Bitesize Messages: Nailing the one point.

One of the pivotal rules to communicating any type of message clearly is the ability to reduce it down to a single motif.

I should come away from your sales pitch, event flyer, email, Sunday sermon, or training seminar able to distill it into a simple sentence and then recognisably say it back to you. If I can’t, then something was probably missing from your preparation or design.

The one-liner is to a message as blood is to the body, without it nothing else works. In an essay, every paragraph should in some way serve the thesis. If it doesn’t then you’ve wasted words and lost the reader. My wife is an editor, and awesome at it! She talks about leading the reader by the hand and pointing things out along the way. She makes sure nothing is missed and that everything serves the whole. This is true in any communication that you want to be clearly understood by a varied audience.

The point of a one-liner isn’t to simplify your message to the spoon-feeding level, and it’s not supposed to remove complex ideas or deep explanations from your messages either. The reason you want a clear one-liner is the same reason an academic essay needs a thesis, or a research paper a hypothesis. A message needs to translate throughout with clear transitional flow between all the auxiliary pieces so that it will deliver a working application to a varied audience. Basically, to the best of your ability, you need to be sure that we got what you wanted us to!

Arguably, if you can’t tell me what your message is about in one sentence, then you just haven’t got your message yet. Once you have your one-liner – that’s the motif you want everyone in the room to come away with – then your message (however funny and confidently delivered) will be fractured, disjointed and ultimately ineffective. If you can’t clearly point to your one-liner, then your audience will tend to take away only one point anyway, and without a clear lead from a purposely defined message, it might not be the one you wanted!

The 3 Point Sermon Myth.

I started public speaking when I was about 14 years old, and man was I bad at it. I would just plagiarise everything I’d ever heard from real speakers and thread it all together randomly. I fell quickly into the ‘three-point-sermon’ trap, making sure I always had an ‘abc’, ‘123’ or ‘3 Cs’ structure for each message.

The classic three-point sermon, however, doesn’t really exist; or at least, not like you’d think. There are actually 3 types of three-point sermon, and I believe that only one of them is effective:

1. The 3-but-really-5 point sermon.
This is where the speaker throws in three points, but also an absurdly long introduction and conclusion which, rather than setting up the points, adds to the body with new points. We end up with a huge, misweighted, grab bag of facts, stories, applications and ideas in the hope that one or two might stick.

2. The literally 3 point sermon.
Here, there really are three points; completely different points with little if anything to connect or consolidate them. Time being a factor, each point is represented only one way, so are usually only grasped by a few people in the room that connected with that particular teaching style or story.

3. The 1-point-3-ways sermon.
This is the one that I think works! Coming at one idea from three perspectives broadens your teaching scope meaning almost everyone will leave with the same key teaching understood in their own way. This respects the variety of the room, allows ideas to percolate and cement, and moves the whole congregation on together.

Find your message!

If we as youth workers can work on making all of our communication revolve around single clear ideas, and make sure everything else supports them, we will be so much more effective and memorable! This is true for talks, studies, posters, websites, letters to parents and evangelism too. If we don’t do this, we shouldn’t be surprised when we are misunderstood or taken out of context.

For an interesting thought experiment, think about these questions:

  • What one-liner would the young people you know associate with your teaching?
  • What one-liner would the young people you know associate with your teaching?What one-liner do you try to make the clearest when talking to non-Christians?
  • What one-liner do you try to make the clearest when talking to non-Christians?What one-liner would young people use to describe you?
  • What one-liner would young people use to describe you?What one-liner would young people use to describe the God you represent?
  • What one-liner would young people use to describe the God you represent?Looking back at your last three talks, what was the one-liner you wanted to get across? Did you have one?
  • Looking back at your last three talks, what was the one-liner you wanted to get across? Did you have one?Asking young people and leaders (who were present at those talks), ask them to write down what they thought your one-liner was.
  • Asking young people and leaders (who were present at those talks), ask them to write down what they thought your one-liner was.Look back over your last bulk communications (letters/emails/blogs), and ask a few of the recipients to email you back a one-line summary of what they felt the most important thing you were trying to communicate was.
  • Look back over your last bulk communications (letters/emails/blogs), and ask a few of the recipients to email you back a one-line summary of what they felt the most important thing you were trying to communicate was.
  • Show a bunch of people in your target audience your last few flyers; ask them to tell you in one-line what the key piece of information was.

