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My Empire vs. God’s Kingdom

Youth Ministry TerritoryI have done youth ministry for well over a decade and I am always amazed at territorialism in the church.  Like Paul, I feel like there have been times where I am “chief among sinners” in this regard.  I am guilty of building my empire and not God’s Kingdom.

Some of us have served on staff at churches where the issue of territory was prevalent.  Conversations like, “well you can’t use resource X because resource X belongs to the _________ ministry team and they don’t like people touching their stuff.”  Or perhaps your church is short on space for storage, and a few ministry teams insist on keeping many things in closets that will likely never see the light of day.  “But what if we need that VHS curriculum for an adult small group?” or, “Could we  use those cassette tapes for children’s choir?”  Perhaps you’re the perpetrator, and have said “I just can’t part with _______ because I might need it for a crazy rec game at camp in 2035.”  In one way or another, we all try to protect our territory and the resources that belong to our ministry department.  There comes a point however, when this is unhealthy.  Territorialism is NOT Christian stewardship.

Donna Flagg, founder of The Krysalis Group identifies territorial tendencies as “turfism.”  In a post for Psychology Today, she states that “turfism erects walls, commonly known to produce what has been coined in workplace jargon as a “silo effect,” which ultimately limits communication, hinders the development of relationships and infects the culture with an overall lack of cooperation among people and departments.”  Protecting territory and erecting walls between others on your ministry team is NOT a healthy way to manage resources.

In Acts 4, Luke points out that all the believers shared everything they had because ”No on claimed that any of their possessions where their own” (Acts 4:32, NIV).  This worked in the early church, and it works today.  We need to understand that the resources that we are blessed with are not our own.  We are all on the same team,  We all have the same goal of reaching people with God’s love.

We should build God’s Kingdom, not our own empires.  The Gallup Business Journal identifies “empire building” as the ”pinnacle and most extreme level of pyramid bureaucracy.”  Read the full article here.  When we build our own empires through turfism, the Kingdom of God becomes secondary.  So how are these pitfalls avoided?  Three ways to avoid personal empire building in your own ministry are:

  1. Try to see the big picture.  We we view things narrowly and from our perspective alone, we are on the road to empire building.  Take other views into consideration and maintain a flexible spirit.
  2. Admit that everything belongs to God.  Realize that the resources you have are not yours, or your departments, or even your church’s.  They belong to God.
  3. Let go of your fear to fail.  Too often, we fear our own failure and so we grasp for power.  This may include trying to Turfismtake over or “help” in multiple ministry areas, or even an unwillingness to share a storage closet.  God is the one who called you to ministry, so let go of your need to impress others and find true joy in serving the Lord.

Contrary to the Jay-Z song, Christians are NOT called to have an “Empire State Of Mind,” but a Kingdom of God state of mind.  Let’s get busy building God’s Kingdom instead of our own.

Five Tips For Effective Preaching

Ifemale holding Biblef you’re in full-time student ministry, there are a few things that are guaranteed.  You will certainly gain weight if you try to keep up with the students during pizza eating contests.  You will certainly get injured playing dodge-ball/table-tennis/and/or that sport-that-includes-more-than-one-hyphen.  And finally, you will certainly preach and lead small group Bible studies on a regular basis, and eventually get asked to speak at another church, retreat weekend, camp, or (insert sport-with-more-than-one-hyphen)-night.

To make your night/weekend/kangaroo-boxing-championship-night a success, here are the five best things you can do as a preacher:

1.       Consider your context:

This seems simple, but it’s important to remember.  If you’re working at a Methodist church, it’s probably best to not preach a sermon titled “Why infant baptism is silly.”  If you’re going to preach at an event primarily focused on senior citizens, you might want to avoid preaching on the power of teenagers to change the world.  Make sure you know what you’re walking into when you agree to preach.  Does the church or senior pastor have certain theological expectations?  Are there any recent tragedies or dramas affecting the group you should aware of?  What does the outside group you’re partnering with expect from you?  This is also a great time to find out what’s been preached on before.  If a sermon series was just preached on the topic you had planned, you may want to consider changing your topic or theme.

