Surviving Summer Camp!

Summer camps are the cornerstone… or millstone of the youth ministry calendar. Great memories mixed with funny smells, odd conversations, and goo that won’t wash out your hair.

They’re also a minefield of safeguarding pushing, consent trying, first-aid exasperating young people who you get to know a little more than you perhaps wanted to!

As I leave for Soul Survivor Week A tomorrow (get in touch if you’re there and want to meet up!), I thought I’d leave you with these posts on how to survive camp for another year.

 

Staying healthy on camp

 

Surviving camp with a fully charged mobile phone

 

Dear free hugs guy… please stop

 

 

Running a Soul Survivor trip pack

 

 

And if you’re feeling a bit more theoretical, here are two posts I’ve written on Soul Survivor specifically over the last few years…

The Christology of Soul Survivor

‘What Soul Survivor Got Wrong’… a missed opportunity

 

 

 

Photo by Maxime Bhm on Unsplash

The difference between ‘millennials’ and ‘GenZ’. Part 2 by Jonny Price

Jonny returns to his discussion of the differences between ‘millennials’ and today’s young people (‘GenZ’) here in part 2; focusing on the differences needed in approach. If you missed part 1, you can check it out here.

 

Recently I wrote about 5 Differences between today’s young people and Millennials. In this blog I want to lay out some potential ways that we as youth workers might start to engage with some of these ideas.

1. Emphasise what we stand FOR, rather than what we are against

For decades the church has been known by those on the outside by what it is against. It is anti-science, anti-LGBTQ, anti-women and anti many other things too. Within the church this has been seen as a sign of the church being counter-cultural, or of the church standing against the tide of society for the sake of the Gospel.

Outside the church though, this has been seen as the church persecuting those who don’t conform, and, far from being counter-cultural, it has been seen as the church promoting the established culture. GenZ are intrinsically egalitarian, they are shocked at the existence of racism, sexism, or any other ism. Combine this with their lack of knowledge of the Christian faith, then they don’t know why the church is standing against those things.

But what about what we stand for? We are for redemption, for equality, for renewal, for the least and the lost. I am certainly not arguing that we should give up our markers in the sand, or that we should keep quiet about what we are against, but maybe we need to re-think or re-emphasise. Are we promoting personal holiness through individual action, or are we promoting systematic cultural change?

2. Emphasise the everyday-ness of spirituality

For a long time the idea of ‘spiritual but not religious’ has been a catch-all group for those who believe but don’t belong. While many writers argue that GenZ are neither spiritual or religious, I’m not sure that is the case. It seems that many members of GenZ are intrigued by the spiritual world, but they don’t use the code words we in the church look for to signal that they are spiritual.

Combine this with the way we have made Christian spirituality about a special time and place (Sunday morning, summer camp etc.), then why should young people expect to see God in the world around them?

We can help our young people to see God at work in the world through the people around them and through the amazing things that happen each day. We have a huge help in this from the advertising industry, which has trained this generation to be discerning and skeptical. If we can help our young people to use their incredible skills of discernment, then we can help them to see God at work in the everyday world, and help them to see how they are a part of God’s work in this world.

3. Peter, not Paul, should be our example for conversion and faith

We love dramatic conversion stories. We love to see people’s lives changed suddenly, so that they are redeemed and renewed, and we should. These stories are fantastic and inspiring. These stories stand out, however, because they are unusual. It’s much more difficult to see the hard won, life-long search for truth and the struggle to live out that truth.

Which is why I think Peter is such a good example for us to hold to when we are thinking about conversion and faith development. It is not that he is holier, or superior, but that maybe his example is more timely for us today. How many times did he mess up? How many times did he not get it? How many times did he fail? And yet, he was never abandoned, never rejected, always called back.

By emphasising dramatic conversion, epitomised by Paul on the road to Damascus (which wasn’t as sudden or dramatic as we think, but that’s for another time), we set our young people up for disappointment when they don’t experience this sudden transformation in their own lives.

Emphasising Peter over Paul allows us to tap into GenZ’s understanding of change as incremental and slow, and will help us to develop lifelong disciples, rather than summer converts.

In Conclusion

There is no radical rethink here, no reforming of the Christian faith into something new. Instead we need to look at our contemporary culture and, as faithful Christians have done for centuries, see where the contact points between that culture and our faith is and emphasise those.

It can be uncomfortable, but if we can do this well, we can show the rest of the church how it is done and, more importantly, help a generation of young people see that there is a God who loves them, and offers them redemption not just to a new way of life today, but to an eternal life tomorrow.

 

 

Jonny Price is the Youth and Children’s Ministry Leader for a Clifton Parish Churches in the North of beautiful York, where he lives with his wife, Carly, and son, Ethan.

When time allows he can be found cycling, either road or mountain, cooking or reading.

He holds a BA (Hons) in Mission and Ministry with a specialism in Youth from Cliff College, and is currently studying for an MA.

He loves Jesus and the Church, and wants to see the Church work to help young people live transformed lives by experiencing the redeeming love of Jesus.

Photo by Ben Duchac on Unsplash

The difference between ‘being the leader’ and actually leading

One is based on an assumption, the other is based on an action.

