The Disciplines of Youth Ministry

Our team has been challenged to think about the rhythms of our work week in order to work together more effectively. As I was looking over a “typical” week in ministry (if there is such a thing) I noticed some recurring themes. There are a few weekly habits that I do every week and I keep doing them in order to have a vibrant life in ministry.

In the Christian life we have daily/weekly/monthly/yearly habits that help us remain connected to our Creator. In student ministry I have habits, or disciplines, that keep me going in the right direction. I’m not saying that my list is the best list, but it’s worked for me and might spur on thoughts for your own life. Some of these disciplines didn’t come naturally early on in my ministry but through constant practice they have become a natural part of my life. That’s what a discipline does, it trains us to become natural at what doesn’t come naturally.

Discipline # 1 – Planned Inefficiency. I realize that inefficiency can have a negative connotation in the American church. We strive for effective time management and productivity. The problem is that when I get to the end of the week and have not slowed down to read/think/pray I end up losing my creative edge and my passion. At the surface, slowing down for reflection seems like the worst use of time, but in the long run it fills my well with great ideas and new ministry direction. So my discipline is to spend at least two hours a week in prayer/reading/reflecting to create the mindset I need.

Discipline # 2 – Time With Teens. This is an obvious one so I’ll make it short. It’s amazing how many youth pastors I know of who don’t spend time with teens of any sort. I don’t get it. It’s like the restaurant owner who never stops to taste a meal. I NEED regular time with teens or else I will go crazy. That’s how I know I still love student ministry. Middle schoolers keep me sane. So my discipline is that I get together for breakfast once a week with a small group of guys. It’s the highlight of my week.

Discipline # 3 – Parent Communication. Each Tuesday I send out a parent email. The content is information, training and encouragement. I’ve found that having this weekly discipline keeps ministry to parents on the forefront of my mind. It reminds me weekly that an effective ministry engages, equips, and partners with parents.

Discipline # 4 – Leader Development. My leaders need constant care and empowerment. If I let even one week go by without engaging them then I am draining the lifeblood out of our ministry. I need a discipline of leader development so I don’t try to do ministry on my own. So my discipline is to send a leader email each week and have at least one face to face meeting each week.

Discipline # 5 – Church Connection. Our team leader remarked this morning that some of us come into the office to get stuff done, others come into the office to connect with others. I am definitely a connector. I find that if I spend too much time working from a coffee shop I lose touch with the pulse of the rest of the church. I know that I need to make a habit of being in the office so I can bump into people, share stories and hear what’s going on. When I neglect this discipline I become solo artist instead of a true team player.

What are your weekly disciplines? What habits do you practice to make sure you are heading in the right direction? Are there any that you need to start doing this week?

[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]

Make the Most of Flop Events

I can see it coming already. Sometimes you realize that events are a bust when the doors open. This time I know it’s going to be poorly attended already a few days out. This Friday is the perfect storm of school dances, homecoming games and birthday parties that compete with a small group fellowship game night. Even the guys from my own small group students aren’t coming because of a school dance. These scheduling conflicts are things I didn’t know about when we put the calendar together months ago. I was really excited about this event. We really felt like it was creative and risky and would be a great way to give our small groups ownership and community.

In the midst of the discouragement. I am finding joy and contentment because I know that this just one event…one of hundreds I’ve put on over the years. Most of which I can’t really remember. Some of them were amazing and some were busts. When facing the reality of a flop event remember these things.

I’m glad we took a risk. Once a year I like to try an event we’ve never done before. It’s easy to do the old standard events year after year, but innovation and imagination aren’t sparked that way. The moment you stop trying new ideas is the moment you stop growing as a leader. Sometimes the risk will pay off big time, other times they will flop. You’ll never discover the great ideas unless you are willing to risk the flop. This week I was blindsided by something I didn’t even think about (school dances). Next time, I will remember to ask when they are. It’s a lesson I can learn for our next calendar.

“Where is everyone?” NEVER, EVER ASK THIS QUESTION to students at an event. This will give the impressions to the kids who DID show up that it’s OTHER kids who are important. A wise person reminded me long ago that God always brings students into our ministry who need to be there. The students at who show up at a low turnout event are the ones that God wants you to be minister to. Don’t think about who didn’t show up. Think about the ones who did!