2.       Plagiarise the Bible, not other Pastors.

I love Matt Chandler.  I also love Judah Smith, and Mark Driscoll.  Perry Noble is a blast to listen to.  For some odd reason, I really truly enjoy podcasting a lot of my favorite preachers.  It’s an ordinary part of what I do to focus my attention on Christ.  I’m attracted to them because of the way they exegete the Word of God.  Pastors, at best, are simply fantastic plagiarists.  Sometimes though (and maybe this happens to you,) I start adapting parts of their speech patterns, stories, examples, and even points to fit my sermons because they sound really great.  Maybe this has happened to you.  I think this is especially easy for younger folks (like myself) to get drawn into.  God however, wants to use YOUR voice!  God doesn’t need you to become the next (insert speaker you really love).  In the pulpit, you should be you.  You have the ability to reach students that other preachers will never have the opportunity to reach.  God placed you where you are, with your abilities, and with your specific voice to reach a specific group.  Use your own voice.  It’s far better to develop your talent through developing your own voice and not stealing from others.

3.       Put the hours in.

You will preach how you practiced.  When I get ready to preach, I spend hours in my room, praying, writing, and yelling whatever I’m writing out loud.  Then I’ll preach it all the way through several times out loud.  Maybe your mind works differently and you can pull fantastic sermons out of the air on the way to the pulpit, but for most of us, this isn’t true.  We need to put the hours in, studying the Word, preaching it to ourselves, practicing illustrations, and hammering down points that make sense.  Is there anything worse than the story that leads nowhere, or the illustration that looked cool but has no semblance of meaning or relevance to what the speaker is talking about?  One way you can avoid horrible illustrations and points that don’t flow well together is to…..

4.       Phone a friend.

No, seriously.  Make it someone you trust.  Make it someone who loves you enough to point out huge flaws GRACIOUSLY.  Sometimes, reading illustrations, ideas, and even main points to a friend before preaching can save you lots of pain.  If our sermons are really meant to point people to our Savior, isn’t it worth the awkward conversation of discussing whether your sermon makes sense?  You’ll benefit from this, and so will your hearers.  Learning to take constructive criticism is crucial to functioning better at any task in ministry, but especially preaching. 

5.       Rest in God’s speaking ability.

You can’t do this on your own.  It’s impossible.  Only the Holy Spirit can draw people to God.  And thank God!  When we rest in God’s ability instead of our own, we are free to gracefully make mistakes, learn, and trust in God’s sovereignty to change the hearts of people instead of our own ability.  For some of you, speaking is one of the most terrifying events of the week, but in our limited ability, God can still speak with unlimited potential.  He’s bigger than you.  He’s got a better microphone than you.  And thank God, he’s promised to build His church, regardless of you.

BONUS POINT: Flannel.

Why flannel? Flannel is the bonus point, because it’s incredibly difficult to sweat through, but it will also give you at least a few points with the hipsters. Can’t decide what to speak in? Rock the flannel. It’s always right.

The Salt Of The Earth

Salt ShakerWhat does it mean to be the salt of the earth?  In our culture we have plenty of salt.  In fact, we have too much.  If you haven’t noticed before, check out the sodium content in any frozen meal you eat.  Chances are there is enough salt for a year in your TV dinner.  Perhaps your doctor has even told you to cut back on salt so that your heart doesn’t do crazy stuff… like kill you.  To understand what Jesus meant when he said “you are the salt of the earth” we need some perspective.

Two-thousand years ago salt was a hot comodidty, much like oil is today.  The person (or rather the kingdom) that controlled the salt trade had incredible power over the food supply.  The ability to preserve food was vital to city life in the Roman empire.  If you take away Rome’s power to preserve food for the city populations, you knock the empire back from being a trade-oriented culture to a purely agricultural one.  Wealth goes down, and power goes to another empire.  Salt was crucial to the stability of the empire.  Kinda changes your perspective on Jesus’s saying, does it not?  “YOU are the salt of the earth.”  Meaning YOU,  children of God, have the real power.  YOU, with my Spirit living in you, can bring life to others.  YOU are vital to God’s plan for ushering in a new Kingdom.

So it’s a new year for ministry.  How will you usher in God’s kingdom for your youth ministry this year?  We are called to disciple students and teach them that God’s kingdom is more important than any earthly one.  Have you thought about your youth ministry in Kingdom language before?  Ask yourself in 2013:

  • How can our youth ministry bring the Kingdom of God to earth?
  • How can our youth ministry usher in the reign of Christ in families and schools?
  • What are some creative ways we can bring true vitality to our congregation?

