How many things can a youth worker squeeze into a year?

This year is shaping up to be pretty full on. The blog will be soon going through a complete overhaul and rebranding process, I’m studying (technically full time) for an MA in pioneering ministry, learning to snowboard, climbing the 3000 challenge again, doing Britain’s largest bungee jump, and still working for Youth For Christ! Oh, and I got my first tattoo. My wife and I have also joined the Banff Film team, and are aiming to open an online t-shirt store too. I’m also working with a publisher on a book! Full. On.

I’ve always been someone who needed a portfolio of activities to keep me motivated, but for the past couple of years I slowed that down thinking it was a sign of immaturity. I listened to the older, wiser voices of reason who perpetually encouraged me to settle down, and so I chose one or two things. I did indeed find myself settling, into deeper patterns of restlessness, boredom and depression.

Some people, I think, are just geared for activity. The pioneering spirit in them needs to keep moving. When I started to embrace this early last year I faked my way into becoming a freelance writer and designer, and had some incredibly wacky experiences. All of which helped me in my youth work! Well, most did. I then took an online course with Oxford University, and started to push out into more academic study.

The result was simply feeling more alive again! My blog won an award and started to get noticed more, the team really started to come together at work, and issues that had been buried, started to surface and be addressed head on. We joined a gym and started committing to people more broadly than we had before.

Who knows how this year will end, or what state I – or my wife – will be in at the end of it! For now, however, this simply serves as a short encouragement to push out if you feel a nudge of God.

I believe many youth workers are multipotentialites, and that we are living in a new Renaissance for creative people – a kick back against the right-leaning fear of the Western establishment. These youth workers need to be nurtured, and shouldn’t quickly be dismissed by the overflowing baby-boomer generations as simply unstable or immature.

Accountability is key, but living life on the edge with God is essential.

Let’s see how this goes!

42 Things not to say to a youth pastor, that have ACTUALLY BEEN SAID to youth pastors!

This is a genuine list of things said to real life youth pastors that should NEVER have been said to youth pastors! I had 73 responses, and deleted a bunch of repetitions.

Food for thought – please share and educate! 😛

  1. When are you going to get into proper ministry?
  2. When are you going to be a real pastor?
  3. It must be great to get paid to just play with kids!
  4. What do you do all week?
  5. What is your job, job? I mean like, real job, like how do you like you know make money?
  6. How about taking on the Children’s ministry too?
  7. God told me some things about you. But I’m not going to tell you what it was
  8. Why do you need a vacation? You just spent a week at camp with the students!
  9. Does you wife play the piano?
  10. I’m too old to help out with the youth group
  11. Can you fix my son/daughter?
  12. I have an old [*insert random piece of crap here]… you can have it if you pick it up… and maybe give a ‘token donation’
  13. We had to write a paper in class about our hero, so I wrote you’re name at the top…..then I couldn’t think of anything else to write so I erased it and wrote a paper about my dad instead
  14. You’re the youth pastor? I thought you were a student/new youth pastor’s son/married to the youth pastor.
  15. I know the deadline was last week but can I still go to camp tomorrow ?
  16. Oh I saw something on tv yesterday…was it Joel Osteen or was it Joyce Meyers…mmm Ill find it and send you a link.
  17. *End of the Summer,* Pastor says “You really need to work on getting your numbers up! Btw, our kids have ball games so we wont be there this week”
  18. *Kid gets scholarship to go to camp,* “Sorry, I wont be able to go to camp, we’re going to Disney that week”
  19. I won’t be at youth on Wednesday, I’m going on a first date to see Deadpool.
  20. You need to make those kids behave” – after the kids have been yelled at by that adult.
  21. So, do you play guitar? Can you sing? No? Are you really a youth pastor?
  22. Your messages are great and stuff, but they want to play more games.
  23. I’m not going to send my kid to student ministries because (while I’ve never checked your program out) I’m pretty sure all you do is play games and never open the bible!
  24. So when are you going to get married and have kids of your own?
  25. “Are you married?” “No..” “Oh, better get on that..”
  26. Well here’s the thing, the old youth pastor used to…
  27. The way we used to do things was…
  28. It worked when I was doing youth ministry (40 years ago).
  29. A parent concerned about the safety of a game lectures you for a solid 10 minutes saying “I think you need to pray about it” at least 7 times.
  30. We need you to start focusing more on the ‘core kids’ who’s parents tithe rather than the kids who come to church by themselves.
  31. The Youth Pastors’ job is the most important job in the church because it’s his job to go out into the community to find teenagers to bring into our church, and then their parents will come, and then they will tithe.
  32. “I didn’t know anything about that,” (after verbal announcements, social media posts, email, remind app).
  33. I see you’ve lost your razor.
  34. Are we doing anything fun tonight?
  35. Where is everybody?
  36. Could you recruit some kids to ____________ this weekend? We’re not going to pay them or anything, we just need some extra workers.
  37. Isn’t that what we hired you for? (Following a request for volunteers)
  38. Can you get my child saved at camp this weekend?
  39. (Parent, after child’s baptism), “well, your work is finished.”
  40. My son is doing this, this, this, this, this, this and that. I want you to talk to him about it but don’t tell him I told you.
  41. You’re 40? Isn’t it time you move on to something else.
  42. I thought you lived in the bell tower.