Being the leader is assumed. It’s on your name tag, written in your job description, and comes with the territory. It does not – on it’s own – make people follow you.

‘You know what they call a leader with no followers? Just a guy taking a walk’ (immortal wisdom from Vice President bob in the West Wing).

Actually leading is acting like the leader. It’s earning the right to the name tag, living up to the job description, and owning the territory. It inspires followers.

In churches we can be a fickle bunch, and we don’t often care for our leaders the way we actually should. It’s hard today to meet a Christian who hasn’t got some story of how a leader was abused, or some juicy piece of gossip about how poor a leader was. It’s also hard to meet a leader that hasn’t been back-handed in exactly this kind of way. We don’t make it easy for our leaders!

When a leader starts a new post, they can either become territorial, dictatorial, and then defensive about their shinny new leadership role, or they can grow into it.

How to act like a leader:

1. Take responsibility.
Roll up your sleeves and start working on solutions… including for things within yourself.

2. Don’t enable.
Steer clear of gossip, judgement, and criticising what went before. Challenge those who do.

3. Don’t take sides.
Engage in active conflict resolution and mediation.

4. Pick up the phone.
Rather than leaving problems unanswered get on them immediately and personally.

5. Don’t be afraid of conflict.
Avoiding conflict tends to breed more problematic conflict. Look it in the eye and work at it.

6. Listen activity.
Practice the art of good listening, remembering, and personal critical thinking.

7. Spend time with difficult characters.
Don’t just surround yourself with people you like. Spend intentional time with those you struggle with.

8. Guard your own time.
If you don’t fill your calender, someone else will. Craft your week and stick to it.

9. Guard your contact details.
Give out ways to get in touch with you that you can turn off when necessarily. Not everyone needs your personal number or home address.

10. Say no.
Some ideas are not where things are at, and some times you’re not available. Learn to say no with compassion but finality.

11. Build a team.
Develop a group of core people around you to share responsibility and steer the ship. More on this soon!

12. Take time off – seriously!
ALWAYS guard your time off. Don’t change it.

13. Don’t overstep your resources.
If you can’t resource something (money, people, time, space) then don’t do it.

14. Be sacrificial.
Just like Jesus. Don’t lord it over people, but roll up your sleeves and get stuck in with whatever.

15. Look after your health.
Diet, sleep, and food. A healthy trinity of things you’ll need to function well while leading people.

16. Don’t be afraid of people leaving.
It happens every time leadership changes; for good and bad reasons. Build on what God has given you, and take your time over the foundation.

17. Love what you do.
Take pride and joy in your ministry. Let the best bits fill you, and embrace the bad as learning opportunities. God has called you – so believe in it.

 

Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

Is youth ministry too ‘anti-academic’?

Naaaa…. not really. Well, yes, maybe. Kinda. Hmmmm.

This is a tough nut to crack!

So I’m a youth worker and I like to at least think of myself as an academic. I’ve studied at Oak Hill Theological College, Oxford University, and I’ve just finished a Masters in mission from Cliff College with a distinction. So me likey the thinkies!

Moving in these circles has meant that I have had the chance to spend time with other thinky youth workers who love to plumb the depths of theory and debate over the finer parts of nitpicking for long hours into the night. However this isn’t always the case.

A lack of theoretical depth

Sometimes it feels like youth work conferences and seminars are aimed at occasional volunteers in need of entertainment and very light topics. Sometimes youth work groups and forums don’t make it out of the ‘anyone got any game ideas’ threads, and then delete deeper areas for fear of heated debate or strong opinions. Sometimes casual conversations with fellow youth workers make me ashamed for wanting to go deeper. Sometimes ideas like ‘critical discussion’ or ‘peer review’ make people squint and jerk their heads, like they’re being offered something that could be poison.

According to every piece of research on the topic less youth workers are being hired, and they just don’t last long when they are. There is obviously a problem somewhere – and I wonder if the lack of depth and internal understanding of the job is a large contributing factor.

I’ve often been told that I’m overthinking, making things too complicated, or ‘straining a gnat’. Sometimes that’s fair – sometimes I am. Sorry! Sometimes I’m not though, and it’s these times that concern me.

Isn’t what we do pretty deep?

As youth workers, we need to take our profession very seriously. We navigate a landscape of  risk assessments, safeguarding law, adult ratios, additional needs, conflict resolution, mediation, teaching styles, personality types, consent and privacy law, social services, multi-agency intervention and support groups, volunteer management, charity commission reports, accountability boards, time management, inclusivity, digital awareness, and technology.

We really are in a theory-heavy and legally accountable profession.

Without deep thinking, constructive training and expertise in a lot (if not all of these areas), our youth work raft will eventually start sporting holes. We need to proactively and preemptively think through a whole range of areas before they become a problem.

With this foundational, structural safety net in place, we then turn to the level of teaching and welfare instruction (DBS terminology for regulated activity) that we are called to give:

Youth work mostly focuses on contemporary missiology and practical theology, but according to Deut. 6, there is a responsibility to pass on the whole nature of God’s ways and character to the next generation. Our theological understanding should go way beyond the scope of just ‘God loves you’. We should be able to helpfully travel the waters of adolescence with a firm enough understanding of the Bible to respond to complicated questions and steer young people towards God in the middle of confusion. This needs more than just a cursory understanding of scripture and is exactly why I wrote Rebooted.