Being the salt of the earth is a big deal.  Only God’s people get that responsibility and priviledge.  As a student minister or volunteer, you have the priviledge of teaching teens what it means to bring God’s reign to earth.  This year, let’s not be about programs and activities, but about building the Kingdom.  Let’s choose discipleship over entertainment; God’s reign over our agendas.

We’ve provided a free Bible study for your group on what it means to be the salt of the earth.  Our prayer is that this year, you could lead students and parents toward living as citizens of God’s kingdom above all else.  The “Salt of The Earth” lesson can be found in the Ideas Toolbox part of our site on the Bible Studies page.

Five Youth Ministry Resolutions for 2013

New Year ResolutionsThe start of a new year is the perfect time to reflect on priorities in ministry.  From year to year in ministry it is important to evaluate what works and what doesn’t, and come up with strategies that will lead to more effective Kingdom building.  Here are five youth ministry resolutions worth making every day of 2013:    

 

 

  1. I will intentionally build deeper relationships with parents.  When parents are an integral part of youth ministry, longevity and depth become a true possibility.  Let’s face it; part of ministering to youth is ministering to their parents.  Students in our ministries come from a variety of family situations, each with its own dysfunction.  Reaching teens with Christ’s love should include reaching the single parent struggling to pay the bills, the workaholic dad, the parent whose substance abuse issues are rubbing off on their teen, and the parents who truly desire for their student to become a passionate Christ follower.  The student ministry of the church may be the entry/re-entry point for faith for many parents.  Effective ministry includes the entire family and equips parents to be the primary disciplers of their children.  The first step to the end game is to build meaningful relationships with parents and guardians.   
  2. I will make more time for personal devotion and prayer.  All too often the day-to-day grind of doing ministry distracts from building and deepening a personal relationship with God.  We all know that ministry is no substitute for personal prayer and devotion, but it sure is easy to get in that rut.  Planning for Bible studies and sermons each week, praying in staff meetings, and leading worship are sometimes substituted for one-on-one time with God.  The problem is it’s hard to preach, write Bible studies, and lead worship when the personal well is dry.  This year it can change.  We tell our students all the time, “just read your Bible or pray for five minutes a day!”  Let us not be guilty of ignoring our own sage wisdom.  Who knows, more time spent in prayer and Bible study might even lead to fresh vision from God.   
  3. I will not do events for the sake of filling a calendar.  We’ve all done it.  It’s January and you look at your calendar for the winter and spring and realize…its blank!  So the filling in process begins.  A movie night here, a dodgeball night there, sprinkle in a few service projects and maybe even do one super youthy event like a lock-in (even though you don’t feel super or youthy at the end of the night).  The New Year is a great time to consider why we do the events we do.  Are they simply filling a calendar so that the youth department looks busy on paper?  If so then we are little more than baby-sitters or activity directors.  Events take time, energy, and resources.  We should be intentional about what we calendar and make sure that each event has a purpose, fulfills a goal, and falls in line with our philosophy and vision of ministry.
  4. I will invest more heavily in personal relationships with students.   Seeing students at church has its limitations.  We’re bound to see even the most faithful kids just a few times a week, for no more than an hour or two.  It’s hard to have a meaningful mentoring relationship that leads toward true discipleship with such limited time constraints.  It takes a LOT of love to attend a middle school band concert and if you show up the student and the parents will take note.  Part of ministry is doing life together.  Doing life with a teenager can mean supporting them with your presence at a school activity, dropping an encouraging note in the mail, sending a birthday card, or even checking in on Facebook when they  post a depressing status update about the third break up this month.  If we used Jesus’s ministry as a model, we would hardly EVER do big events.  He was relational to the core.  Remember, twelve actual disciples can have a far greater Kingdom impact than a hundred students who show up to be entertained.   
  5. I will get creative with resources and be a better steward of God’s money.  In case you’re not aware, most sectors of our economy are lagging.  Chances are that giving was sluggish at your church this past year, and maybe the year before that too.  If so, there is a high probability that the youth budget, if you’re lucky enough to have one, stayed the same.  Maybe the youth ministry line even decreased if your church made across-the-board cuts.  Let’s get creative in 2013!  There are lots of ways to do youth events on a dime.  It’s nice to have resources, but Jesus didn’t need a Wii, a flat panel TV, a fancy prewritten Bible study curriculum (given, He’s Jesus), or even a large stash of duct tape to do ministry.  Free ideas for student ministry abound, and we try to post some of our favorites on this blog.  Check out websites like Pinterest.  Write an original Bible study that your students can relate to.  Instead of buying nasty Wal-Mart cookies get one of the grandmas in your church to make a homemade batch.  When people tithe money to God on Sundays (as an act of worship), they trust that the money will be used wisely for the furthering of God’s Kingdom.  Let’s get wise about how we spend God’s money this year.