The Top 8 Reasons Why Youth Workers Burn Out

Youth worker burnout is a very real issue. In the UK youth workers last an average of 2 years in a position, and around 3-5 years in total before throwing in the towel.

I spent some time with a great youth worker yesterday who has put some real energy into properly researching this dilemma, and has made some very helpful observations. He has agreed to write up his findings for us – so watch this space!

Now our appetite is whet, I thought I’d compile a list of what I think are the top reasons Christian youth workers burn out. Enjoy!

1. Expected to be each Biblical office

Is the youth worker an elder, pastor, teacher, apostle, evangelist, prophet, deacon, or overseer? The truth is that this will depend on the unique sensibilities of each role in context, however most youth work positions expect their worker to be most if not all of them!

The problem is that the gifts and personality types of an evangelist are very different to pastor-teacher. The same is true for elder and apostle, prophet and deacon – there is a reason they are distinct roles within the church, and why it’s unhealthy (for ministry and minster) to be all of them at once.

As a pioneer will be frustrated, and likely to cause damage trying to be a pastor-teacher, and an evangelist will not have patience for the polity behind eldership. You’re heading for an emotional car wreck trying to contort yourself into these positions.

2. Mixed or no accountability / management

A common problem youth workers complain about is an unclear line of management. In some cases the management structure can be so arbitrary that everyone in the church tries to fill the void and become ‘the boss.’

Parents, kids, elders, pastors, wardens, caretakers – can all try to hold you accountable to their own standards and particular sets of expectations, whether or not they are in your job description, or conflict with the other 300 people you are trying to please.

In other scenarios you have a line-manager, but in reality they are  really trying to mentor you. Or you have a line manager who is also the Senior Pastor, thus has conflicting aims when you meet.

In *this post* I argue for a threefold structure of manager, pastor and mentor, which – when communicated properly to a church – is surely the healthiest model.

3. Isolation

Youth workers are often mavericks, and can find themselves easily in the role of ‘lone solider.’ Timetables are full, friends are few, and most of the time is spent with people in a completely different stage of life than you.

Youth workers need friends who are totally unrelated to their work – and youth workers need to know other youth workers.

Making the effort to get to network days and training are essential, as is carving out the time for just going out with mates.

There’s a lot of lonely youth workers out there, lets take it seriously.

 

4. Unrealistic expectations

I was also told a story yesterday of a youth worker who was expected to double her youth group numbers in six months. Really? Then there are training manuals and courses that leave you with the impression that you should be ‘always on’ for the young people and ‘make every opportunity count.’

A lot of these expectations come out of poor management. Having real goals that genuinely make sense of working hours and are regularly evaluated is key. As is holding the youth worker accountable to their working week, holidays and days off.

Focus, identify clear objectives, work to your resources, build a healthy team, take your time off, have a life and settle in for the long haul.

5. Having no idea what they’re doing

This might be the biggest issue. Youth workers, let’s admit it, we don’t have a clue! We’re expected to understand and relate to the monstrous and mysterious beast known as ‘youth culture,’ develop professional plans to execute sophisticated projects, and hold in tension conflict, personality types and genuine spiritual needs, emotional abuse and organic community.

We are expected to be team managers and recruiters, teachers and trainers, counsellors and mentors, sociologists and missiologists, scholars and facilitators – and expected to look like we’re none of these things so we can ‘fit in’ with the young people. Usually a youth worker has up to 1 year of training to learn all these areas where genuine practitioners have spent half their lives in school to develop.

We don’t know what we’re doing!

This can be helped by defining the role and having realistic expectaitons. It can also be resolved through ongoing training, professional development and support. Mostly however, we just need to hold tight to the expert… which is God.

6. Forgetting who God is

This is, unfortunately, probably the saddest, but most frequent. It can be propagated by all the above, and exacerbated by a lack of genuine spiritual mentoring and accountability, but mostly it just results from being tired all the time.

In my experience youth workers tend to be badly trained in how to use their Bibles. This means a shaky foundation and an especially insecure problem-solving mechanism. Without having a solid understanding of where their role comes from, and what is needed when the rubber hits the road, the proof-texting they have grown up with tires and leaves them wanting.

The worst thing is starting to forget what God’s voice sounds like, so you stop recognising him when he leads, warns and protects you. The security fails, the passion dies up, you start to feel guilty, believe you’re a fraud – and give up.

The most important thing a youth worker should take seriously is their own personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Before you are a youth worker, you are a child of God. When that turns round – so does everything else.

7. Just getting bored

I sometimes wonder if the reason that youth workers come across as so wildly creative is that they’re just desperately trying to break the monotony.

On the surface, youth work looks like a lot of activity, and it is but I’ve found that for every hour of creative fun, theres two-three hours of planning and then at least an hour of cleanup. Because you’re working with volunteers, this can often be alone and repetitive.

Add to this a lot of written work, planning, management, conflict resolution and reporting, it can start to get to you. Then you need to consider that you are spending your time dialoging with people of a very different maturity and life experience, having the same four of five conversations.

8. Low pay

Ok, this is going to sound weird, ungrateful and materialistic – but it’s still true. Youth workers get paid usually less than entry-level teachers for a similar job, expectation set, and working hours; and we all know teachers don’t get paid enough!