What’s your point grumpy Tim?

I’ve not met many youth workers who 1. have a serious enough understanding of the fabric of their work or 2. have a deep enough relationship to biblical theology – to trust that they’ll still be doing it in ten years time. This makes me really sad, because they are good people with an amazing passion for young people, and clear gifts for this purpose!

As highly as we value it, however, passion just isn’t enough for the long haul. We need our conferences, seminars, online spaces, and conversations to deepen into the theory that surrounds us. We need to make our peace with study, training, and academic reading.

Again – I happen to move in some circles where this is prized, but the more time I spend with youth workers outside the academic realm, the more I wonder if it really is taken seriously on the whole.

Maybe it is and maybe you do – which is why you’re here.

If not, consider joining some groups, or doing some more professional development training. Read youth work journals not just magazines, and check out the work of the IASYM. Go to education conferences, and if you’re in the position of leadership at a conference – deepen some topics and broaden your speakers. We’ll all thank you for it when our profession is still alive and thriving in twenty years time!

At very least, let’s all surround ourselves with people who are smarter than us and let’s ask lots and lots of questions!

Thanks everybody.

Youth Ministry that’s Genuinely Relevant without Faking It

Last week I had the privilege of writing this for the IVP blog. Check out the original online here.

There’s a classic episode of The Simpsons where Ned Flanders, the show’s exorbitantly cheesy Christian stereotype, runs a Bible study in his home. The group has one teenager – an air-headed bully called Jimbo. In order to keep the study relevant to Jimbo, Ned keeps throwing in techy terms, ‘Now let us download the holy tweet of the Lord!’ When Jimbo begins to get bored and heads for the door, Ned yells desperately, ‘Mousepad! Double-click! Skype! Skype!’ Anything to give off the pseudo air of relevancy.

Relevancy is one of those magic words that we youth workers love to throw into our strategy statements and mission plans! Relevancy is as relevancy does though. On the one hand, relevancy genuinely can help us connect with young people at a deeper and more meaningful level. It can create a bridge into their world and smooth the path of the Gospel into their lives. On the other hand – as Ned established – relevancy can also become simply a disjointed and awkward attempt to look trendy and fashionable without any real depth. What makes the difference

Authentic Relevancy

A couple of years ago I knew an elderly gentleman who, before he passed away, rode the bus every morning when the teenagers got on for school. He struck up conversations with them, told them about Jesus, and somehow had them hanging on his every word. It was incredible! He was doing my job – in his eighties – better than I do it! This was more than a little humbling. The thing is that he wasn’t trendy, he wasn’t tuned in to their music, books, or box sets, and he wouldn’t know what a ‘skype’ was if you whacked him around the head with a webcam. What he was though was incredibly authentic.

Authenticity is what makes relevancy real. Authenticity is the magic ingredient that creates a connection with people who are different to us. Authenticity is what actually makes us relevant. This elderly chap would listen actively and intently, he would show genuine compassion, he would remember names, make eye contact, and be honestly interested. It didn’t matter one bit that he didn’t know who Chris Pratt or Kanye West was. He was authentic. He liked them, and they liked him. He was authentic – so he was relevant.

Getting on Trend without Being on Trend

It’s not that understanding teenage culture or following what’s ‘on trend’ is a bad thing. Of course it’s good to know, understand, and engage with what’s happening in their world. It’s healthy to be able to speak into the activities they’re committed to and the media they’re consuming.

It is their world though – and when we come off as being as much in it as they are we kill authenticity dead. Teenagers are super smart, and they can smell a rat a mile away! If we try to understand their world by being in it as much as they are – buying the same things, dressing the same way, watching all the same shows – then it’ll just end up weird. A little knowledge and some common ground is great, but it’s not what makes us genuinely relevant.

Cultivating Authenticity

Authentic people engage with teenagers in meaningful and lasting ways. Let’s prioritise authenticity. So, what makes us this kind of authentic?

• Active listeners are authentic
• Honest and transparent storytellers are authentic
• Humble people are authentic
• Compassionate and interested adults are authentic
• Those who generously give time are authentic
• Those who set consistent and healthy boundaries are authentic
• Those who cultivate thankful spirits are authentic
• Content people who trust God for what they need are authentic
• People who create situations for multiple voices to be heard are authentic
• Those who ask good questions, yet don’t have all the answers are authentic
• Those who talk clearly, and unapologetically from the Bible are authentic
• Those who mention Jesus; His life, death and resurrection are authentic

And these authentic people are genuinely relevant! Trying to understand culture without understanding the things above will leave you as a desperate square peg, forever jamming yourself into a round hole. Irrelevant!

