The Right Kind of Commitment

James (not his real name) is a core student of mine who I’ve been trying to meet with for a couple of months. We have a weekly routine. I text him and ask if he can get together this week. He replies with one reason or another why he’s too busy to meet. Wash, rinse, repeat. James and I have a great relationship. He’s not avoiding me to, he’s just busy.

The Right Kind of Commitment
On this surface, this is a classic example of a teenager who isn’t committed. Youth workers LOVE to complain about the busyness of teens these days. We talk about how sports, school activities and a lack of priorities is eroding the faith of teens. It’s easy to blame these external factors because it shifts the focus off of ourselves.

All this complaining leads me to think that we’ve unintentionally equated church attendance with spiritual maturity. We live by the axiom “Mature teens are in youth group more than non-mature teens.” We do this because it’s easy to measure and it makes logical sense. After all, God did create us for community and the church is the way God has chosen to work in the world. The problem is that this assumption subtly changes our job description. We go from being a shepherd who pursues students to a salesman who must convince kids to come. Success is defined as spiritual brand loyalty where teens are repeat customers. I can influence these kinds of results, but ultimately, they are out of my control.

So let’s put you back in the driver’s seat and focus on a success profile that you CAN control.

I’d like to suggest that you and your leaders’ commitment to students is more important than your student’s commitment to your youth group.

Instead of convincing students to show up at your stuff, why don’t you spend your energy showing up at theirs?

In the awesome book Creating a Lead Small Culture, the Orange folks talk about challenging leaders to show up predictably, mentally and randomly in students’ lives. The emphasis is leaders going to their students instead of expecting them to come to us.

This isn’t a new revelation but a reminder of a timeless truth. Jesus didn’t wait for us to come to his Trinity party. Nope. He packed up his stuff and moved into our neighborhood. That’s why he compared himself to the Shepherd who left the many to pursue the one sheep who had gone astray. (Luke 15:1-7)

Pursuing students will generally result in students who are more consistent. When our leadership team did the research for our students we found that the students we pursued more were the ones who showed up more. I never said our team was brilliant. It just confirms what I already understand. I am a pastor, not a salesman. I cannot convince someone into the kingdom, but I can reflect Jesus’ unrelenting love for us. When we as youth workers understand this we can pursue teens with joy instead of guilt.

I may not be successful at getting James to come hang out with me, but I am successful at pursuing James. I believe that means a lot to him. He know that each week I am pursuing him in the name of Jesus and that is going to stick with him long after he graduates. So next week, I’ll send out that text and that will be my success story. What will be yours?

Kevin Headshot

Kevin Libick is a Middle School Pastor living in Fort Worth, TX with his wife Kara and her two cats. He is a novice banjo picker and expert Hawaiian food eater. Kevin loves to connect with other youth workers and equip them to live out their calling in God’s Kingdom. Kevin loves to connect with and empower youth workers. Connect with Kevin on Twitter: @kevinlibick

Real World Middle School Ministry

Middle schoolers are real people. I know that may shock some readers, but it’s true. I’ve actually heard grown adults call middle schoolers “pre-people”. Besides being incredibly demeaning, it implies that young teens aren’t dealing with real life issues yet. Part of this stems from the difficulty middle schoolers have with communicating what’s going on underneath the surface. 

Real World Middle School Ministry

I thought I would let you into my world to show you that middle schoolers are facing really difficult situations. Over the past month I’ve become aware of a number of issues that middle schoolers I know are dealing with right now.

Homosexuality – We have a student who just came out to the world via social media. They stopped coming to our group a few weeks ago just before it became public. Our leadership team is figuring out how to show the love of Christ while helping them find their true identity in Jesus.

Self-Harm – I know of multiple students, from great families by the way, who are expressing their emotional struggles by harming themselves. We are walking with the parents to reinforce constructive ways of dealing with their emotions and bringing hope through the Gospel.

Drugs/alcohol – I have students who get offered marijuana EVERY single day at school. Other students have been caught sneaking alcohol at a friends house. One teacher from a local middle school tells me all the time that a handful of students regularly show up to class drunk. Our students are self-medicating to escape and they have access to whatever substance they want.

