshness at the end?What was it that made the nice people at Toni & Guy feel that they needed to reassure me: ‘don’t worry Tim, we didn’t forget to add the freshness!’

Isn’t freshness a state of an ingredient, rather than a piece you can independently add to a mix? How fresh something is is how recently it was picked. Adding freshness would be like adding arrogance to someone – it’s just something they are, permeating through all their bits! Or, “this car comes with free ‘piece of mind!’” Really? What does piece of mind look like? What other products feature that ingredient?

I sent a tweet to Toni & Guy asking them to elaborate, but they – probably wisely – didn’t take the bait.

Selling the intangible

We’ve really mastered the art of selling the intangible and the immeasurable haven’t we? We market everything from our guaranteed extra care to the added vitality of flavoured water.

I remember someone once trying to ebay their undying love and affection. I don’t think they got a lot for it before ebay said it broke the rules somehow and took down the listing.

That begs the question though; If ebay can notice when we’re selling a load of tosh, what makes us think young people don’t notice when we do the same to the Gospel.

I see this all the time at youth events. The speaker will invariably try and sell an intangible as a tagline to the Gospel. “Come to Jesus and get peace!” “Give your life to Christ and know life to the full!”

This generation of young people know when they’re being advertised to. They recognise the sales pitch – but you just missed the mark because they can smell the rat.

Jesus is tangible!

We don’t need to be intangible about the Gospel. We don’t have to be fluffy. We don’t have to colour in a sales pitch. We have evidence, experience and specifics that we can give people.

We need to get into the habit as youth leaders of teaching the tangible Gospel:

“Come to Jesus and get peace…. that is the presence of an all powerful God with a proven track record giving you wisdom, guidance and spiritual comfort when you go through the storms of life… Here’s how he did it for me.”

 “Give your life to Christ and know life to the full…. as you discover the purpose for which you exist and live in satisfaction as you make choices with God guided aims…. Here’s how it looked for Paul”

The Gospel affects life, we don’t need to sell pretend intangibles like shampoo. I’m not sure that drinking certain water brands will add to my vitality over other brands – but I know and have real evidence that Jesus offers us tangible change for our lives.

If Jesus doesn’t work in real like then He doesn’t work. Period. If we need to sell him with intangible tag lines we haven’t seen Him work yet and no one will be buying!

The Cream Pie Youth Work Challenge

Four years ago at the last session of a holiday club I was running, some of the teenager members of the team took it upon themselves to start a new tradition of ‘cream pie the leader’ i.e. me.

Of course, the six of them couldn’t agree on who got to do the pie-ing and so came to a healthy compromise. They would all do the pie-ing!

Do you know whats worse than a pie in the face? I’ll tell you, SIX cream pies in the face! After the first two I’d inhaled a copious amount of cream into my lungs, after four my nose was numb from impact, and after six I was verging on a near death experience. I couldn’t see, couldn’t breath and was well on they way to cardiac arrest while looking like a giant melting ice cream cone. All this to the deafening sound of  laughter from a hundred children and six highly gratified teenagers.

I was the absolute definition of ‘disorientated.’ Ten minutes later I somehow found myself with towels and hot tea in my office breathing normally with no idea how I got there! I think this is a great illustration of how God works in the lives of young people.

Young People are in such need. Many are disorientated, lost, confused and lonely. They’ve basically been pied in the face by cultural expectations, peer-pressure, media bombardment and low self-esteem.

Youth Workers and the Church need to be the guiding hand to safety, the bringers of towels and hot tea. We need to reach out with hands of grace through a cream-pied mess of chaos and say ‘you are worth it’ and ‘God is enough for you.’

The role of Youth Workers in this generation is not to hurl any more pies, but to get into the mess and bring guidance, wisdom and security that mirrors the Father’s heart for them.

God is doing a new thing through Youth Work in the UK. I want to encourage you to stand in prayer, in service and in passionate giving to take the good news of Jesus Christ relevantly to every young person in Britain.

And please remember, Leave out the cream pies!

Youth Bible Study on The Church from Acts 2 (free download)

This is a straight forward ‘say what you see’ youth Bible Study on Acts 2:42-47. It’s designed to open up discussion on the nature of the Church contrasting our ideas with the Bible’s.

Obviously add your own intro/ice-breakers yarda yarda!

Download here: Acts 2.42-47 bible study

Video in the same theme:

A way into One-to-One Youth Mentoring and Discipleship. Free crib-sheet download

When I start a new mentoring relationship or one-to-one with a Christ-following young person we usually spend up to three weeks looking at the model of discipleship Paul down in Philippians 1:1-11.