These are our youth ministry resolutions for 2013.  We would love to hear yours in the comment section below!                 

Top Ten Ways To Promote Ministry Events

(Disclaimer: Events should not be the main focus in student ministry, but rather relationships.  Every event should help you further your church’s mission, and we should never do events just to have something else on the calendar.  That said, we hope this helps in the planning of your next major ministry event!)

Student Ministry Van

Is your aproach out of date?

Audrey (my ever-so-lovely bride) and I were talking the other day about promoting events in student ministry.  She mentioned that she had recently skimmed a student ministry book from the early 90’s.  The author described several ways of promoting youth events that had proven successful.  They included buying an ad in your local newspaper, using public bulletin boards at city libraries, and making an announcement at the local Bingo hall.  Ok, so I made that last one up!  The truth is we all know that there isn’t a youth on planet Earth that looks for cool stuff to do in the classifieds, and library… yeah, I’ve heard of those.  There simply MUST be more relevant promotional and marketing approaches for 21st century youth ministry.  So what are they?

Here are our Top Ten:
  1. Face to face invites:  In a culture already oversaturated by media of various types, face to face communication is more crucial than ever.  Studies regularly show that 80-90% of all people who get plugged into a church do so because of the direct invitation of a friend.  This statistic has been around for a while and everybody has probably heard it, but did you know that last year Barna Research released a poll showing that only 30% of Christians planned on inviting a friend to Easter services.  That’s a HUGE disconnect!!!  Personal invitations have much more meaning than direct mail, local advertising and pulpit pleas.  Encourage your students to rise above that 30% mark and set the example for the rest of your congregation.  What if just 50% of students regularly invited a friend?  Or 75%?  Our ministries would explode!
  2. Use Social Media: Ten years ago Facebook didn’t even exist.  Today it has between 500-600 MILLION regular users with almost 500,000 new users weekly.  Chevy updated its Cruz Sedan with a feature that allows the car’s computer to read you Facebook status updates while you drive.  Regular radio: look out!!!  Facebook is taking up your airtime in the one place people still listen to your broadcasts!!!  The power of social media is ever more apparent to me as I continue in student ministry.  Students RARELY check regular e-mail accounts, if they even have one.  They are likely to be on Facebook and other social sites daily.  Create an event, invite students online, and get students to invite their friends.
  3. Communicate Crucial Info Early:  This means YOU must plan early.  Many people try to plan big events and don’t get crucial info out in time to participants or other partner groups.  This is plainly evident at many youth events where forms and event info are not mailed out until a week or two before the event.  FYI, if you have a sizeable youth group, it will be impossible to plan ANYHTING on short notice.  Set your dates 4-6 months out for events like lock-ins and concerts, and 12-18 months out for events like camps and mission trips.  Mail all crucial forms no later than 10 weeks out, and give the info away in every possible format.  Audrey and I once planned a lock-in in partnership with 8 churches, and 250-300 kids attended.  Each church received a “FORMS CD” with all the event forms, artwork, and other info in multiple formats including Word, Publisher, PDF, JPEG, and PNG.  Also, if you expect people to use your artwork for an event, make sure and send them the fonts you used or they won’t be able to print customized posters and flyers.
  4. Build Buy-In and Ownership: One of the best ways to promote your event is to get as many people to buy-in as possible, and give as many of them ownership as possible.  When people have ownership of an event, THEIR reputation is on the line as well in promoting it.  This means that by putting together a leadership team of people for large events, you exponentially increase your marketing capacity, creative ingenuity and forward momentum.  Bringing multiple youth ministers to the table for an event like a camp or lock-in ensures that the best ideas come to the table, and that all the church groups involved feel needed for the event’s success.  When others have ownership of an event, they’ll promote it just as hard as you will.
