Freedom To Fail

Screen Shot 2015-11-29 at 08.00.27Guest Post By Ryan Rudolph. Youth Worker in South Africa, graduate of Oak Hill College and blogger at

I found an old note I made to myself when I first entered seminary in 2006. I was asked to write down the following question:

“If I weren’t paid to do youth ministry, would I still do it?”

At that time I wasn’t being paid. I had a dream of being a paid for, “successful” youth pastor. My dreams back then were terribly flawed, self-centred and misplaced. Sure, I wanted to “serve” God, and I wanted to make His kingdom great, but I wanted to be an important factor in all that. I didn’t, therefore, like the aforementioned question very much.

Fast forward 9 years, 3 youth ministry positions in very different contexts on two different continents – I now LOVE that question. I often “dream” in fact, of attempting to do youth ministry whilst holding down a ‘normal’ job. Hear me out.

Whilst I recognise the huge benefits of being paid to spend quality time with young people and the ability to plan events and programs, I’ve come to an understanding that “successful” youth ministry – as we traditionally know it – doesn’t necessarily require the church to carve out a paid-for position.

If my church turned around and said to me “Ryan, we’re really sorry, but we just can’t afford to pay you anymore” it would be tough at first. I’m sure I would have some difficult questions to ask them like, “why don’t you take youth ministry seriously enough?” I’d ask myself a tougher question, however: “Am I failure?”

If that were to happen, I would remind myself though of the original question: “Would I still do youth ministry if I weren’t paid?” The answer is yes!

The reason I am so confident in my answer is because I’ve come to believe three things about God and therefore any ministry position that serves Him:

God Saves, God Calls, God Does.

These three beliefs have saved me many nights of feeling like a failure. Let me show you why.

God Saves

Each person God saves is a miracle. I am a miracle of God. God saved me. My utmost priority in life is not what I do, but who I am. By understanding that who I am is based on what God has done for me – saving me, giving me new life, calling me his child, son and friend – I have become far more free in my ability to serve God in ministry.

Dear un-named youth worker,
God knows your name. It is written in the book of life. He saved you first and foremost for himself. You are not here to save the world. That isn’t your destiny. It isn’t even your job. It’s God’s job. He saves. And you, my friend, are a miracle and proof of what God can do in any life. God is Saviour so you are free to fail.

God Calls

Another freeing belief I have found is that God calls every believer to ministry. That means theoretically you should not be alone in what you’re doing.

This isn’t your ministry, it’s God’s ministry, and he calls all His people to be involved in Kingdom ministry.

It also means that you are free to do what God has called to do, therefore let God affirm you, He is all you need. Imagine you’re on Idols or X-Factor. You know you can sing and other people have confirmed your ability by saying “you can sing!” and so you’re pretty confident in your ability. As you enter the competition, however, it becomes apparent that there are others that you now need to seek the approval of, the judges! And let’s be honest, there is only one judge who’s comment really matters. Sure the others might give you good comments, but unless Simon Cowell approves of you, you will never feel like you’ve made it. Every other judge could give you a terrible comment, but if Simon gives you his approval, I’d imagine your confidence would be sky high! If Simon says you can do it, then you really can!

In youth ministry, we have a far greater reason to not feel like failures. God has given you His approval already! And whilst some days are good and other days terrible, you will never be a failure because Jesus, who has saved you, has already approved you! All you need to do is faithfully stick to the One who gives you His approval. God calls so you can be free to do.

God Does

The third freeing belief I have come to understand is that God is busy doing all the time. I’m always amazed that God does awesome stuff despite me!

I remember walking a long and difficult journey with a young person. Everything always seemed hopeless, in every conversation I felt worn down, and I wasn’t even experiencing what that young person was! One Friday I took our youth to an old-school crusade (Do we even use that word anymore?). I can tell you from the bottom of my heart that there was nothing special about this event. There were no cool lights, the music was average sounding and even I struggled to understand the message. The guy literally gave a boring twenty-minute sermon and an altar call. I have no idea what he was trying to say! To my surprise, however, God was busy doing.