There, of course, is a pastoral humility required for ministry, a lack of material desire, and I’m not sure that the youth worker should be paid more than most of the congregation. However, for such a stressful job, the low pay can put a massive amount of pressure on the youth worker’s family.

This can affect a lot of life choices: Does my spouse also need to work full time? Can we afford to have children? My biggest stresses throughout my youth work career has been a secure place to live (we’ve had to move six times) and maintaining a car (been through seven in five years). We also once went two years without more than a half a tub of hot water a day and no heating. With a very unwell life, this was insane!

I know a lot of youth workers who survive off credit – lease-agreement cars, back-paying bills, and crazy mortgages – just so they can maintain a family alongside their work. I know it’s a difficult economy, but churches should carefully look into how their youth worker is living and consider the church’s responsibility for them.

7 Ways Not to Complain To Your Youth Worker – And A Few Tips How To

As youth workers, we get things wrong. Lots wrong, in fact, and all the time. How can that be, you ask? Well, we balance a whole mess of varied personalities, quirky projects, disjointed goals and unrealistic expectations. We are often accountable to different people than those we actually serve, and we expertly straddle the line between the easy-to-offend and the easy-to-disengage. We don’t have the odds stacked in our favour.

It also doesn’t help that the UK church is still in its infancy when it comes to hiring youth workers. Actually managing youth workers properly is a fine art that few have really mastered.

It’s not always crystal clear, therefore, where the management lines are drawn. The result is that everybody – parents, teachers, kids, elders, PCC, wardens, safeguarding officers, curates, the post-man, the dog – thinks that ultimately they are your boss.

Cheeky plug: for ‘How To Line Manage Your Youth Worker’ click here.

We get lots and lots of complaints! This is stressful for anybody, let alone hyper-emotionally-challenged and miss-managed, octopus-styled youth workers. When you write your complaint letter to your youth worker, take a minute to think about how to get it right.

I’m going to share a couple of stories with you; these are all actual complaints that I have received.

Disclaimer – looking back over this post after writing it, I realise that it could come across unnecessarily cathartic. This is not my intention. Like all the best training, I believe these examples show lived experience not just abstract theory. So hopefully useful!

1. The Letter from the Fashion Police.

To Tim Gough
7th March 2010

As a member of Christ Church of the older generation, I write to express my utter disgust at your mode of dress at the Morning Service today – tatty, torn trousers at the knees for everybody to see – is that the way to come into any church – (or any Cathedral?)? I cannot think of any other member of the  congregation who would come into the church looking as dishevelled as you do.

I have been coming to Christ Church for well over 20 years now, and have never seen anybody coming in with torn trousers like your display today.

Would you go into Westminster Abbey or St. Paul’s Cathedral – or anywhere else for that matter – looking like you did this morning? I hope not. Wake up in future

A Parishioner (in disgust)

My casual exhibitionism and unfortunately sharp knees not withstanding there are a couple of things to points out.

The letter was not signed.
There is no hope here for dialogue, no conversation and no relationship. This is in no uncertain terms, anonymous trolling. A gentle chat with me afterwards would have had a much better response.

The letter was written angry.
Complaints, like all discipline, should come from a place of loving correction, rather than anger. This was in reference to ‘the service today’, so they went home and wrote it while they were still ticked. Flipping tenses around, making hugely generalised statements and telling me to ‘wake up’ with underlining didn’t endear themselves to me – it just made me feel hurt and attacked.

The letter was missing some perspective.
What does going into Westminster Abbey really have to do with a youth leader gathering teenagers for the youth club? A bit of reflection may have made this person consider the generational difference between themselves and the young people, and instead think, ‘wow, there are young people connecting with God in this church!’

2. The Glitter Covered Turd.

While working at a conference I heard a friend quote the classic missive ‘you can’t polish a turd.’ Immortal and well accepted wisdom. At that point, however, another friend responded ‘but you can roll it in glitter!’ Apt.

Rob Bell talks about ‘chocolate covered turds’ which I guess (in the etymologically sound world of turd-related metaphors) is roughly the same thing as rolling one in glitter. Bell talks about compliments that have sneakily lines thrown in like ‘I think your great, even though you believe this…’ or ‘I’m with you, even though everybody else hates you.’

I once received one monster of a glitter covered turd.

It was a well written, graceful and constructive complaint email highlighting a few areas that I needed to work on with some helpful specific examples. It read well, and even though it was a bit overlong, it was actually a good example. This was until I saw the carbon copy line of the email.

The email was copied into the Pastor, Associate Pastor, two Wardens and few other leaders they got on well with. At this point it was no longer approaching me as a brother, but it had skipped ahead to full on public rebuke (Matthew 18:15-16).

3. The Stealth Bomber Complaint (aka, Gossip).

About nine months into a job, the Church Wardens decided to be proactive in finding out how I was doing. They had received the glitter covered turd emails, had a few ‘backroom’ conversations and went off to do some fact finding. This didn’t include me.

My volunteer leaders started to report to me that they were being subtly interrogated by the wardens to find out what I was up to; how was I supporting them, was I towing the line. They felt a bit weird (obviously), and frankly a little violated.

It wasn’t until two years after this that they actually arranged a meeting with me in order to take over my line management which, in their words, wasn’t working. But this was after sowing discord among leaders, parents and young people, and without raising complaints directly with me. Whoops! The damage had already been done, and I was too inexperienced to know how to resolve the conflict from my end.