I recently got my hands on a copy of Jessie Faerber’s new book More Than Just Pretty, and it’s a great example of what I’m talking about. More Than Just Pretty is a book that connects with the genuine struggles and ambitions of young girls in a solidly relevant way. It’s relevant because it’s authentic. You get the feeling as you read it that Faerber has really been there, and can empathise with girls while simultaneously giving permission for them to be so much more than what culture expects. She’s authentic – so her message is relevant! With my own book on the Bible and youth ministry, ‘Rebooted’, coming out in September, I hope that I come across with even half the authenticity that Jesse does!

With the Jimbo-generation in our projects, let’s not cheapen their experience of Christians by Ned Flandering all over them; ‘skype! Skype!’ Instead let’s be compassionate, interested, actively-listening adults who share with them authentically. Then we and our youth ministries will be truly relevant!

57 random thoughts and suggestions for new pastors.

I’m a youth worker. We know this already! However, I actually trained as a pastor and have spent the last 14 years working closely with many church pastors. Here are a collection of random thoughts for pastors who are just starting off…

  1. Love people more than you love books.
  2. Teach the people you have, not the people you wish you had.
  3. Ask questions. lots and lots of questions.
  4. Hang out with other pastors.
  5. Spend time with the children’s ministry.
  6. Pray more for people than you talk about people.
  7. Knowing things that should make you a better preacher, won’t necessarily make you a better preacher.
  8. If you are not seeking God’s voice, you cannot share God’s Word.
  9. Placating difficult personalities rarely makes things easier.
  10. Neither does just ‘letting them have it’.
  11. You cannot be all things to all people… That’s not what that verse means.
  12. If your prayer meetings are empty, it doesn’t matter how full your services are.
  13. You can’t look after a congregation if you’re not looking after your family.
  14. You can’t look after your family alone.
  15. Preachers on youtube are not the best model for pastoral ministry.
  16. Training is not just for ‘other people’.
  17. Training alone does not prepare you completely.
  18. Let people serve – even if you can do it better than them.
  19. Train people – even if it’s easier to just do it yourself.
  20. Recognise traits of toxic people – and don’t give them any responsibly over other people or your time.
  21. Sing worship like your life depends on it. It probably does.
  22. Plan your time around the priorities the Holy Spirit lays on your heart. If you don’t – other people will plan your time around their priorities.
  23. See your job description as something that should be fulfilled by year 5, not day 1.
  24. Leave 10% of your time ‘free’ for growth that will come later. Don’t ever commit to something to simply make up the hours.
  25. Don’t hold grudges.
  26. Take people bowling.
  27. Keep your office tidy.
  28. Take your days off, and disconnect. No email or phone.
  29. Arrive early to welcome people – set the standard for everyone.
  30. Plan Sundays where you are just part of the congregation and not leading anything.
  31. Avoiding conflict doesn’t actually avoid conflict.
  32. Avoiding conflict doesn’t actually make life easier.
  33. Avoiding conflict usually creates more conflict.
  34. Deal with conflict in person – not over email or on the phone.
  35. Deal with conflict immediately.
  36. Treat volunteers professionally, and hold them to agreed standards.
  37. Throw off monkeys so you can shoot elephants! (Deal with the small annoying things as they jump up on your face, before they’re so many of them you can’t do what you’re called to).
  38. Find a small group of people who serve and dedicate most of your time to them. Then get them to dedicate their time to others.
  39. Love your Bible. Really really love it.
  40. Give most of your time to faithful, available and teachable people.
  41. Welcome criticism, but disregard most of it.
  42. Find people you trust to give criticism that you won’t disregard (and not just people who agree with you).
  43. Pray like your life depends on it. It probably does.
  44. Don’t see prayer as a function of ministry, but as an expression of relationship.
  45. Don’t be afraid of getting things wrong. You were never made to be perfect – in fact, God tends to get more glory when you’re not.
  46. Bring Jesus and the Gospel into every debate – see all disagreements in light of a Christ context.
  47. Find a new hobby.
  48. Stay healthy. Eat well, sleep consistently, exercise regularly.
  49. Look after your youth worker. Be involved with what they do – volunteer for ‘their’ ministry.
  50. Bring your administrator doughnuts.
  51. Eat breakfast every day.
  52. Spend more time with people than you do alone in your office.
  53. Spend time alone in your office.
  54. Read good books about being a pastor by people who have done it for years in small churches – for instance Eugene Peterson’s, The Contemplative Pastor
  55. Help people to pray.
  56. Ask for prayer often.
  57. Love what you do. Or stop doing it.

13 Rules-of-thumb For Giving Better Talks

Here are a few golden rules of thumb for public speaking. These have nothing to do with content or spirituality, but they should help all of us speak more clearly and accessibly. Better speaking means clearer delivery, and clearly delivery means that more people will get it. Winner!

1. Don’t commentate on your talk as you give it.

‘Oh, sorry, that was rubbish wasn’t it…’
‘Ah, it looks like no-one gets what I’m saying…’
‘As you’re all switching off, I’ll end with this..,’
‘Right, so, just like me, I’m going to be really controversial now…’

Commentating on your own talk swings between under-confidence and over-arrogance. It’s rarely helpful, and often distracting. Say what you planned to say, and let’s do the commentating later.