A week later this same young person was asking me some pretty deep questions. You see, this student had responded to the altar call. He had more questions. God was doing something incredible in his life. Two weeks after this, he became a Christian. Isn’t God good? I didn’t do any of that! I just got to be present, answer a few questions, and be faithful in praying for this young life in every conversation we had prior.


Free Yourself!

In light of the God who saves, the God who calls and the God who does, ask yourself: “If I weren’t paid to do youth ministry, would I still do it?”

Free yourself. Just be where God wants you to be. Be faithful and watch God WOW you. He does!

God is saviour so you’re free to fail. God Calls so you can be free to do. God Does so you can be free to just be who he’s saved and called you to be.

About Ryan:

IMG-20150717-WA0005Ryan Rudolph is a Youth Pastor in a small city church in East London, South Africa where he enjoys the challenges of multi-cultural, urban youth ministry.

He is married to a beautiful Texan lass, is a Sharks Rugby fan, and enjoys indie-board games and even more so loves introducing these games to some of his Youth!

He holds a BA(Hons) in Youth and Children’s Ministry from Oak Hill Theological College in London, and is currently studying towards a BTH.

Ryan loves young people, loves Jesus and deeply desires to see the two connect in powerful and authentic ways.

He blogs over at

How to Create your own Digital Personal Assistant

There seems to be an irrefutable law of physics in the youth work world that the better you are with young people the worse you are with admin.

[Also see Time-Management in Youth Work]

Admin tends to fall into two categories – the blitz and the habitual. The former is what youth workers can do; the creative once in a while overhaul and setup. The latter is the every day throwing off the monkeys so you can shoot the elephants.

As with most youth leaders I too have sat in the fetal position, sucking my thumb muttering “too many monkeys, too many monkeys!”

I’ve been a youth worker in one form or another for about ten years or so, but it’s only in the past couple years that I’ve started to get my admin, PR and communication world on track. I’ve always been able to do the blitz, but I’ve only just started to get down the habitual… nearly. Sort of.

I have effectively created my own digital personal assistant, who I call Margaret after the West Wing’s Chief of Staff PA. Margaret is a collection of apps and software accessible from all my devices that makes all my habitual admin work.

Or you could raid your youth work budget and hire an actual PA. *lol*

Creating A Digital PA

1. What do we need?

For habitual youth work admin we need:

To be mobile – and have easy access to calenders, notes, to-do lists and contacts wherever we are.
To have easy access – to both read and edit all of the above very quickly.
To have instantaneous access – that will update on every device immediately and not rely on us getting to it later.
To be reminded – of what we’ve got to do and be without having to rely on our own memory.
To communicate – easily, clearly and professionally with all the people we have to work with.
To be available – reachable wherever we are… and not when we shouldn’t be.

2. What do we have?

I have three devices; an iPad (which I only use for note taking and talk notes), a laptop (which I use as my powerhouse hub for creating presentations and doing blitz admin sessions) and a mobile phone with unlimited data (which I use for most of my habitual stuff). The latter two I think are essential.

3. How do we make it work?

The following apps are what I use to make this process work:

Google Calenderindex
By far the best online calender. Available on the cloud and syncable with all major calender apps and devices. I share some calenders with team members, some with my line manager and some with my wife helping me see my whole world in context and communicate to those I need to.

I spend one hour a week updating this on Monday morning, and then lots of 30-second chunks in the week updating it when I have conversations or emails.

Every morning Goggle Calender emails me my daily schedule. I also set up notifications on events to let me know 15 or 30 minutes before I’m supposed to be there. This also gives you an excuse to leave if you’re tied up in a meeting (it beeps).

Finally I use ‘tasks’ on Google Calender to give me to do lists and send me notifications.

Using a calender widget on my phone it takes up to 30 seconds to create or edit a date or task. This means I can do it within a conversation or meeting and not have to remember it again. Well worth it!

Google Contactsindex2
Again syncable with all other major apps like Apple Address Book and your phones contact list. It takes a while to set up but once you’ve blitzed this it takes about 10 seconds to edit.

This is linked to my email, my phone, my calender, notes and tasks so I always have access to every person and group that I need.

It’s worth the extra effort to set up groups.

Dropbox (or google drive for a good alternative) is online flash storage. I keep all my documents on this. Not only can I get to anything I need anywhere but it means I have last minute sessions and talks available if something goes wrong.