4. The Job-Destroying Accusations (aka, worse Gossip).

X’s Mum (also a Sunday School leader) speaking to 17 year old volunteer: “Tim doesn’t let my teenage daughter play in the band because he’s a sexist!”

Volunteer to me: “X’s Mum said you’re a sexist”

Me to X’s Mum: “The reason your daughter doesn’t play in the band is because, after asking her, she does want to play in the band.”

Same Mum to other parents and leaders: “Tim doesn’t let my teenage daughter play in the band because he’s a sexist!”

Me: “Sigh.”

This same parent caused me numerous issues that were always unnecessarily overblown and immensely complex to resolve. Had I known then what I do now I would have removed her from her leadership positions until she had sought some clinical help for her slightly sociopathic insecurities.

5. The Lobbing In The Grenade And Legging It Email Chain.

After an event had gone awry for a wide range of silly reasons, I received a damning email from it’s organiser spelling out what a horrible person I was for having such unrealistic expectations of him.

The email made its fair share of generalisations, sweeping statements, and emotional rhetoric – scoring a trifector on the ‘how not to complain scale.’ It was also copied into a fair few of his team and leaders, which conveniently covered his back from the actual reasons the event failed.

There’s the grenade.

This complaint obviously needed resolving properly, relationally; face-to-face. I responded to him personally, through email, phone and facebook. I reached out to his pastor, and got my line-manager to do the same. We arranged multiple times to meet and talk, and I gave up a lot of ground to make that happen – but he continually cancelled or didn’t show. After about nine months, I gave up.

There’s him legging it.

If you’re not willing to talk through your complaint relationally, then you probably need to take an emotional inventory on what you’re actually trying to accomplish by making it in the first place.

6. The Spousal Approach.

I’m not really sure why people think complaining through my wife will make me take them any more seriously, but it seems to happen all the time.

There are actually a fair few examples I can give here, so I’ll go with a relatively mundane one. After giving a talk in a church morning service, the Pastor went to talk to my wife giving her some points he thought weren’t quite up to par. He then ended by saying, ‘but don’t tell him.’ Really?

You’ve got to ask what he hoped to accomplish by putting my wife in such a crazy position, and whether perhaps he was trying to make sure I did hear the feedback while – in some odd way – keeping his fingerprints off it.

7. The Record Keeper.

Another such email that occupies a special place in my memory contained a list of compounded issues and faults the sender had found with me over two years of ministry. It was maybe three or four pages long and came totally out of left field.

Even through it was filled with mostly mundane annoyances, because they had been stewing on these things it came with the emotional intensity of something much more serious.

How To Actually Do It – A Masterclass In Complaining:

Here’s a random few bullet points to keep us on the straight, narrow and healthy for when you make a complaint:

Pray before you say!
Ask for God’s perspective and his heart before you even begin. Ask God (and yourself) how important an issue it really might be, and adopt a tone that fits that priority sense.

Start off in person.
Email, write or text if you really must – but consider that might be more for your own benefit. It may be better to write it out for you (maybe have a wise friend read it), then go and speak to your youth leader without it.

Go through the proper process and channels.
This might mean one-to-one first, or first approaching the line-manager (who will know more than you do). Be wise, and if unsure, build good relationships and find out.

Don’t ‘field test’ out your complaint by asking around what others think.
That’s called gossip – and it really doesn’t help.

Make sure you’ve thought about what to say.
Be clear and specific avoiding generalities and over-simplification. Make it about specific instances, rather than overgeneralised sweeping statements.

Search for the right heart.
Complaints can be made within the realms of righteous anger, but should be tempered with love, grace and particularly mercy.

Keep your perspective in check.
Remember the immense pressure any minister for the Gospel is under, and the particular stresses of a youth worker.

Look for an amicable approach.
It’s good to start off in a healthy and grateful place, think of something you value about the youth worker, and point it out.

Drop it.
When it has been heard, resolved, received or (in some cases) properly rebuffed. Back off and don’t labour it. Unless there is a legal/safeguarding reason for it to be escalated, let your complaint percolate with good grace rather than holding a grudge.

Allow the youth worker and/or line manager decide on the right course of action.
It’s much more appropriate to bring a problem to be resolved, rather than a list of solutions that you would like implemented.

Don’t not complain.
Feedback and correction are important to us. We’re big boys and girls – and need to have loving discipline in our lives. So don’t let this put you off – just do it properly. Thank you!

POSTSCRIPT NOTE TO EMPLOYERS

Your grievance and disciplinary procedures are there for a reason. They are more than just legal requirement minutia, or a safety blanket for ‘worse case scenarios.’ These procedures give important piece of mind to people under your pastoral care.

One of the reasons parents and parishioners complain so unhelpfully is because they don’t necessarily have the confidence that issues will be dealt with in a proper and professional manner.

Use your policies properly, line-manage your youth worker well, and you will create a culture that has confidence. Parents will rightly complain when they have young people under their care – help them have piece of mind by just knowing how to work through issues properly and respectfully.

Typical Nativity Headaches! (Comics)

P1040050A new set by our In House Comic, Chloe Perrin. Check out her work at chloescomics.wordpress.com

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Youth Work Hacks at the Premier Digital Awards

Wow – 15016408_1189056691181334_7533730845260800862_owhat a ride! Two weeks ago, Youth Work Hacks won the Premier Digital Award in the category of Most Inspiring Leadership Blog. This was an epic honour – especially in the midst of other fantastic finalists!