2. Ditch the intro.

If you don’t hook me in the first 30seconds, then to be honest I’m already starting to drift. The introduction is your time to set up the intrigue, grab peoples attention, and bring them into the ride safely.

Talking for five minutes about who you are an why you’re here does none of that! If you really must make an intro, then get the service leader to do it. Ditch the intro and get straight into it.

3. Fit an orange in your mouth.

I’ve been a public speaking voice coach for a number of years and two of the most consistent problems I hear are ‘I speak too fast’ and ‘I’m too nervous.’ A great way to begin to remedy both of these is to open your mouth wider.

Opening your mouth allows more airflow and stretches your facial and neck muscles. This oxygenate your system, gets blood flowing, and releases endorphins, which makes you less nervous. Opening your mouth wider also increases recovery time between words and syllables, so you speak slower.

How wide? Just imagine you need to fit a whole orange in your mouth, then practice in front of a mirror. You won’t look as silly as you think I promise you!

4. Check the mic like a ninja.

‘Check, check… can you all hear me?’ [tap] [tap] [tap]

This screams under-confidence and insecurity. A tip I got from a comedian friend is to just say ‘hello’ into the mic and wait to hear if you get a response.

Use some kind of phrase or breath to check the mic like a ninja, rather than making it obvious.

5. Leave your kids out of it.

So this is a little bit content related. The amount of times that I hear a speaker effectively bad mouth their own kids, or spouse, or parents from the front is terrifying. They are not fair game, and you will lose the respect of people in the room if you do. Even passive mentions should be checked with them first.

Personal stories and experiences are great, but be respectful in how you put them together or the people you’re speaking to will stop trusting what you have to say.

6. Pause. Breathe. Pause.

Using the right amount of empty space makes talks into great talks. Reflection moments, and time for a point to sink in are golden. However, in usual conversation we call these ‘awkward silences’ so we don’t tend to feel comfortable with them publicly, and therefore don’t know how long to do them.

Obviously learn to fit the pause to the point, but for now start with pause-breathe-pause. Say your point and pause for what feels right. Then breathe in deeply, and do the pause again. Then continue (It’ll probably be 3-5 seconds all together).

 

7. Walk. Stop. Walk.

Some inexperienced speakers are constantly walking around the stage, bobbing around like an excitable terrier, with seemingly little understanding of where they are, where they’re heading, or why. An actor once told me that power and authority comes from standing still and straight, while intrigue and informality comes from slowly walking around. The trick is to use both intentionally.

If you walk from your lectern/music-stand/pulpit to somewhere else on the stage, stop and deliver a line from your talk stood still before walking back. Walk with a line. Stop with a line. Walk with a line.

Again, these are best matched to the point, but its a good place to start and learn body control as your speaking.

8. Learn some technical stuff.

Public speaking is a vocation, an art, and a skill. It has technicality that is worth the time to learn. Technical stuff should never replace the need for solid content, but it is important to make that content heard.

I’ve already mentioned breathing and body awareness, but also think about matching your points to the right volume, pitch, pace, timbre, and register. Find what part of your vocal instrument matches the point to the audience and practice so you can control it.

You can learn some of this stuff online, but vocal coaches and singing teachers can help you best with this. I coach people all around them world through Skype – so there are options available. If speaking is a big part of your ministry, it’s worth some time and money to train specifically as a speaker.

9. Smile properly. Laugh lots.

Unless it really doesn’t match your content, a gentle yet active smile that reaches your eyes will keep people with you. Humans respond to subtle smiling features on a face – we recognise them subliminally and we emulate them. This also increases endorphins and blood flow – and it usually opens your eyes a little wider letting more light in. All of this makes you more comfortable and confident.

Laughing lots before a talk is also a great way of relaxing nerves and getting more oxygen to the brain. It’s well worth traveling down to your talk with some funny people in the car!

10. Get there early.

One of the best tips I was ever given for talks I was worried about was to get there early. This gives you the chance to do two very important things:

First, it allows you to meet the people. Make connections, shake hands, tell stories, and ask questions. If you’ve already made those connections then both delivering and hearing the talk will go much more smoothly. I’ve been known to stand with the welcome team in places I’ve not spoken at before, just to say ‘hi‘ to as many people as possible. It’s always well received and really helpful!

Second, it gives you space to test the mic, adjust the stand, and look up and around at the room to see where the dead spots will be. It dulls the surprise of coming in fresh when you’re about to deliver. Well worth the early wake-up call.

11. Pick out your players.

When I’m nervous (which is still – after 18 years speaking – all the time), I tend to just look at one spot and keep talking to it.

To remedy this, pick out four to six people in different parts of the room and go back and forth looking at them. I think of this like football; I pick out some players on the wings, and people in the centre and keep passing my talk to them.

Realistically, this keeps me speaking to the whole room, and not just a small cluster in it.

12. Ignore mistakes.

You may need to occasionally correct a sentence, but don’t linger on it. Correct and move on.

Drawing attention to your mistakes makes an audience loose interest, and it makes you feel less confident and competent. Move through it and move past it.