The other great Dropbox feature is sharing. I have several folders that I share with other users so we can edit documents together in our own time without making crazy duplicates. I can also share files by creating dropbox download links and emailing them to people – no messing about with attachments.

Dropbox comes with 2gb but you can expand this quite a long way for free (I have 25gb free). It’s worth paying the £60 a year for a 100gb though.

Evernote is a simple online note creation and organisation tool that I use for just about everything. I can type, photograph, video or record anything and save the note. Often in talks I will photograph the slides and make notes under it.

It’s searchable and easy to maneuver files into categories. You can access it online, sync it with other note software and has very usable apps. You can also download word processing and pdf attachments to it for easy access in meetings.

Evernote also comes with a dedicated email address so you can email notes directly into your Evernote notebook.

My Evernote phone widget is synced with Google Calender so when I take a new note (often using the very useful ‘speech-to-text’ feature) I can have it opened, labeled, titled, tagged, organized and saved within 5 seconds of picking up my phone.

Evernote allows me to work on talks and presentations wherever I am. I then use the Evernote app on my iPad as my talk notes.

For social media I probably don’t have to mention Facebook apps etc. However if you are a Twitter user and need to get info / prayer requests out regularly I recommend linking your Twitter feed to your Facebook timeline and using a free online app called ‘Twuffer.’

Twuffer allows you to schedule all your tweets in advance – something I do once a month with the help of my calender. This reminds my team and prayer warriors whats happening without me having to remember. Twuffer – unlike other tweet schedulers – does not add or change anything in your tweet.

A really simple online-based grammar, spelling and plagiarism checker – basically an online proofreader. It’s great for a quick scan through before sending long or important emails and is very detailed if you’re writing something more substantial.

The only draw back is you can’t copy and paste your proof-read articles so you have to edit your original – still great for the saved embarrassment though!


Those are all the main things that I use to make up my own PA, Margaret. After the initial setup the upkeep of this is one hour a week Monday morning and an extra hour a month catchup. Beyond that these apps just work wherever I am often carrying no more than a phone in my pocket.

Margaret happily just gets on with her job and all the info I need and need to communicate is as easy as saving a document, sending a text or replying to an email.

Not that I’ve got this nailed yet, but the time and stress this has saved me has been fantastic!

I’d love to hear about any other apps or approaches that you have to habitual admin in the youth work world. Please comment below.

55 Ways To Love Your Youth Group

A random collection of 55 Way’s To Love Your Youth Group – many from ‘Your first two years in Youth Ministry’ by Doug Fields. Use your common sense & have fun with them!

  1. Notice them
  2. Smile a lot
  3. Learn their names
  4. Seek them out
  5. Remember their birthdays
  6. Ask them about themselves
  7. Look in their eyes when you talk to them
  8. Listen to them
  9. Play games with them
  10. Laugh with them
  11. Be nice
  12. Reassure them that their feelings are okay
  13. Set boundaries to keep them safe
  14. Be honest
  15. Be yourself
  16. Listen to their stories
  17. Notice when they are acting differently
  18. Present options when they seek your advice
  19. Suggest better options when they act up
  20. Share their excitement
  21. Notice them when they’re absent
  22. Give them space when they need it
  23. Contribute to their collections
  24. Laugh at their (appropriate) jokes
  25. Be relaxed
  26. Kneel, squat, or sit so you are at their eye-level
  27. Answer their questions
  28. Tell them how fab they are
  29. Learn what they have to teach
  30. Make yourself available
  31. Find a common interest
  32. Apologise when you’ve done something wrong
  33. Listen to their fav music with them
  34. Thank them
  35. Give them compliments
  36. Acknowledge their efforts
  37. Meet their parents
  38. Be excited when you see them
  39. Let them act their age
  40. Be consistent
  41. Marvel at what they can do
  42. Ask them to help you
  43. Applaud their successes
  44. Pray with them
  45. Be flexible
  46. Delight in their uniqueness
  47. Let them make mistakes
  48. Give them immediate feedback
  49. Include them in conversations
  50. Respect them
  51. Be silly together
  52. Trust them
  53. Encourage them to help others
  54. Believe what they say
  55. Involve them in decisions