[[Check out the runner up, Apples of Gold, and the finalists, Included By Grace and Matt McChlery.]]

It was a belting night which included an impressive meal, a champagne reception, polished hosts and a simply incredible house band. I was blown away by the professionalism of the whole night. I can be very critical of how badly Christian organisations do at putting on events, but this blew me away.

I’m very grateful to the Premier Judges for choosing Youth Work Hacks – and we will do all we can here to produce resources and articles worthy of them.

You can see the video of the award presentation below … and our comics version of what that looked like at the bottom of this post.

ps. Sorry about the two week break from writing. After a the awards came a week in London, and a week at Seminary. But here we are again!

 

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Trump, Sorkin, Politics, Fatherhood and Youth

I walk a horrible, melting line between my passions. I’m politically aware, and have been active in politics since I was 16, writing for newspapers and supporting campaigns. I’m also a Christian youth worker trying to remain neutral in a ministry among impressionable people and charity work conditions.

For this reason I painfully made the decision to steer clear of the US election in my blog and social media world. Aaron Sorkin’s letter to his daughters, however, is what I choose to share to break my silence.

You can read the original on Vanity Fair here, or re-blogged below. I apologise to anyone with sensibilities around some raw language.

Aaron Sorkin & Youth Workers

Sorkin, most famously known for The West Wing, has always been my favorite modern writer, and I have repeatedly devoured all he has produced. I respect him as a man with a difficult history, rich talent and sensible perspective. In this heartfelt and authentic letter, he pushes hard on what fatherhood should aspire to be. He gives reasons to hope, he invites to a mission, and a purpose to persevere, he demonstrates standing under persecution, and soaks it all in rich compassion and promises to always walk alongside. He gives responsibility and value – yet shows humility and vulnerability.

Is this not our job as youth leaders, parents and ministers of the Gospel? Give hope, give mission, give purpose, demonstrate standing under persecution, constantly be compassionate, promise to walk alongside, equip young people with responsibility and value – but from a place of humility and vulnerability.

Couldn’t We Just…?

Before I share the letter, I thought I’d give a brief video clip first from Sorkin’s ‘The Newsroom’ which gives a reasonably clear picture of where America was, is and could be. As someone with an American wife and lots of American friends and family – I say yes please. Couldn’t we just…?

I’ve been rightfully encouraged to pray and trust in God. Absolutely! But there is also a time to stand up and stand against. To be clear, outspoken and alive for Christ by defending the poor, the weak, the orphan, the foreigner and the hungry. This might be standing against the Trumps-that-be, and serving – whole-hardheartedly and humbly – the weakest among us. No time for pouting or sitting back to ‘let God handle it.’ Let’s act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with our God.

Enjoy. (video – then letter)

 

Sorkin Girls,

Well the world changed late last night in a way I couldn’t protect us from. That’s a terrible feeling for a father. I won’t sugarcoat it—this is truly horrible. It’s hardly the first time my candidate didn’t win (in fact it’s the sixth time) but it is the first time that a thoroughly incompetent pig with dangerous ideas, a serious psychiatric disorder, no knowledge of the world and no curiosity to learn has.

And it wasn’t just Donald Trump who won last night—it was his supporters too. The Klan won last night. White nationalists. Sexists, racists and buffoons. Angry young white men who think rap music and Cinco de Mayo are a threat to their way of life (or are the reason for their way of life) have been given cause to celebrate. Men who have no right to call themselves that and who think that women who aspire to more than looking hot are shrill, ugly, and otherwise worthy of our scorn rather than our admiration struck a blow for misogynistic shitheads everywhere. Hate was given hope. Abject dumbness was glamorized as being “the fresh voice of an outsider” who’s going to “shake things up.” (Did anyone bother to ask how? Is he going to re-arrange the chairs in the Roosevelt Room?) For the next four years, the President of the United States, the same office held by Washington and Jefferson, Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt, F.D.R., J.F.K. and Barack Obama, will be held by a man-boy who’ll spend his hours exacting Twitter vengeance against all who criticize him (and those numbers will be legion). We’ve embarrassed ourselves in front of our children and the world.

And the world took no time to react. The Dow futures dropped 7,000 points overnight. Economists are predicting a deep and prolonged recession. Our NATO allies are in a state of legitimate fear. And speaking of fear, Muslim-Americans, Mexican-Americans and African-Americans are shaking in their shoes. And we’d be right to note that many of Donald Trump’s fans are not fans of Jews. On the other hand, there is a party going on at ISIS headquarters. What wouldn’t we give to trade this small fraction of a man for Richard Nixon right now?

So what do we do?

First of all, we remember that we’re not alone. A hundred million people in America and a billion more around the world feel exactly the same way we do.

Second, we get out of bed. The Trumpsters want to see people like us (Jewish, “coastal elites,” educated, socially progressive, Hollywood…) sobbing and wailing and talking about moving to Canada. I won’t give them that and neither will you. Here’s what we’ll do…

…we’ll fucking fight. (Roxy, there’s a time for this kind of language and it’s now.) We’re not powerless and we’re not voiceless. We don’t have majorities in the House or Senate but we do have representatives there. It’s also good to remember that most members of Trump’s own party feel exactly the same way about him that we do. We make sure that the people we sent to Washington—including Kamala Harris—take our strength with them and never take a day off.