13. Ignore numbers 1-12.

These ‘golden rules of thumb’ are there to help you deliver a clearer message and to be a support for your point. If they become the main thing, however, then throw them out. Some of the best speakers regularly break these rules because their own character can make it work.

If these are helpful – great. Use them and enjoy. If they breakup your flow, however, or make you panic, or get in the way of personality, then get rid of them!

Have fun. Speak well.

If you want more on this, check out ‘Bizesize Messages: Nailing the one point.’

10 financial tips to a youth worker from a youth worker

This might be one of the most hypocritical posts that I’ve ever written and that’s saying something! I’m rubbish at handling money. I don’t care all that much about it and I don’t think all that much about it either. In fact, it was only when I really understood my serious lack of stewardship gifts that I handed the responsibility over to my wife and then we began to get straightened out.

I do, however, spend a lot of my time mentoring and coaching youth workers. That – along with my own disastrous financial experience – means I understand and have lived through many of the pressures and conflicts surrounding money in ministry. I don’t think we pay ministers enough for sure, and youth ministers are often at the bottom end of this – but this is the reality of our world that we need to learn to live within.

I’m fortunate now to work for a charity that wants to support me well for the work I do, but many youth workers don’t have this, and even those of us who do still struggle. When I was in my first youth ministry position, I thought I was paid quite well – that was until I discovered that we were in the bottom 10% in our area and were racking up more and more debt each month!

The bottom line is that we don’t get into ministry to be wealthy, and we are often paid less than many of people that we serve. This is the nature of the beast. Some of us also get into ministry quite young, want to start families, and hold the baggage of student debt to boot.

It was only a few years ago that my wife and I were still in almost £10,000 of debt. A better job, a clearer understanding, some generosity, and a lot of planning helped us clear this completely. Credit for this needs to go to my wife, but here are a few things that I picked along the way.

This is the one of the weirdest posts I’ve ever written, but the more time I spend with youth workers the more I realise that many of these basic skills and understandings are just often missing.

Hopefully these aren’t too condescending, and hopefully for some people they may be helpful too. Enjoy!

1. Make peace with the reality of your role

As a youth worker in the West, you should consider yourself a missionary. Your work primarily will be finding and winning souls in a culture foreign to your own. There is frugal mindset that comes along with being a missionary, and an acceptance that you’re not going to be exactly like the people who surround you. Thrift stores should be your friend and an old car your chariot.

I see many youth workers who still aim for the idyllic lifestyles of families with different resources surrounding them and assuming that’s what ‘normal’ looks like. Dates, houses, cars, strollers, supermarket choices etc. all try to follow in these lines. As a missionary you need to budget robustly, spend creatively, and prioritise clearly.

2. Don’t buy anything on credit

Every time I go to a youth worker gathering, I find myself wondering how so many fellow workers are driving newer cars. Then there’s top phones, branded clothes, and planned holidays. I’m one of the slightly better paid youth workers in the UK, which still means I take home less than an entry level teacher – so how are my brothers and sisters doing this?

In some cases, it could be two sources of income, generous gifts, or well-planned savings, but it’s unlikely to be these across the board. I started to ask around and it turns out that so much of it is bought on credit. Little is actually owned, and variable debt is piling up beyond the means to pay it back.

I think this comes from not having the mindset of the missionary and assuming that were supposed to be just like everybody else – and thus have what everybody else has. If at all possible then, avoid buying anything you don’t need to on credit. Consider, for instance, that buying a mobile phone out right – even brand new flagships – then having a sim-only contract works out at almost half the price of a ‘free’ phone under a regular contract.

Credit promotes false economy and dictates financial terms for years to come for the promise of instant fixes.

3. Become a jack-of-all-trades

Creativity goes a long way financially, and as youth workers, we should really be rocking this:

  • Learn some basic mechanics and maintain your own car. YouTube is your friend.
  • Use comparison websites, understand vacation calendars, and book ahead.
  • Look for, save, and use coupons.
  • Know how to squeeze the most from your computer – update the hardware and keep the software clean.
  • Spend some time learning about different bank systems, savings accounts, investments, and long-term interest.
  • Know which shops sell which products at the best prices – even if this means doing the weekly shop in four different places.
  • Know which days and hours in a week are the best times to find bargains.
  • Don’t pay people to ‘make things easier’. Learn how to do things yourself.

4. Save anything

For the longest time I said that we couldn’t save until we were out of debt. I then said we couldn’t save until we are in “a better place financially”. Both of these what are based on misinformation and poor assumptions.

Sending a standing order, even just £5 a month, into a savings account is worthwhile. By the end of the year, £10 a month might pay for Christmas. My wife and I started off with two very small savings accounts, with ludicrously small standing order amounts. The first would cover spending on holidays, or birthdays that we forgot about; the second we would never touch unless in an absolute emergency. Even the silly small amounts have made a difference to our budgeting and planning. We also save loose change in a jar for the occasional take-out or treat. The best thing about this is it’s not money we factor in and so it doesn’t affect our budget.

5. Budget everything

Have a look through your last year of accounts and find out everything you spent on beyond direct debits and standing orders. Chart all these out and put up some budget boundaries.