Bring the energy anyway. It’s tempting to phone in the energy level when there is a low turnout for an event. Less kids = less effort. As a leader this is death. It’s not fair to the students who did come the event and a bad example for your leaders. I’ve found that you can turn a flop into a success simply by bringing my best energy and excitement along with me.

So when the doors open Friday night I’m going to bring my best energy, be thankful for who shows up and be glad we took a risk. It’s a choice all of us can make when faced with a flop event.

[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]

Stop Going Crazy

How to not go insane in youth ministry:

Follow these three easy instructions and repeat.

Last weekend I got to spend time with a bunch of other middle school pastor’s at the Youth Cartel’s Campference (theyouthcartel.com). If you work with middle schoolers and haven’t been I highly suggest that you check it out next fall. Several times during the weekend I thought to myself, “It feels so good to know that I’m not crazy for loving middle school ministry.” Youth ministry can make us feel crazy sometimes. The Campference had three things that are universal antidotes to going crazy in youth ministry.

Community – This weekend I was surrounded by people who understood my calling. I couldn’t do youth ministry if I didn’t have other people who affirmed my passion for teens. We need to be reminded regularly that our ministry matters to others and to God. Community reminds of this. Your community doesn’t have to be other youth pastors. It can come from ministry parents and your leadership team. Wherever it comes from you need it! You shouldn’t be doing ministry alone.

Rest – Sometimes the most sanity forming thing we can do is to get away and rest. At the campference all the programming is optional so I didn’t feel guilty when I got away for a nap. When you rest you are reminding yourself that God is in control and it isn’t all up to you. This truth brings sanity to our crazy lives.

Learning – One definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. I do that so often in ministry. I think I have it all figured out. When I become a learner I open myself to the possibility that there are other ways to think about and practice ministry to teens. I got the chance to learn from some pretty brilliant people this weekend and I am already trying to figure out what changes we need to make.

Community, Rest, and Learning…Three things that will keep us from going crazy in youth ministry. Which of those three do you need most right now? How are you going to get them into your life?

[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]

Reunioned or Ruined

Last weekend I was fortunate to go to something very unique, my youth group’s reunion. That’s right, some 15 years after many of us graduated 50 of us gathered together for a night of reconnecting, dinner and worship. Some of us traveled great distances to be there, including my own youth pastor. We even had our old worship band play some of their old tunes. Singing those songs in our old youth room with my old friends really brought me back to those formative years in my faith.

As I was interacting with my friends I was reminded that one day my current students will graduate, get married and become adults just like we did. Through the conversations I was hit with some themes that made me reflect on how I do youth ministry.

Theme # 1 – Special Ingredients.
Throughout the night people kept talking about what made our youth ministry so great. They talked about how everyone was welcome, no matter who they were and what school they went too. They talked about how everyone experienced God’s grace at a deep level. This is what drew people to our youth group. I hope I never take for granted how powerful a warm, accepting ministry can be for a growing ministry.

Theme # 2 – Life after youth group.
Many of my friends had found it hard to connect with the church and it wasn’t because they didn’t try. The community they found so compelling in high school was lacking as an adult in the church. Some had even experienced deep wounds by church leadership. I was reminded that the faith formation of teenagers requires that we help them connect in the larger church body. It also requires that we prepare them for the inevitable reality that they will be disappointed by the church because it is filled with broken people just like you and me.

Theme # 3 – Life will get hard.
So many of my friends shared about how they “needed” our reunion. There were those who had gone through divorce and others who lost parents. I heard about shattered dreams and broken hearts. For many, these wounds left them disillusioned about God’s presence in their lives. Our reunion was an opportunity for them to be reminded that the God who worked in their hearts as teens is still with us today. I think most youth ministries fail to adequately prepare teens for the reality of living in a broken world. We paint the picture that if we follow Jesus, life will be rosy and fun. When life gets rough, they question their God because we didn’t do a good job of helping them encounter Jesus in the midst of their pain.

I don’t know if I’ll ever get to have a reunion with any of my youth groups, but I hope that I lead mine knowing that I will leave a legacy. I hope that our ministry will be known for displaying Jesus’ amazing grace and helping teens embrace Jesus through the ups and downs of the rest of their lives.