Pornography – Most teens are exposed to pornography in the middle school years and addiction is common. In addition, I know of students who have consumed pornography that is violent in nature. My heart breaks for those who’s view of sexuality is so distorted.

Family roles – There are students who have to play the parent role for their families because mom or dad can’t or won’t act like the grown-up. They live in a dual world where schools treat them like kids and yet they have to perform as adults at home.

I could really go on and on. The point is this. Your middle schoolers are hurting NOW. They are facing real life NOW. The more you understand this the less satisfied you’ll be with playing babysitter. Middle schoolers need adults who will shine the light of Christ into the convoluted, dark, broken world they are living in every single day.

It all starts with listening. Start asking probing questions to your middle schoolers and listen for the subtle and not-so-subtle clues that show you that there is more going on. After all, young teens are real people, too.

Kevin Headshot

Kevin Libick is a Middle School Pastor living in Fort Worth, TX with his wife Kara and her two cats. He is a novice banjo picker and expert Hawaiian food eater. Kevin loves to connect with other youth workers and equip them to live out their calling in God’s Kingdom. Kevin loves to connect with and empower youth workers. Connect with Kevin on Twitter: @kevinlibick

Dare to be Anonymous

The word legacy gets thrown around a lot these days. We’re very concerned with leaving our mark on history. Even in ministry we want to make sure that we will be remembered for what we’ve done for the kingdom.

Our digital world means that we can quantify our social impact by literally counting our friends, those who like us, and the reach of our writing through tweets and blogs. I fear that we have become obsessed with making a greater name for ourselves. We think that because we CAN be known by everyone, we SHOULD be known by everyone.

Do a thought experiment for me: how many youth ministry people can you name? Is it 20, 30, 50, 100? According to an informal twitter poll, the estimates are between 30,000 and 40,000. So out of that many you can only name 50. Now, how many youth pastors from the ’90’s can you name? I can name like 10. The further back you go, the less we remember. Out of every century there are only a handful of Christian leaders’ who’s names will live beyond their lifetimes.

The point is this. Unless you are one of the few people who truly change the direction of the church, your name is heading for anonymity. A few generations after you are gone you’ll be most likely forgotten. This is your legacy. Far from being depressing news, this should free you!

The history of the Church is populated with names of people you’ve never heard of. They were faithful men and women who worked to advance the kingdom and pass off the faith to the next generation. Hebrews 11 describes them like this…

35 they were tortured, refusing to turn from God in order to be set free. They placed their hope in a better life after the resurrection. 36 Some were jeered at, and their backs were cut open with whips. Others were chained in prisons. 37 Some died by stoning, some were sawed in half, and others were killed with the sword. Some went about wearing skins of sheep and goats, destitute and oppressed and mistreated. 38 They were too good for this world, wandering over deserts and mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground. (Hebrews 11:35-38 NLT, emphasis mine)

Even John, the voice in the desert, proclaimed. “He must increase. I must decrease.” (John3:30).

Without these brothers and sisters, the church would not exist. The church exists precisely because generally these people cared more about promoting the name of Jesus than their own name.

I’m aware of the irony that I’m promoting this post on a blog. This is not a rant against anyone with a blog, twitter account or podcast. It’s not a shot at those who do have social media clout. If anything, it’s a lament that I have spent too much of my time worrying if anyone will remember me as a great youth pastor. That’s time that I could have spent serving and loving others in the name of Jesus without expecting anything in return.

Trying to make a name for yourself is a losing proposition. You’ll end up hating others or hating yourself. Your students won’t get the best of you and your family won’t either because you’ll be too busy building your brand.

If you struggle with this like I do, here are some questions to ask yourself when you share, post, tweet, and write:

  • Will I be disappointed if I don’t get credit/praise for this?
  • Am I trying to catch the eye of someone of influence?
  • Is there a number of responses that I’m looking for to feel validated?
  • Is this more about promoting me than blessing others?

Join the rest of Christendom and dare to be anonymous. We must decrease and HE must increase.