Just about everything we spend comes out of a carefully planned budget. Food, hygiene, coffeeshops, appointments, entertainment, streaming services, fuel – everything possible is budgeted! It even includes a little bit for pocket money and date nights. This took a long time to get right, but it’s so worth it.

6. Give cheerfully

A think it’s a biblical principle to give out from all we receive – and not to wait to give until we are able. My wife and I give regularly, in small amounts through standing order, and less regularly in large amounts a couple of times a year.

I believe it’s a poor and unfaithful decision two wait to give until you ‘feel’ secure. Although there are many ways of giving, it’s too easy to count out financial stewardship through fear.

7. Receive gratefully

Enjoy gratefully the help you get from friends, family and church. Speaking gifts, dinner at people’s houses, babysitting, old cars, or even help gardening are wonderful expressions that we should not be too proud to receive when offered cheerfully.

These things shouldn’t come with strings attached, and you shouldn’t let yourself create guilt-burdened links because of them. Say thank you, be thankful, and receive gratefully.

8. Shop smartly

EBay, facebook, gumtree, and charity shops are your friends. Don’t always buy new and know how to shop smartly. Read reviews carefully and make sensible choices for what you really need.

Last year I bought a new phone, and I really wanted a good one. I needed long battery life, durability, and a solid camera. Everyone was telling me to buy the new Samsung flagship, however, after careful reviews I bought the LGG6. Because this came at the same time as the Samsung, it was overshadowed by it, and was therefore much much cheaper. No one wanted it even though the package was almost identical, and in some areas better.

This also goes two ways, sell what you don’t need regularly. Don’t horde, and keep cash moving.

9. Automate it

If you’re like me, then you might be a little bit reckless, impulsive, and fearful when it comes to money. Setup standing orders and direct debits so you never forget to pay bills, pay off debt, save, and budget.

Automate everything so you’ll never get late payment fines or unplanned overdraft fees. Don’t just trust memory; instead use the systems that are available to you.

10. The best things in life are free

Enjoy the good things that don’t cost. Hang out with friends, go for walks, take up healthy sports that don’t require memberships or much equipment. There is a lot to enjoy in life that doesn’t require money – just a joyful spirit and a little creativity.

Enjoy – remember that we’re just passing through. 🙂

 

The trap clause that all youth workers have in their contracts – and needs to be removed.

Endemic in the youth work world is employers who don’t really know why they want a youth worker. Most churches know that they want someone to work with young people – running Sunday schools, providing entertainment, organising camps, and doing some measure of discipleship – but beyond this, it all gets a little fuzzy.

If a church can’t answer the question ‘why do you want a youth worker’ with anything more generic broad generalities, then my suspicion is that they don’t really know what youth worker actually does, and how a youth worker will need to spend their time.

With such a limited understanding of a youth worker’s working week, and with pressure to justify the cost hiring one, a sneaky clause gets added into job descriptions. It usually runs like this:

‘Any other duty or duties that the pastor or elders deem necessary.’

And it’s everywhere!

I recently asked some professional Christian youth workers whether they have a similar clause in their contract – all of whom did. Here’s what it looks like for them:

‘Other duties as assigned’

‘Other duties as found applicable.’

‘Yes and it’s been crazy trying to say no. It’s a trap clause.’

‘Oh yeah! And I’ve realized that can entail so much.’

‘We have the other duties as assigned clause as well. They include hospital visits, handy work around the church, senior adult outings, and many other things that don’t always equal youth ministry. Throw in to that mix the fact that I am children’s pastor as well, and yea, time can be sparse’

‘That or, “Youth and Associate Minister.”’

‘Ah, yes… youth pastors can wear many “hats.” … I don’t mind doing other things so long as they don’t begin competing for time where my focus needs to be… youth ministry. Learning to say, “No” is big!’

In my time helping churches hire youth workers, I’ve never seen a contract that did not have this clause in some form or another. It’s everywhere!

So what’s the problem?

When I was working my first full-time youth work position, this sneaky little cause in my contract could easily account for between 40% and 60% of my working week.

I had three-hour staff meetings every Monday morning with the two Ministers, which required my input for maybe 20 minutes at most. This met in my office, and set the tone for my week. Off the back of this, I would often have to you organise prayer meetings, home-group gatherings, music, lifts, and often with no warning or preparation time. This regularly bleed into my days off – which, as you can imagine, were rarely taken.

Because I was still trying to perform my youth work job, this stuff was piled on top of what I was supposed to be doing. This meant that I was regularly working 70 hour weeks.

After a year of this, I raised it as an issue with my senior pastor. His slight impatient response was this:

‘Well, we all do that Tim. That’s just ministry!’

As a result I was always tired, always forgetting things, always navigating conflict, and spiralling quickly towards burnout. After nearly four years of decreasing health, and acting on the advice of a doctor, I sought another position – and almost quit youth ministry all together.

Now this was nearly ten years ago, and it is a particularly extreme example. It should also be nuanced by the fact I was too young and inexperienced to battle for my time properly, and I actually wasn’t line-managed in all the time I was there.

It does, however, flag up the potential dangers of the ‘any other duties’ clause. I have also since seen many youth workers burned out with similar stories. It has got to stop.