We get involved. We do what we can to fight injustice anywhere we see it—whether it’s writing a check or rolling up our sleeves. Our family is fairly insulated from the effects of a Trump presidency so we fight for the families that aren’t. We fight for a woman to keep her right to choose. We fight for the First Amendment and we fight mostly for equality—not for a guarantee of equal outcomes but for equal opportunities. We stand up.

America didn’t stop being America last night and we didn’t stop being Americans and here’s the thing about Americans: Our darkest days have always—always—been followed by our finest hours.

Roxy, I know my predictions have let you down in the past, but personally, I don’t think this guy can make it a year without committing an impeachable crime. If he does manage to be a douche nozzle without breaking the law for four years, we’ll make it through those four years. And three years from now we’ll fight like hell for our candidate and we’ll win and they’ll lose and this time they’ll lose for good. Honey, it’ll be your first vote.

The battle isn’t over, it’s just begun. Grandpa fought in World War II and when he came home this country handed him an opportunity to make a great life for his family. I will not hand his granddaughter a country shaped by hateful and stupid men. Your tears last night woke me up, and I’ll never go to sleep on you again.

Love,

Dad

3 Things A Youth Worker Learned In The Gym

I thought, for this post, that I would share a little bit of my recent story, and maybe pull out some unexpected lessons that I’ve learned.

Over the last decade my health took quite a knock. Tension headaches and migraines, lots of spontaneous fatigue and a very erratic sleeping patten. A couple of doctors told me it was just work related stress, which, as it made sense for a youth worker, I didn’t question. Even with treatment and a change of circumstances, however it wasn’t getting any better. In fact, it got worse.

I started getting dizzy with strange sudden feelings of vertigo, then I randomly would black out. Not so good! I bit the bullet and went back to the doctors. It turned out that the root cause is much simpler than stress – I have very low blood pressure due to being underweight.

I’m, in fact, very underweight. My bmi is around 18, rather than 20-22 where it should be. This puts me in a very close bracket to conditions such as anorexia. My body just doesn’t break down or store fats very effectively. This means I don’t retain any energy reserves, which – when linked to low blood pressure – just wipes me out.

The treatment for this began a year ago with big changes to my diet, the most significant of which was trying to consume 8000 calories a day. This was ridiculous! I can manage about 3500 on a good day, but any more than that and I’m risking other issues – and I just can’t do my job with constant nausea! Step two, therefore, was to get seriously stuck into the gym – which is where my little bit of hell began.

Enter The Gym

In the gym, I’m on a workout routine that blends exercises from both anorexia recovery programs, and super-human muscle mass gain workouts. No cardio, very little warmup, and big hit ‘heavy’ weights three times a week. I’m now on my fifth week and doing relatively well. I’ve not gained any weight, but I’m sticking at my higher average, which is a good sign, and I’m not randomly falling asleep in the middle of the day.

The gym doesn’t really sit with me as a ‘happy place’ though. It’s smelly, sweaty, inconvenient and incredibility good at poking all of my insecurities. I’m the only guy in the weight section that’s not already built like a tank!

After the first couple of sessions, however, the routine and the sense of personal challenge kicked in, and now it’s starting to make some measure of sense to me. Here are three (and a bit) unexpected lessons that I have learned so far.

1. Mobile Phone Bliss

I made a very early decision that the gym would be a mobile phone free zone for me. It’s just too tempting to do business or panic about something if I have it. For the 5 minute walk from my house and back, and for the 45 minutes I’m there, I am mobile phone pure.

These three weekly hours represent the single longest times in my week without my phone. That’s no access to calls, messages or emails. No evernote and no calendar. For the first few sessions, this was horrible. Like kicking an addiction, my hand kept reaching for my pocket, but the phone wasn’t there. No constant undercover bubbling of panic or quick relief when I checked my notifications.

The gym has given me real time not connected to anybody. No one can get me, unless they pay to get in to see me! This has been a wonderful habit kicker, and has helped me prioritise my ‘check in’ times online much more sensibly the rest of the week.

2. Focus, Focus, Focus

I am a natural mental multi-tasker. I’m always thinking of some new idea – or panicking about some unfinished project or unfulfilled suggestion. If my mind wanders at the gym though, I get hurt!

It’s very hard to think ‘did I send that email’ or ‘I wonder if I used the right tone of voice when I spoke to x’ when you’re trying to lift weights that desire to kill you. If you take your mind off the suckers, they will tear your muscles to shreds!

The gym, has taught me in 5 weeks, what years of trying to contemplate Jesuit and Ignatiun mindfulness techniques couldn’t – to shut my mind off and just focus on the moment.

This has also transposed over into my life as I have recent and consistent mental-muscle memory of what single focus feels like.

3. Non-Work Related Commitment Is Really Healthy

I’m committed to my wife, and I’m committed to my job. Beyond that, I’m a bit woolly. I have hobbies – things that I like to do like painting and playing the guitar. Mostly, however, real person-development-based commitments only focused on what I get paid for or to whom I’m married. Sometimes it’s even hard to include God in that list, as my relationship with him is often so tied up with my ministry job.