Kevin Headshot

Kevin Libick is a Middle School Pastor living in Fort Worth, TX with his wife Kara and her two cats. He is a novice banjo picker and expert Hawaiian food eater. Kevin loves to connect with other youth workers and equip them to live out their calling in God’s Kingdom. Kevin loves to connect with and empower youth workers. Connect with Kevin on Twitter: @kevinlibick

Hard Conversations, Don’t Avoid Them

Hard conversations. Every ministry leader has at least one that they need to have soon. It could be that you have to say no to someone important at your church. You might have tell a leader to step down. There may be a person in your life who you need to confront about their sin or confess your own. Some people find it easy to have these conversations. I am not one of those people. My tendency is to avoid having them and suffer silently on my own.

Joseph Grenny defines a crucial (hard) conversation as “A discussion between two or more people where (1) stakes are high, (2) opinions vary, and (3) emotions run strong.” *

This summer it seems that I have had to have more than the usual number of tough conversations with students, parents, and co-workers. God has been challenging me to stand courageously as I open my mouth. It’s honestly been one of the most challenging seasons in ministry. But through it all, God is teaching me that through these tough conversations there is blessing. I’ve also learned a few lessons along the way.

Lesson # 1 – Having the conversation is better than avoiding it.

If you hate conflict like me, then you avoid conflict because you fear the worst possible outcome will actually happen. The reality is that avoiding the conversation will NOT solve your problem. The relational tension will still be there and your issue will not be solved until you sit down and have the conversation. The longer you avoid the conversation the more the problem will intensify when the issue finally does come to a head. If you have that hard conversation, the worse might happen. If you avoid it the worst possible outcome will happen.

Lesson # 2 – Believe the best in the other person.

When we have an emotionally charged conversation coming our way it’s easy to paint that person in the worse possible light. We start to believe that they have completely impure motives while you have completely pure ones. This is almost never true. You will never be able to get inside someone else’s mind and truly know their heart. Make the conversation about issues, not motives. When you believe the best in someone else you allow them the opportunity to surprise you with their flexibility and reasonableness. You also allow yourself to see things from their perspective.

Lesson #  3 – Don’t be afraid to be firm on what matters to you.

This is a hard one for me. I want people to like me. I worry that if I stand firm I’ll lose the relationship. Giving in becomes my strategy. If I follow this route I end up resenting myself and that other person because I didn’t fight for what I believe to be important. You can be firm and still communicate that you care about the other person. Standing firm and showing care not mutually exclusive. Most of the time being firm will NOT harm the relationship as long as you affirm the relationship at the same time.

What hard conversation do you need to have this week? Will you prayerfully consider taking a step of courage and have that conversation before it’s too late?

*Want to dive more into how to have hard conversations? Read Crucial Conversations: Tools For Talking When Stakes Are High by Patterson, Grenny, McMillan, and Switzler.

Kevin Headshot

Kevin Libick is a Middle School Pastor living in Fort Worth, TX with his wife Kara and her two cats. He is a novice banjo picker and expert Hawaiian food eater. Kevin loves to connect with other youth workers and equip them to live out their calling in God’s Kingdom. Kevin loves to connect with and empower youth workers. Connect with Kevin on Twitter: @kevinlibick

5 Things To Do While Waiting For Students

We’ve all been there. We tell a student to meet us at a certain time. We arrive early just in case. They arrive late just because. There can easily be 30 minutes to an hour of idle time waiting for appointments in ministry.

My first instinct to to pull out my phone and check my social media feeds (but I just did that 10 minutes ago, so nothing really has happened since then). My second instinct is to play a game on my phone. I tend to lean toward quick puzzles.

What if we turned those idle minutes into productive moments? Instead of turning to social media time wastes we could knock a few things off our to do list. Here are a few things I do when I am waiting for a student to show up:

1. Write a blog post! I’m currently writing this on my phone in a mall food court. With note apps it’s really easy to get some writing done.

2. Do some ethnography. In other words people watch. Thanks to Adam Mclane for challenging me to make observations of the people in my community. What do people wear or carry with them? What shopping bags are they carrying? What conversations do you hear? These are all great tools for lesson illustrations and cultural observation.