  5. Shoot A Rediculous Promo Video…or two:  Viral marketing is the rage.  It’s called viral for a reason.  The word ‘virus’ comes from a Latin word in the late 1500’s meaning slime or ooze.  The medical definition is “an infectious agent that replicates only within the cells of living hosts.” (Dictionary.com)  Shoot a wild and crazy promo video and see how many hits it gets on YouTube and how many youth post it to their social media profile!  If the video is off the wall enough, it will become “viral” or self-spreading.  Don’t stop at posting the video online.  Burn it to DVD and mail a copy to every group and organization you are trying to target for the event.  For the lock-in we made a 6 minute music video and a 30 second promo ad.  These can also be used at youth group meetings in the months and weeks leading up to the event.  Video cameras are too cheap these days for churches not to invest in one.  Basic editing software is too easy to learn.  There are no excuses!  Welcome to 2012.
  6. Use A Text Messaging Campaign:  A few fun facts from iZigg.com… 96% of text messages are opened.  83% are opened within 1 hour.  Over 1.5 trillion texts were sent in America alone last year, triple the same number from 2007.  All three of those numbers will no doubt continue to climb.  Can your e-mail or direct mail campaign do that?  Hardly!!  I have found that even more than Facebook, students respond to text messaging.  Churches that do not use text messaging are BEHIND the curve.  So churches are always behind the curve right?  Maybe, but texting is not a trend that is going away and its clearly more effective than email for certain age groups.  To churches who are leery about paying for one more monthly subscription or service, and who may question the wisdom of spending tithe dollars on text messaging I say “Wake up, O Sleeper, rise from the dead.” (Ephesians 5:14)  (Check back in a week or so for the Top Ten Texting Services For Churches! ttyl!)
  7. Let Others Promote It For You: I sent out the promo DVD and Forms CD for our lock-in to the regional denominational office.  The day they got the packet with the cover letter (on church letterhead) our lock-in was the first thing listed on their youth ministry page.  A huge part of networking is to build relationships with people who may be in a position to help you.  Are you planning a cool event at your church and want to get the word out?  Go straight to the top of any regional office for organizations or denominations with which your church may be affiliated.  These hard working folks have the mailing lists.  Their endorsement can give your event legitimacy in the eyes of churches that may be on the fence about bringing students.  Many times, they are the gate keepers for truly branching out to get good saturation as you advertise your event.
  8. Advertize Internally: If you have not done it already, make a checklist of ways you can advertise and promote a ministry event internally.  I try and hit all bases when advertising an event.  Many parents still communicate best by e-mail and phone.  I ask myself, have I used the church bulletin, the monthly newsletter, the announcement slides before church, the announcement monitors in the church hallway?  Have I used regular mail, a phone tree, brochures and flyers, posters around the church building, the church LED marquis, screen printed vinyl banners, promotional t-shirts, stickers, postcards, riding around in a church van with a megaphone? You get the picture.  There are countless ways to advertise internally and externally.
  9. Face to Face invites: I’m pretty sure I already mentioned this.  But just in case it didn’t sink in, 80-90% of all people who get plugged into a church do so because of a personal invitation from a trusted friend.
  10. Giveaway a Sweet Prize: Want kids to invite their friends to your next major event?  Then you shouldn’t be above bribing them to do it!  Once, we gave away an LDC TV to a student for bringing the most friends to an event.  When there is an incentive students get competitive.  They might initially just invite friends to church to win whatever the prize is, but they’ll also learn that they won’t turn into a pumpkin if they actually invite people to church.
The best way to promote an event in my opinion is to use all or some combination of these proven methods.  The research doesn’t lie, and neither will your results if you promote an event properly.  Promoting big events is hard work, so don’t plan huge events every week or even every month.  And remember, Jesus didn’t come and die on a cross so we can have fun playing laser-tag or play with water balloon launchers and rubber chickens. (Seriously, a water balloon launcher and a rubber chicken duct taped to a tennis ball is amazing!)  The events we do in youth ministry are not half as important as the relationships we build with students and parents.  Think about your goals for an event and what your stated ministry goals are.  If the goals do not match, DON’T do the event.  Events are simply a tool in ministry, but they are not the sum of what any ministry should be.  We’ll be praying that your next event is a great success and that students grow closer to God as a result of it.