How to fix it… or at least start to

Some of the youth workers that I spoke to saw the necessity of a clause like this when working for small churches with under resourced teams. Some even enjoyed the added experience that came from these additional jobs. However, all of these said that it should be for a specific, pre-agreed, maximum amount of time. For instance, they said that the ‘other duties’ clause should account for ‘no more than 5% of a working week.’

This is not a bad idea, however, I have a slightly different answer:

Just take it out.

There is no practical or legal reason this clause is required in a contract. If it’s in your contract, request a conversation with your manager about removing it. If you’re about to hire someone, don’t put it in in the first place.

The ‘other duties’ statement is a trap cause, as someone said above, and as such is a recipe for abuse. It demonstrates a serious lack of understanding by the church of their youth worker’s week, and gives contractual, legal permission to burn out a fellow minister of the gospel.

This is not ok.

I do believe that youth workers should be actively involved in their church outside of youth ministry; but that it should be voluntary and given as an act of service. It’s a pastoral issue, therefore, and not a contractual one.

If you hire a youth worker properly, and line-manage them clearly, then you won’t need to dictate their priorities. A quality, well-supported and well-managed youth worker will develop ministry that integrates with the wider church naturally. Making sure they’re in line and supportive of the church ethos and mission will work without needing to leave a hook in.

So, please please please let’s get rid of the ‘other duties’ clause – and see if we can’t extend the health and longevity of our youth workers by a few years, eh?

Thanks 🙂

 

Dr. Andrew Root’s response to my critique

Earlier this week I posted a critique of Dr. Andrew Root’s work, particularly on relational or ‘incarnational’ youth ministry. My hope was to encourage a little more critical reading of his works considering his slightly unorthodox theology.

I’m a great admirer of Root and wanted to give him the opportunity to read and respond to that post before I published it. He graciously did so, and his reply is below in full. I incorporated some of his suggestions and clarifications, and I agreed that my lack of engagement with his later books puts me at a disadvantage. However, as he agrees, many of my issues still remain.

My drive behind this dialogue is not to make anyone simply agree with me, or even with Dr. Root, but to engage in a public exercise that encourages more critical reading of the resources we adopt.

With that in mind, here is – with his permission – Dr. Root’s reply:

 

Tim,

Thanks for this email and thanks for engaging the work.  I think this is fine and mostly fair, but there are parts I’m not sure about.

First, the reduction of evangelicalism is a fair critique but this must be read next to my support, affirmation, and commitment to an evangelical perspective in Christopraxis.  As a matter of fact, to truly understand what I’m up to, you’d have to look there.  The other works, as you mention, are trying to balance idea construction with the practice of ministry.
Second, no doubt, I’m bound to Bonhoeffer as a theological dialogue partner, and seem to understand the atonement different than you.  But to understand this all you’d have to engage the conceptions of Luther and the passivity of human action.  My point is that your critique is not so much with Bonhoeffer as it is with Luther.  Looking at work from Christopraxis on will show a deeper engagement with orthodox and Pauline conceptions, which don’t show up in your review.  You mainly just stick with 2007, 2009, and 2011 work.  I hope I’ve developed since then.  So putting your critiques in dialogue with Christopraxis, Faith Formation, and Exploding Stars would be important, I think.  I’d imagine some of your concerns will remain.

Third, the burnout thing is most troubling.  I’ve mentioned in multiple places that you can only be a place-sharer to about 5 young people.  The push of the perspective is to change the youth worker’s conception from being the one doing all the relational ministry to ordaining other adults into ministry, to take responsibility for their young people.  I’ve also discussed a lot about open/closedness and claimed that place-sharing provides starker boundaries than other forms of ministry.  And this is based in a certain anthropology.  You may rightly disagree, but it isn’t right to assume that my perspective doesn’t see or deal with boundaries.  Also, you mention Blair and Christy’s review, but don’t offer how I responded to their critiques.  You’re welcome to critique my responses to them and call it inadequate…but I did have responses to their critiques you don’t mention.

Finally, and this is probably where we differ, my whole project revolves around conceptions of revelation.  I’m simply trying to explore where and how we encounter the living presence of God.  I think a legitimate critique is found in contrasting my views of revelation with those of others.  The first question really is, “Do you see ministry as centrally about revelation, or something else?”  So critiquing my conception that ministry bears the weight of revelation is fair, as is offering an opposing view of revelation.  At the end, stellvertretung (place-sharing) really isn’t the center of my thought (I mean, it’s close to the center) but the real core is ministry as the constituting reality of God’s act and being.  So yes, sin, salvation, etc. must be seen through the biblical narrative of God’s act to minister to Israel, to be a God who is found in historical acts.  Again, wrestling with Christopraxis will more clearly show this.

These are simply my reactions, since you kindly asked.  But again, thanks for writing something up.
Blessings to you,
Andy

 

Dr. Andrew Root (PhD, Princeton Theological Seminary) is the Associate Professor and Carrie Olson Baalson Chair of Youth and Family Ministry at Luther Seminary, Minnesota. He is the author of fifteen books on ministry and theology, and an experienced youth worker.