3. Make some needed phone calls. Is there an event you need to book for? Is there a person who needs a call back? Use your idle time to check these off your list.

4. Read/Memorize scripture. Duh! This is a no brainer. Fill your time by filling your mind with the scripture. It’s one thing we can easily neglect in our busy schedule, but we shouldn’t.

5. Do graphics work. Last October David Hausknecht introduced me to two apps called Over and Phoster. He uses them to make slides and cool Instagram photos.

There you have it. It’s time to make idle time into productive time. My student just showed up so I better get going…

Kevin Libick is a Middle School Pastor living in Fort Worth, TX with his wife Kara and her two cats. He is a novice banjo picker and expert Hawaiian food eater. Kevin loves to connect with other youth workers and equip them to live out their calling in God’s Kingdom. Kevin loves to connect with and empower youth workers. Connect with Kevin on Twitter: @kevinlibick

New Faces, New Names

One of the hardest parts about student ministry is saying goodbye to old students one week and saying hello to a bunch of new ones the next. Last Sunday was promotion week so all of our new 7th graders joined us for the first time.

As kids were streaming into our room I kept thinking “How am I going to learn all these new names?” It seems like every new name I learn pushes out an old nameHello-My-Name-Is-Rupert-icon to make room. The older I get the harder it is for me to learn the new names of students, but it’s totally worth the effort. We can’t rely on excuses like, “I don’t have a good memory.” or “I’m not good with names.” We also can’t rely on nicknames like dude, buddy, and partner. Student’s will pick up on this shortcut really quick.

When we do the hard work of learning names, our ministry will feel more personal and personal ministries are ALWAYS more effective. Here are few tricks I’ve learned along the way to learn names and make them stick.

Rely on other leaders. Some ministries are larger than others and at some point it becomes impossible to know everyone’s name. While it’s good for the lead youth worker to know as many names as possible, it’s not necessary as long as SOMEONE knows their name. Instead of trying to learn everyone’s name, make it your responsibility to make sure every student is known by at least one leader. This relieves pressure on you and gives your leaders ministry ownership. One way we’ve done this is to take a picture of every student individually (or as a group) and do flash cards with leaders. Keep track of how many you get right and do it multiple times throughout the year to see if you are getting better.

Learn their last names and stories. It’s really tempting to learn just first names of students. We think of names as bits of information. If we shorten it to just a first name then we have to remember less. Actually, the opposite is true. You remember information that is relevant to you. Last names help provide context. They help you differentiate one Bobby from the next. Last names also help you connect new students with families. It’s a lot easier to remember Karson’s name if you remember that he is Blake’s younger brother (as I did last Sunday). If you know they come from a particular family you’ve now connected them to several other names that you already know and reinforced their importance, making their name easier to remember.

Make it a priority. Whenever I get on a bus for an event full of students I make my rounds to all the seats and introduce myself. It sometimes takes me a few laps to get most of the names, but it works. This shows my students that I’m serious about learning who they are. Another way to make it a priority is to make a public announcement that you’re trying to learn everyone’s name and you’ll buy lunch for anyone who’s name you don’t remember. This is called incentive. I don’t want to buy everyone lunch, so I learn names.

Names. Every student has one and they matter. Do the hard work and make sure that every student is known. It’s a simple thing that will keep your ministry feeling personal.

Kevin Libick is a Middle School Pastor living in Fort Worth, TX with his wife Kara and her two cats. He is a novice banjo picker and expert Hawaiian food eater. Kevin loves to connect with other youth workers and equip them to live out their calling in God’s Kingdom. Kevin loves to connect with and empower youth workers. Connect with Kevin on Twitter: @kevinlibick

Be a “Yes” Person

We’re taught to say “no” a lot in ministry. I’ve been told countless times that you need to say no more often so you don’t spread yourself too thin and become ineffective. As youth workers this a good principle because we are constantly confronted with good opportunities that would drain us from the things we need to be doing.