This passage paints a picture of all the habits we need to grow in Jesus, how they might play out in our life journeys and to what end we do them.

Here is a free download pdf of my crib sheet – I’m sure you can fill in the questions on your own!

Discipleship in Phil 1

12 Sabbath Activities for Families


Happy Sabbath everybody! Good day to chill and draw close to God as a family. Here are some off the cuff Sabbath ideas that you could do today as a whole family!

1. Go onto Google Earth together and pray for places you explore

2. Write ‘prayer pegs’ (little wooden pegs with things like ‘God loves you’ on them)… then go peg people stealthily on the streets

3. Do a Bible craft together… get really messy.

4. Write encouraging complements like ‘you look great today’ on luggage tags and run around town tying them to parked cars.

5. Bake bread… add chocolate sauce. Bread of the new covenant tastes good! Or have a big meal, but eat dessert first! Talk about tasting and seeing that the Lord is good!

6. Dress up and take photos, put them together to make a Bible story.

7. Deliver boxes of chocolates to all your neighbors.

8. Make up funny alternative endings to Bible stories… talk about why the originals are there too.

9. Turn all the lights off and light lots of candles.

10. Do some role swaps (kids make lunch), husband hangs washing out etc.

11. Go on a long drive and try to figure out what God was thinking when He made the stuff you see. Bring ice cream and come back when it runs out.

12. Share stories as a family of times you remember God answering prayer. Write them in a book and get everyone to sign it with a doodle.

7 Ways To Keep Enjoying Your Youth Work Job

I’m sat in Nero with a caramel hot chocolate working though my calendar and emails, thinking to myself “I have a great job!”

Two weeks ago however, I was sat at this same computer, at this same table feeling tired, bored, demotivated and bitter about this very same job.

The circumstances in both instances were very much the same but my attitude and perspective make a universe of difference! There are of course many reasons to love a youthwork job – not least growing young people into holistic disciples of Jesus – but I know just how hard the job part of it can be!

Here’s a few very simple perspective lessons that I’ve picked up that have made an enormous difference to me in my job as a youth worker.

1. I enjoy my job more when I actually do my job.

No brainer right? Well no. Sometimes I get into places where I do the minimal amount needed to get through my work load and run my projects. I don’t boundary out my time, I don’t create breathing spaces for prep and I don’t approach a work hour as a problem solver. I spend those hours between activities ‘resting and recuperating’ thinking that’s what I need. I’m actually just cultivating demotivation.

The mission is not to make yourself ‘busy’ but to plan time and space to prepare, be creative and be ahead of the game. The view is so much better when you’re not throwing down the tracks in front of you.

2. I enjoy my job more when I take my time off.

Another apparent no brainier. Well seven years into full time youth work and I still don’t consistently leave my emails closed and work phone silent on my day off. If my days are planned then my days off are not covered in the shadow of the to-do list.It’s the same with holidays. Plan them ahead, enjoy the planning and take them off! It’s amazing how much a week every three months and a day a week can genuinely refresh your energy and your character as well!

“There are of course many reasons to love a youthwork job – not least growing young people into holistic disciples of Jesus”

3. I enjoy my job more when I’m clean & healthy.
Having a morning hour ritual of up, pray, read news, eat, exercise, shower brush teeth and choose clothes makes me feel a foot taller, more at peace, more full of confidence and much more able to tackle spontaneous problems. Having a good meal in the day and developing good sleep pattens too are well worth the effort!

4. I enjoy my job more when I enjoy my wife more.
Steady now… If my God-Family-Home-Job priority train is on track and I’m giving good time to date nights, random chats, food together and family problem solving then my life priorities and perspectives simply feel more together.

5. I enjoy my job more when I cultivate gratitude.
The most important thing I’ve ever learned about prayer is to ‘be thankful in all circumstances’ (Col. 3:17). Thankfulness simply breeds good perspective. It’s the yeast that makes the prayer dough rise. The more I thank God the more I become thankful – which is an absolute game-changer in my attitude towards life and work.

6. I enjoy my job more when I serve more.
There’s usually (not always) a strong correlation between grumpiness in my job and a strong inward focus. Finding small ways to serve and improve the lot of others redirects that focus and gives me a much clearer perspective on my own condition. Serving with a thankful heart cultivates joy – period.

7. I enjoy more job more when I enjoy God more.
Last, but obviously not least. The more I come into contact with the living God through meditation, worship, fellowship and reflection the more my holistic delight as a person grows and covers everything. ‘Delight yourself in the LORD and He will give you the desires of your heart’ (Psalm 37:4).