Real Stories from 40 Women in Youth Work

On this International Women’s Day I’d like to pay respect, honour and gratitude to female youth workers.Lingering over from Western Christendom is a patriarchal and masculine church. This interprets theology and practice with a bent that need correcting. In many churches, we are quite happy for a woman to be a youth and children’s pastor, but even within those apparent ‘safe zones’ there are subversive and subliminal undercurrents of hostility and prejudice.

Lingering over from Western Christendom is a patriarchal and masculine church. This interprets theology and practice with a bent that need correcting. In many churches, we are quite happy for a woman to be a youth and children’s pastor, but even within those apparent ‘safe zones’ there are subversive and subliminal undercurrents of hostility and prejudice.

A month or so ago I asked forty female youth workers what particular struggles they have had in their jobs, and to share their stories.

Below is a snapshot of quotes from those interviews. These are things our sisters have experienced, and things that have been said directly to them. I’m not leaving them here to judge or pick apart, and I’m not making any theological argument or taking an overt position. I leave these here as an attitude check: Church, we must do better for our sisters!

“I can’t be a proper pastors/youth pastors wife if I don’t get my hair cut short (at my current church). Men coming up to me to say I should be helping not teaching (not in my current church)”

“My biggest struggle is establishing credibility and respect. “

“First question asked by some parents and particularly older ministers when they meet me…”Have you gone to Bible school?” or “Where did you study?” “

“Some random guy, “I bet those high school boys love THAT youth group.””

“Dad: “I’ll manage my son. Being a girl, you don’t understand what he’s dealing with””

“Ladies from church constantly introducing me to their sons or showing me pictures of them, “Don’t miss the plane!””

“Somehow young(ish) divorced church men think it’s a good idea to add me on facebook and private message me to “get to know me”.”

“For about a year, I had people tell me I needed to hurry up and find a man because, being a woman, I couldn’t relate to boys. Two years later, they told me to be more ladylike so I could relate to the girls, because I’m only good at relating to the boys (I’ve always been a tomboy). Also, there are some concerns that me wearing men’s clothing may make my girls lesbian?”

“Women don’t belong in ministry.”

“How can you be a minister AND a mom?”

“You aren’t a pastor, just a director of a program.”

“It never occurs to anyone that I might be trained and/or seminary educated.”

“Church members try to fix me up with their single sons/nephews. I also hear “she’ll never relate to boys in youth group” and “the boys only keep coming to youth group because she’s cute” in equal measure.”

“I was told recently I couldn’t speak at a youth event because there were some ministers that, if they were there, would walk out.”

“Most of my opposition has come from other women, not men. Most of my biggest supporters and people who will go to bat for me are men. A lot of the opposition comes (I think) from women’s own insecurities and struggles with pride that cause them to lash our towards us. Other women have said, “go and get a real job, be a school teacher” or “how can you be a pastor your not married” or “how can you be a pastor you’re not a mom”… the list could go on and on.”

“”how can you possibly relate to male students?” I guess in the same way male YP relate to female students.”

“Does your husband write your messages? That’s nice your husband lets you come hangout with kids.”

“”you are doing a good job, but The church would prefer a man in this role, eventually””

“The one thing I still face (even with an MDiv, even being licensed) are church members who just can’t/won’t accept my authority based only on my gender.”

“What I find fascinating is it seems to now be younger men, in their late 20’s, early 30’s more so than the older generation.”

“Finding a job. Do you know how many job descriptions have the words he/him/his? And then I have gotten responses back with one question: “Are you a man?” I have two degrees in student ministry and have volunteered for nearly 15 years in various capacities but rarely get any response.”

“I occasionally get asked when I’m going to have kids (which stings a little since my husband and I have been struggling with infertility for the past years) but other than that I am truly blessed to serve where I do.”

“I feel supported overall, but there is the feeling that I am incapable due to my gender.”

“I am the children’s minister at our church, note I am paid staff. I was told last week I wasn’t allowed to go on the staff retreat bc I was a woman…. my husband could go and “represent” me.”

“Our District Youth Director refuses to believe that I’m not the administrative assistant.”

“I have noticed the two people before me in the position were called youth “pastors” and were men; I come in and am now the youth “director.””

“I don’t think it’s been much of an issue ministry-wise–I think it’s been more of an issue when it comes to dating. Some men are not a fan of women in ministry leadership positions.”