Taken to the extreme, this can lead to a mentality where we only focus on the things directly within our ministry and job description. We see church ministry like an assembly line where we focus only on our widgets. The problem with this is that the church is a family, not a factory. A family where the parts are connected. That means we need to say “yes” from time to time to ministry opportunities in other areas of the church.

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve said yes to serving other areas of our church that don’t directly effect my ministry to teens. One with a singles’ mission trip and another with a young families father/son retreat. Both are completely outside my job description. So when I was asked by leadership to take part, I could have declined. I said yes because I believe it makes ministry better.

Saying yes makes the Body healthy. The members of God’s body are interdependent. We should care about the health of the single’s ministry of your church, because it is just as important as yours. Both contribute to a healthy church body. I accepted the role of leading a single’s ministry mission trip because they needed someone and I was available. Saying yes means I am contributing to the health of the church at large, not just my own ministry.

Saying yes gives you opportunities for growth. When you step outside your normal ministry realm you get stretched in new ways. As part of the father/son retreat I had to speak to both dads and young sons. I have little experience teaching to either audience. It was challenging to come up with talks that could work for both an 8 year old and a 40 year old. Saying yes meant I learned to be a better communicator.

Saying yes shows your leadership you are ready. Many youth pastors, including myself, don’t want to get pigeon holed into one role. While ministry to teens is our main passion, we have other abilities to offer. Sometimes this helps leadership see you in a new light that might open doors in the future.

I’m not saying that you should say yes to everything. But maybe God is calling you to say yes to something that is outside your normal ministry. It may lead to an unexpected ministry experience, but you’ll never know unless you say yes.

[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://www.theyouthministryblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/LibickHawaiiChristmasPhoto.jpeg[/author_image] [author_info]Kevin Libick is a Middle School Pastor living in Fort Worth, TX with his wife Kara and her two cats. He is a novice banjo picker and expert Hawaiian food eater. Kevin loves to connect with other youth workers and equip them to live out their calling in God’s Kingdom. Connect with Kevin on Twitter: @kevinlibick[/author_info] [/author]

Is it not enough?

What do you do when someone else gets recognition, more responsibility or a promotion? There are days in ministry when what we have been given is enough, but all too often there are days where it isn’t.

The longer I’m in middle school ministry, the more often I see people around me getting promoted and advancing up the chain of command. If I’m honest, I get jealous of them because I want to be recognized for my good work. We in America place a lot of importance on titles and position. We preach the false gospel of meritocracy, “those who are more talented and work harder deserve to move up.” So when you are a 35 year old youth worker, you start to believe that you deserve more. More authority, more recognition, a bigger sandbox.

In Numbers 16, three Levites named Korah, Dathan, and Abiram led a rebellion against Moses. Their complaint was that Moses had acted as if he were greater than everyone else by being their leader. We all know how ridiculous this claim was. Moses RESISTED  being a leader. He told God “no”, but God insisted. Korah had it all wrong. It wasn’t Moses who exalted himself, God did. Their beef is with God, not Moses.

Moses’ response is convicting to me. He says, “Is it not enough that you are Levites? Is it not enough that you get to take care of the Tabernacle?” Korah, Dathan and Abiram had their ministry. God had given them a place to serve and yet it wasn’t enough.

In student ministry we can spend a lot of time worrying about the “low” place we hold in the church. We feel as if God has forgotten us or that those around have left us out intentionally.

My response to you is this: Is it not enough that you get to disciple teens and leaders? Is it not enough that you are able to teach the Bible, minister to families, and watch kids grow up? Stop longing for more power and prestige when God has given you a place in His kingdom. Be thankful for the ministry and season God has put you in. Stop striving and start enjoying.

[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://www.theyouthministryblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/LibickHawaiiChristmasPhoto.jpeg[/author_image] [author_info]Kevin Libick is a Middle School Pastor living in Fort Worth, TX with his wife Kara and her two cats. He is a novice banjo picker and expert Hawaiian food eater. Kevin loves to connect with other youth workers and equip them to live out their calling in God’s Kingdom. Connect with Kevin on Twitter: @kevinlibick[/author_info] [/author]

To the Church in…

“To the church in Fort Worth.” That phrase popped into my head this afternoon. Far too often I forget that the Bible was written to specific people living in a specific time. It certainly does apply to my life, but I wasn’t written specifically to me.