Fifteen trips to the gym, however, and I’m finding a new commitment that has nothing (directly at least) to do with either my job or my wife. This has created a real sense of balance to the flavour of my life. A commitment that just focuses on health and personal growth has been fantastic – it’s reminded me that I’m valuable before I’m a husband or a youth worker. It’s made me more thankful and a little bit more receptive to my Dad in Heaven.

3-and-a-bit. Health Is Apparently Important!

I’ve been through clinical treatment for stress and counselling based therapy. You really do have to look after yourself to thrive at God’s plan. Your body is a temple that needs to be respected, and proper diet, sleep and exercise have such a huge impact on the chemical balances of your body and the acuteness of your mental processes.

Thus – you will be more receptive to God and a better youth worker if you look after yourself.

That said – working out sucks! 😛

Youth Work and Mental Health Pt. 1 – A Gentle Poke

When I was 14, one of my best friends was Daniel. I didn’t know Daniel was clinically depressed or that his random outbursts were actually early signs of bipolar disorder. I didn’t understand that it wasn’t normal that Daniel’s room only contained a mattress, a guitar and a pile of black hoodies. All I knew was he was fun and unique to be around, and that he had an unusually broad talent for music.

We drifted apart over the years, which meant it came as a bigger shock when he was found in a flat, dead at age 23, after swallowing a mix of alcohol and methadone.

Daniel was a disruption to the classroom environment. He was always in trouble and – as far as I knew – had no-one working with him to identify or work with his root causes. To me though, Daniel was just a mate who I’ll never see again.

I’d like to think that I’m a passionate advocate for the mental health world. At least I believe that we neither spend enough or research enough to develop treatment for those who really struggle. Classrooms are simply not geared for it, and the health service doesn’t really step into that gap. Self medicating is all too often the only option that seems available.

I also truly believe that the Church is supposed to define and lead culture – that we should be setting the trends, making the calls and leading the charges. Can we then, as youth workers and as Church develop programs that specifically work with young people during the early signs of mental health issues? Can we cultivate a culture in our programs that leaves room to observe, identify and even treat young people who are going through these struggles?

Daniel was my mate, but there was at the time no language to discuss these problems, or develop an awareness that this could be happening to someone I knew. The language is more available today, but I’m not sure if we’re any closer to implementing real, culture-saturating change.

Bill Hybels said “the local church is the hope of the world.” Can we be this hope that the world is so desperately craving? Daniel’s mum said, “I hate to think another young life could be wasted as tragically as Daniel’s has been.” Can we be the answer to her prayers?

Please, talk to your young people regularly and clearly about mental health. Talk to your team about how to organically identify and respond to needs. Finally, lets keep talking to God – crying out to him for healing and restoration; for the redemption of a culture that lifts up the broken and downtrodden, and helps all people live a life to the full as Jesus taught (John 10:10).

Working With Introverted Young People

A few months ago I appeared on the fantastic youth ministry podcast ‘The Longer Haul‘ to talk about ministering to introverted students. This is an issue that keeps coming up, and I think represents one of the fundamental missteps youth ministry can take.

For those of us who prefer reading to listening, I’ve taken some of my key thoughts from the podcast and written them up here as notes. Enjoy!

The Extrovert Epidemic

Much of our youth ministry is focused towards the extrovert. This follows a cultural pattern of being extrovert-driven too. Our school rooms and classes, for instance, are geared towards controlling and regulating the extrovert by putting them in rows, or engaging and energising the extrovert by pushing group discussions and activities. Also, modern offices are moving towards more open plan layouts, instantaneous planning sessions, and group enterprises.

In youth work we’re very adept at running youth work projects and particularity events; “everybody jump or I’ll squirt you with this water pistol!” But it even exists in our naturally quieter, small group ministry, “everybody go round and tell us something interesting about yourself.”

This creates a subliminal constant message that the introvert is not as able as the extrovert.

Jody pointed out in the interview that often youth ministries take on the character of their leader. Very true! There are of course many extroverted youth workers, especially new or younger youth workers, as extroversion is not necessarily the best ingredient for longevity. Introverts more naturally allow their teams to outgrow them, run with ideas and create a space and flavour that reflects more than one person. Introverts often create safer boundaries, develop more realistic goals and allow more open dialogue for change.

Extroverts may need to learn this behaviour, as they are often the charismatic force that drives content, holding ideas close, while not always delegating effectively. This of course is not always true, but the intro-extroversion line seems to me to be a key player.

I believe that youth ministry models and strategies, on a whole, tend to lean towards the extrovert. It certainly seems, at least, that developing extroverts in youth work is more well-established. So we will attempt here to bring in some balance, by developing specific ideas for developing introverts.

What Is An Introvert?

We often hear introversion linked with shyness, and extroversion with boldness. Although there can be links, it doesn’t take more than an amateur pop psychologist to tell you that this is a false assumption to make all the time. You can easily by a shy extrovert or an outgoing introvert.

I think about introverts using two sides of a coin. On one side is ‘how are they energised’ and on the other, ‘how do they process information.’

Energy?

An extrovert is energised by social stimulus in various forms (what kind depends on the extrovert), whereas the introvert tends to be drained by that. Both might enjoy going to a party, but while the extrovert may come back energised – like they have received from it, the introvert might want some down time – feeling like they have given out.