“Biggest problem for me being told I’m so young I’m only 29. And still single but i don’t listen to what others say and focus on God and my youth kids.”

“I have had parents, (former) volunteers, and church members tell me they’re glad my husband is the teaching pastor for our HS students “because that’s how God has intended for ministry to be led.” Little do they know that’s why my husband teaches. It’s been so hard for me to teach because of that.”

“I was invited to be a lead speaker on a training tour, but then they had to ask me to step down because the hosting church was too conservative to have a woman teach.”

“To my husband (who is a police officer): “At least you’re in charge at home… right?””

“Commentary about details like: my haircut, my clothing being too pretty for preaching (it was conservative), “you’re a really solid preacher for a woman.” Then, there are the people who talk to my husband about ministry details, instead of (or in front of) me.”

“I’ve been around male leaders will come up and talk to my husband and I but literally ignore me. Won’t shake my hand, make eye contact, or acknowledge my comments.”

Are our employment practices driving youth workers away? (Research writeup)

This is a great piece of research, conducted and summarised for us here by Jonny Price, a quality and thoughtful youthworker from York.

 

I am deeply passionate about youth ministry. I believe that through Christian youth ministry, we can see lives transformed, chains broken, and bring people to fulfil what they were created to be through the redeeming love of Jesus.

To do this, I believe that relationships are key. The relationships we build during our teenage years can shape the beliefs and values that we hold for the rest of our lives. Youth and children’s workers are essential in leading ministries which allow relationships to flourish.

These relationships, however, take time to build. If our approach to the employment of youth workers doesn’t support this, then the relationships won’t get built, and the lasting impact with be negligible.

The Research

While studying theology, I spent some time researching the employment practices of Youth and Children’s workers by churches. I did this to discover if we are, in fact, negatively affecting the long-term relationships needed for healthy young people.

I have been working in youth ministry for a while and during that time I have seen several skilled and talented youth and children’s workers walk away from ministry, and some the church altogether, because of the way they were treated while employed by churches.

I got in touch with 17 Anglican Diocese (the ones who replied to me), the Methodist Connexional Offices, and Baptist’s Together. I had an online questionnaire, which gathered nearly 100 responses, and I interviewed 12 people who were either youth and/or children’s workers, had been youth and/or children’s workers, or who had managed youth and/or children’s workers.

There were many interesting things that came up in the research. With all the usual disclaimers about sample size, researcher bias etc, here are the six things that stood out most to me that we should all be aware of.

The Results

1.    Too much/not enough freedom

This is a two sided coin, and boils down to the way we are managed. Many of us will be placed under the supervision of the minister of the church/es we work for, and this can be an awful arrangement. For one thing, many ministers have no formal training or experience of supervising staff, which often means they do one of two things:

  1. They have no idea what they or we should be doing, and so go completely hands off.

    This can mean that the worker has no clear idea what their role entails, particularly if this is their first experience of employment, and so can drift from one thing to another with no plan. This can lead to disillusionment, purposelessness, and very little to do. Add to this that churches will pay for a worker out of their giving, it can lead to serious guilt.
  2. The minister goes to their only experience of supervision: training.

    I spoke to several youth workers who had been managed in the same way a trainee minister would, despite being experienced workers. This led to overly specific aims and goals, micro-management, and a sense of being patronised with no creative freedom to approach ministry in their own way.

2. Working to different goals

Generally, church ministers work to a bounded-set model, where membership is based on certain pre-set commitments. For example, church ministers would see attendance on Sunday as a sign of membership. Youth workers, however, often to work to a centred-set model, where membership is defined more by closeness to the centre (Jesus), than attendance at certain events. This can mean that there will be a communication breakdown between church ministers and youth workers, which will inevitably lead to frustration as they will be pulling in different directions.

3. The move to “proper” ministry

Many youth workers go on to make very good church leaders, but that doesn’t mean we all want to do it! There is an assumption, which I am sure we have all experienced, that we will move on to church leadership.

This came out in my interviews with diocese youth advisors, and some ex-youth workers (though interestingly, not children’s workers). Even in church literature about lay ministry, youth or children’s ministry is rarely mentioned. All of this serves to undermine youth and children’s work as valid ministries, and leads to workers in these areas feeling undervalued.