The New Testament books are written to the churches in cities like Galatia, Rome, Ephesus, and Philippi. These are geographic locations that had streets, local hangouts, city governments and places to eat. When Paul or John writes to these people he is addressing specific problems that Christians are having in these cities.

This got me thinking. What would a letter written in my day to my city look like? This is the city that I love with the people that I love. What would be included in a letter to the church in Fort Worth?

If I sat down and wrote my letter, it would include hopes and dreams that I believe God has for my city. I would want certain things to change and other things to stay the same. I have certain people in mind when I think about my city, just like Paul and John did. My letter would be different from your letter because your city and people are different from mine.

Each day we have carry the weight of translating the Gospel of peace into a language our students and our city can understand. Because we live in different communities our translations look different. This is the process of contextualization, where we translate the timeless truths of Scripture for a specific people, time and place.

What would you include in your letter? Where is justice needed? What needs aren’t being met? What powers in your community need opposing? Who needs someone to stand in the gap for them?

You are called by God to translate the Gospel for your community. If you don’t, who will?    Go ahead, get writing!

[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://www.theyouthministryblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/LibickHawaiiChristmasPhoto.jpeg[/author_image] [author_info]Kevin Libick is a Middle School Pastor living in Fort Worth, TX with his wife Kara and her two cats. He is a novice banjo picker and expert Hawaiian food eater. Kevin loves to connect with other youth workers and equip them to live out their calling in God’s Kingdom. Connect with Kevin on Twitter: @kevinlibick[/author_info] [/author]

Lessons from Nehemiah Part 4

An accurate view of reality.

 Nehemiah had a vision: to see is people safe back at home. Nehemiah had a task: to build the wall in Jerusalem. His vision and his task motivated him to act on behalf of his people.

Nehemiah displayed incredible leadership when it came to actually carrying out his God-given task. When Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem went to the source of the problem: the wall. In chapter 2 we read that late at night he got up and walked the walls to assess the damage. Instead of relying on other people, he saw the problem for himself. Through his first hand knowledge he was able to come up with a plan to rebuild the wall. 

What would have happened if Nehemiah started work on the wall without seeing the damage? He may have sent workers to the wrong spot, not provided the right resources or underestimated the need. 

In order to be a Spiritual leader, we must have an accurate view of reality. In other words, we have to solve the problems that actually exist. To have an accurate view of reality, we need to see the problem for ourselves.

One time I had a small group leader that I thought was doing a great job. He was a nice guy and was faithful, so I assumed that everything was great in his group, but I never observed his group. I started to hear rumblings of discontent and dismissed them as students being complainy. I decided to visit his group anyways to see him at work. Through watching him firsthand I realized that he was dropping the ball on some key areas. Since I saw him lead a group first hand, I was able to help him grow in these areas and he became a must better small group leader.

When we fail to have an accurate view of reality we start solving the wrong problems and we solve them in the wrong way. We answer questions our students aren’t asking. We fix programs that don’t need fixing. We don’t see the problems until they have become out of control.

Leadership requires that we face our challenges head on and we can’t do that if we don’t know what the real issues are.

Step back and observe – If you are in the middle of the storm you can’t see things objectively. Sometimes you need to let go of some tasks so that you can observe your ministry.

Ask questions from the right people – If you want to know how you are doing ministering to families, then you should probably talk to some parents. 

When you know what’s really going on in your ministry, you’ll be able to make the necessary course changes to solve the problems that actually exist.

[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://www.theyouthministryblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/LibickHawaiiChristmasPhoto.jpeg[/author_image] [author_info]Kevin Libick is a Middle School Pastor living in Fort Worth, TX with his wife Kara and her two cats. He is a novice banjo picker and expert Hawaiian food eater. Kevin loves to connect with other youth workers and equip them to live out their calling in God’s Kingdom. Connect with Kevin on Twitter: @kevinlibick[/author_info] [/author]