[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]

Unload Your Burden

Moses had it. Elisha had it. Jesus had it. They all had moments in their ministry where the burden of leadership seemed too great. They saw what God called them to and saw the impossibility of it. We do it in ministry too. The family that’s barely holding it together and only you know how close they are to the brink. The student who wants to believe but just can’t seem to fully give Jesus everything. The leader who is struggling with an inner battle.

As a Christian it’s our calling to sit down and enter into the pain and brokenness of other people’s lives. We pour out our lives and sometimes we pour too much of ourselves. We are left empty, tired and burned out. In the midst of these times there are three truths that you should take in to protect you from emptying yourself too much.

Jesus is the Savior, not you.

I’m pretty sure that no one would argue this theologically, but practically we deny this all the time. In pastoral ministry we start to believe that spiritual growth is all up to us. We do this when we say “yes” to meeting with more people than you can handle. We deny this truth when we can’t let a phone call or text wait until the next day. Jesus was doing pretty fine without me before I got here and He’ll do fine when I’m gone. Think about this. God never tires, do you? God won’t give up, will you? God is immortal, are you?

It is a blow to our ego to know that we are not the center of our ministry, but it’s the truth and this truth will set you free. When you free yourself from being Savior, then you are less likely to have your heart rise and fall with your ministry successes and failures. We are protected from pride. When a student accepts Christ, it’s not because we presented the Gospel in the right way. We are freed from guilt. When a student you’ve been pouring into messes up, it’s not because we failed them.

You aren’t alone.

It’s easy in ministry to feel like you’re the only one keeping the ship afloat. We see our own hard work and feel that if it weren’t for you the whole church would fall a part. The truth is that God is working through more people than you. Elijah, after the victory on Mount Carmel, received a death threat from Jezebel. Elijah complained to God saying that if he died, no one would be left to stand up against Ahab and Jezebel. God responded by telling Elijah that he had reserved 7,000 other prophets who had not bowed to Baal. In other words, “Elijah, this isn’t all about you. I’m working all over the place through many other people.”

The question for us is, “How do you release your ministry to other people so that your burden is shared with other people?” If you are keeping it all to yourself. You are not doing ministry the right way.

It’s not selfish to care for yourself. 

There is a horrible belief in the church that caring for yourself is selfish and therefore wrong. If we even think about doing something for the betterment of our souls then that means we are putting ourselves above other people. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Even Jesus took time to tend to his own soul. When pressed by the burdens of ministry, Jesus went away to spend time in communion with His Father. One could argue that Jesus would have spent His time better if He would have healed more people or taught more truth. That’s how we operate a lot of the time. But Jesus knew that His joy and strength came from time with the Father. Without that His ministry would have no power.

I’ve certainly struggled with this over the years and need constant reminder that caring for my own soul is not an act of selfishness, it’s an act of love. If I tend to my own soul I will have a longer ministry and be able to bless more people in the long run.

[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]

Pastoring, The One Thing You Won’t Regret

This week I’ve been busy. I’ve had more meetings than I usually do. While this normally drains me, this week is different. Instead of meetings about budgets, strategies, mission statements and events, this week I’ve been plain old pastoring. You remember pastoring, right? It’s where you spend time listening to people, talking about real life, opening scripture, laughing, sharing stories and praying.

You know at the end of my life I might be ashamed about the amount of time I spent looking for the perfect background for my talk slides. I might regret the amount of time I gave to searching for the perfect video clip. But I don’t think I’ll regret the amount of time I spent listening to and praying for people.

What are the basics skills of youth ministry? If you go by the blogs and books out there, you might get the impression that quality youth pastors have good time management skills, know how to prepare and deliver an engaging talk, have creative worship spaces and have a solid ministry strategy. While these are good things, they will not make you a true shepherd of people.

Pastoral care is the bread and butter of youth ministry. It always will be. Unless we are willing to listen to people, spend uninterrupted time with them and shepherd them toward the feet of Jesus, everything else will be busy work. No amount of flash and glitz can make up for good old fashioned pastoring. The way that happens is by giving your presence to other people.

The good news is that pastoral care multiplies itself. The burden isn’t on you to make sure that every teen in your ministry is personally cared for by you. Instead, when you pour into a few leaders, students and parents they will be able to do the same for others. They will follow your example and look for ways to listen, pray, and encourage other people.

I know we all know this. I know that we all got into ministry because God gave us a vision for life-on-life change. It’s just that we need to be reminded of it from time to time. I need to be reminded of it all the time.