4. Lack of spiritual support

Church ministers, particularly in established denominations, have access to support from wider bodies, as well as having things like sabbaticals and retreats built into their working agreements. These are rarely, if ever, thought about for youth or children’s workers. One interviewee mentioned that they had asked if, as they were entering their seventh year in post, they would be entitled to a sabbatical, as clergy are. They were laughed at.

If we are to avoid burnout, we have to build spiritual care into our employment practice in the same way we do for church leaders

5. The longer we are in post, the longer we are likely to stay

As part of the research I looked at the amount of time people stayed in posts, the number of posts held, and their attitude changes over time. This was fascinating.

There was a definite trend that showed the longer a person stayed in ministry, the more problems they saw with the approach of churches to it, but the longer they saw themselves staying in it, and the fewer roles they averaged. Of those who had been in this ministry 7-10 years, just under half had done this in just 1 role. The average time in any one role was 2 years.

I believe this points to parts of the workforce with a strong vocational calling to this specific work, who will continue in it despite the problems they see, because they see the value of this work.

6. Continued professional development, or the lack of it.

Across all the research there was a repeating theme that Churches are unwilling to spend either the time or money on proper training for youth and children’s workers.

In some ways this is understandable if short sighted. If youth workers are only going to stick around for a couple of years, then why train them? The simple answer: if you train them, they may well stay around longer! They will feel empowered in their ministry, more capable and confident in what they are doing, and will know how to take more care of themselves and their young people.

In short, we will develop a workforce that is more motivated, more capable, and with greater longevity.

Conclusions

Let’s really work this problem together! There is a clear correlation between poor youth and children’s workers management and poor youth and children’s work. Our employment practices (or lack thereof) are driving quality people away who might otherwise have been totally committed to the long haul.

  1. Youth and children’s workers need to be treated as independent workers, not trainees. They need clear goals and accountability, with the freedom to creatively pursue the best in their work.
  2. There needs to be clarifying conversations between minister and youth/children’s worker about what constitutes success and what models they are working to together.
  3. Youth and children’s workers are genuine lay ministers and need to be referred to, celebrated and supported as such.
  4. Further to this, youth and children’s workers need the same levels of spiritual support built into their contracts including training, sabbaticals, and retreats.
  5. Youth and children’s workers need to be encouraged and supported to stick to single posts, rather than moving around every two years.
  6. Proper training and professional development is essential for youth and children’s workers. This should be generously budgeted for and expected.

 

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.

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.

Is Your Youth Worker Too Cool? (Comic)

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

 

Liked this? Try: Dear Youth Leader, Stop Trying to be Hot!

See more comics here!

 

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.

The 3 Most Misused Verses in Youth Ministry

1. Matthew 18:20 – When two or more are gathered…

This is often used in defense of youth church, or youth groups being a church alternative.

‘Well all you need for church is two or three believers and a cheeky Nandos… boom!’
‘Me and my mate do church in the car listening to Hillsong!’

There’s two whopping problems with this:

  1. God is in lots of places that aren’t church; that’s kinda the deal with omnipresence. God’s presence alone doesn’t make something church.
  2. Church is lots of other things than just gathering (or in the actual context of the verse, correction and discipline). Church should probably include things like worship, teaching, scripture reading, a wider variety of people, sacraments etc. too.

Making a specific group is fine – but using this verse to call your group group ‘church’ is a little bit naughty! Being Christian does not equal being church. #wristslap

2. Jeremiah 29:11 – I have an epic plan for you…

‘God has an amazing (kinda) plan for your life (true if you add an ’s’) which, if you find it (how?), you will never get bored, hurt, needy, depressed, or confused (just no).’

We use this to help us push through hardship in the hope of getting to something better by tapping into God’s secret blueprint for our lives.

The problem though is, in context, this is not what God was offering to the Israelites. He was not promising to sort out their struggles and send them home from exile. In v.7 he says they can prosper right where they are.

This verse is not about some individual future blessing or plan, its about the whole people of God communicating with and depending on Him right slap bang in the middle of suffering and trial. And isn’t that so much better? Teach that instead!

3. 1 Timothy 4:12 – Don’t let anyone look down on you because of your youth…

This is one of those weird greek words that could basically mean anyone under the age of forty. Timothy was about 15-16 when Paul met him on his missionary journey (Acts 16:1), but the letter was written about 14 years later. This makes Tim around 30!

Even though the sentiment is true, there are better examples of actually young people who did amazing things in the Bible – like the disciples.

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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Dating In The Youth Group – The Danger Signs! (Comic)

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

 

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