Information?

An extrovert tends to process verbally. When responding to a question they start speaking, showing their working until they get to an answer – you see the process and various types of responses and working out along with perhaps several answers. This is why extroverts are sometimes seen as rude through impatience. An introvert processes internally. They stop, think for a minute about what the question means, what else it could mean, what they know, how an answer could sound, how else it could be phrased etc. This happens internally an is why introverts are sometimes seen as rude through withdrawal.

This also might be why we as youth leaders subliminally prefer talking to extroverts. They provide more real time feedback on the conversation without looking like they are glazing over. It’s too easy to assume that the introvert is angry at us, or just bored or afraid when they are 1. giving us energy just by being there and 2. internally processing.

Bring It Together

When you put the energy (down time, reflective, away from most social stimuli) and the process (internal, cognitive) together you get your introvert.

It is of course very possible to be an internally processing extrovert, or an introvert who is energised by carefully cultivated social times. Just one of the reasons we shouldn’t be too prescriptive with any of this!

5 Principles For Introverted Youth Ministry

Jody pointed out that you will need both introverts and extroverts on your team to reach a diverse group. He’s bang on the money again, and we will now talk about putting some principles in place to get the most out of exactly this kind of team. Both introverts and extroverts will need to learn new habits and develop a wider awareness and tolerance, which, if trained and led well, will lead to quality, long-lasting youth ministry!

This requires more than just giving introverts space, as the extrovert will be tempted to fill any space that you give. This needs a rethink of our models to develop introverts intentionally and consistently alongside extroverts. Hopefully these 5 principles will be a good start to this process.

1. Stop using the word ‘everybody’

“Everybody get up and jump!”

“Everybody stand up and stay something about yourself!”

That little word ‘everybody’ can send fear right down the spine of the introverted young person, especially if you give them no time to think and process first. Look instead for inclusive but not expected phases that create safe opt-out spaces in your programs and sessions which allow young people to not engage with aspects of the activities without just dropping off the face of the planet.

2. Look For Ways To Show Value

Introverts (like all of us) need to know they are valued for who they actually are, not what an extroverted-youth-programs make them think they should be. One of the best ways to do this is to develop active listening skills. That’s listening which holds eye contact, makes affirming relevant gestures, repeats back what was said, and develops their side of the conversation over yours.

This is essential when they make a contribution to the group. You need to point to it clearly showing that you have understood their intentions and believe that it is valuable. This is something they will go away and process and become part of their historic experience with you – that you are someone who values them within their identity.

3. Stop, Look, Listen

It’s sometimes easier to spot the behaviours of the extrovert, which tend to carry less subtly in a group. We need to be watching the introverts, noticing what they do, and pointing to it. It’s all too easy to look through the introvert to the active extrovert behind them. Take the time to be with them certainly, but notice them when you’re not. We need to be present to and with our introverted young people consistently.

Be a youth leader who sees, hears and notices. Then names it.

4. Create Opt-Out Spaces

Similar to stop using the word ‘everybody’ this is about creating re-energising, processing times and spaces for the introvert. Make space for young people not to be part of everything. This will need some rethinking of our models.

Assuming that all your young people will equally want to do all activities is one thing, but forcing an introvert into a highly uncomfortable extrovert game is going to create a fight or flight response that’s going to be hard to forget – or forgive. So ‘up front’ games and questions should be voluntary – not pointing and naming. Group games and activities should be designed so they are easy to jump in and out of too. Ice-breakers should be easy enough to pass on too. It should be enough to say “I’m Tim, hi!” without having to then go on to explain my 14 favourite types of spatula… unless of course I want to!

This works for spaces too. Youth rooms tend to be noisy and busy, the layout is activity-driven. So having spaces that work for the introvert is a must. We have a ‘quiet room’ in our group setup with head-phoned music, books, colouring, beanbags and simple games. Conversation in their is kept to a minimum.

This is essential because a big fear for the introvert is letting people down;

“If I don’t participate, I’ll let my team down.”

“If I don’t say something, then I’ll let the leader down.”

These times and spaces should be intentional expectations for the fabric of the group – so rather than ‘letting us down’ they are participating in how the group is supposed to work.

5. Cultivate A Culture Of Conversation

Introverts can be incredibly creative and intelligent, and can be amazing conversational partners. In our youth ministry programs, however, sometimes the only time we give to conversation is before or afterwards, or during the break. This is not intentional conversation.

Developing real intentional conversation within our programs needs us to dramatically rethink the content. During one of our groups ‘Redefine’ we make sure every element (talks, prayer, worship, games) each has a give and take philosophy. Talks and teaching always encourage interruptions, we regularly run Q&A, and we put music up on the screen so they can bring their own instruments with them. Everything invites them to participate and add to the conversation. We also run TED nights where they bring their own talks and teaching.

Developing this as a culture – so a regular part of what you do – actually creates a lot more safety and sure-footing for the introvert as well as some healthy engagement for the extrovert. It’s win-win.

Find Out More

This is just the cliff notes of a great 50 minute conversation with Jody. Check out the whole thing at The Longer Haul here. Or on the iTunes podcast here.

This is an ongoing conversation – if you’ve got anything to add, please get in touch, or comment below. 🙂

Also – check out Chloe’s awesome comics on ‘Things Introverts In Your Youth Group HATE!”