What about you? How will you make sure that pastoring people stays at the heart of your ministry? I promise, you won’t regret it.

[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]

Married to the Ministry

My wife and I are in a unique situation. We both work at our church. I am the middle school pastor and she works for our communications department. This presents us with some blessings (I get to see her during the day) and some challenges (her busy season is often my down season). One of the things I love about her working at the church is that I get to experience what it’s like to be married to someone in ministry. It helps me appreciate how much she has sacrificed for my ministry over the years.

Last Saturday she had a big project that required her to be up at the church all day, on her day off, painting and building some cool display pieces. Coincidently, I had taken the weekend off and was looking forward to some time away from the church. At some point in the morning I realized that the project was going to take longer than she expected and she would be needing my help to get the job done. We spent a good 7 hours to finish the project and in the end It looked awesome. I am so proud of her department’s creativity and hard work. Even though it was my day off, I am so glad I got to help her out.

It got me thinking about the three things my wife did that made it easy for me to help her out. These are three things that we can all do to help our spouses as they serve alongside us in our ministry.

First, she gave me a purpose. Because it was important to her and her department, she took the time to make sure I knew why we were working so hard. She talked about how important the project was to get people excited about our big fall teaching series. When I was tempted to daydream about watching the Texas Rangers game on my couch, I remembered how my work was going to bless her and the church. In the same way, we need to help our spouses see that their service to you and the church has a purpose.

Second, she gave me permission. At several points during the day she told me that it would be ok if I went home. I didn’t take her up on the offer but it was nice to know that I had freedom to leave if it wanted to. Often our spouses feel obligated to serve or to be up at the church with us. This can lead to bitterness and frustration. If we simply give them permission to take a break then they feel that they have a choice to be there. When your spouse is there by choice they will be more present and have more passion for the ministry. I encourage you to regularly make it clear to your spouse that they are NOT obligated to be up at the church 24/7 with you.

Third, she gave me appreciation. What ultimately kept me going was that I knew my wife appreciated my hard work. I am surprised how many pastors fail to acknowledge how much their spouses sacrifice for the sake of the ministry. We can take for granted that they are going to show up and support us every week. We will go out of our way to make a volunteer feel loved and supported, but do we do that for our spouses? Many spouses suffer from neglect for our ministry without so much as a word of thanks. Make sure you regularly communicate appreciation and gratitude for their sacrifice and support. A small gift or note can mean the world to an under appreciated spouse.

I am so thankful that my wife models to me how to be a better ministry spouse. So, what about you? Does your spouse need purpose, permission or appreciation? If so, go do that today!

[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]

Make Your Ministry Personal

Twitter, Instagram, Facebook. We can’t escape social media. Our students are on them nearly 24-7. There is great potential for these tools to connect and communicate with students in our ministries. But there is a great temptation. In our ministry I’m realizing we’ve been relying too heavily on these social media avenues to draw students in.

We have become really good at marketing in the youth ministry world. The technologies are available to everyone. Logos, brand strategies, social media campaigns are a part of nearly every youth ministry. Even the smallest of youth groups can have an Instagram feed and a Facebook page.

For a while I thought that we could get more students connected to our ministry and events if we improved our social media presence. All summer we had been using this strategy for our camp and mission trip. The idea is that if I email parents enough, tweet enough, post enough pictures on Instagram then kids would sign up. The result was bad…real bad. No one was signing up.

It works the same in my life. If I get a mass Facebook invite, I’m 90% sure I’m not responding. If I get an E-vite for a party, I’m waiting until the last minute to respond. But if I get a personal call I’m probably going to respond favorably and immediately.

This was our change of strategy. Personal invitations. We had our leaders contact the students they are connected with and intentionally invite them. The results were staggering. Last Sunday, we went from having only two people signed up for our mission trip (one week past the deadline) to our largest ever number of sign-ups within a matter of hours. What was the difference? Personal invitations.

Over and over I am reminded that what our teens want is personal investment. When we deviate from that into impersonal means, then our teens are simply not having it. We can’t rely on social media strategies to create of movement of Christ followers. Does that mean that we delete our profiles and accounts? No way. These become ways to communicate with those whom we have personal relationships with.

For me it means that from now on, we’re going to make sure we stay personal. Instead of social media strategies, we will make students know that we care by having our leadership interact with them in personal ways.

[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]