I am NOT Called to Youth Ministry!

surprised-look“I really feel called to youth ministry,” the young man across the table said to me. As a youth pastor who pours his life into students, for years these have been words I love to hear. Especially when they come from students that I have personally invested in. Such was the case of the the young man I was looking at that day.

I was so excited. I was proud of him. He was a man after my own heart. And yet, unbeknownst to him, for quite some time I had been wrestling with the exact words he said.

I feel called to youth ministry. 

I understand what this young man was trying to communicate. I grew up hearing people say they felt called to ministry. It’s the old way of saying you feel God wants you to serve Him in ministry, often in a vocational sense. I’ve used the phrase myself many times, and I still find myself saying it from time to time. And yet, through the years, I’ve come to realize that it is actually not an accurate statement.

This really struck me one day while I was meditating the words of Mark 3:15-15 which say, “Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him. He appointed twelve that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons.”

When I read those words, I felt God speak to me so clearly: Kevin, don’t confuse your calling with your assignment. I have assigned you to youth ministry for this season of your life, but that is not your calling.

Did you catch it? Jesus called to Him those He wanted “that they might be with Him.”

THAT

is

our

calling!

Our calling is to Jesus Himself. Our calling is not to ministry; our calling is to be lovers of Jesus. Our calling is not to doing, our calling is to being — being with Jesus! In John 15:5 Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” Our calling is to relationship. Our calling is to live intimately connected to Jesus. When we are connected to Jesus, He imparts His truth into our hearts. He begins to speak our identity into us. He reveals His heart to us. He makes His desires known to us.

It is then out of our calling that Jesus commissions us to go into the world. Jesus did indeed have a work for the disciples to do. And Jesus has a work for us to do. Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Jesus gives us assignments — places us in positions, relationships, situations — for us to advance God’s kingdom. As we stay close to the heart of God in Jesus, we learn that our God is a God of mission, and He sends us to declare and demonstrate the good news. Our assignments may (and often will) change, but our calling never does. 

I am not called to ministry, and neither are you. We are called to Jesus.

Are you living in your calling today? Are you drawing near to Jesus? If you are, you will surely begin to feel His heart for people and situations, and you will hear His voice and the promptings of the Holy Spirit to respond and do something about what He is revealing to you.

 

Kerri Ann’s Baptism Video

From 4/6/16: Kerri Ann is a resident at West Haven home for the developmentally disabled in Jamaica. She just exides Jesus! Mission Discovery knows her well from their years of visits. She told us she wanted a Bible, and yesterday Hannah told her she would give her her Bible! Today she delivered it and you should have seen the smile on her face. She has also been asking to be baptized for quite some time. Unfortunately her church would not baptize her because of their insistence that it must be by immersion, which is impossible for this young lady. Jen and Scott approached the director and asked if we might be able to baptize her today, and he agreed! We asked her if she wanted to be baptized today, and she lit up. When we gave her the news that she could, she had no words and simply covered her mouth and cried tears of joy. Nathan from MD drove up, and we all gathered under the shade of a tree where she professed her love for Jesus, and Jen, Nathan, and I had the tremendous joy of pouring a bottle of water over her head to baptize her. It was one of the most sacred thigs I have ever witnessed or been a part of!

Challenging Christianity

Comfort Zone/ Challenge Sign ConceptOne of my favorite lines that I repeat often to leaders, parents, and even to students, is that my job, our job in youth ministry (and as parents!) is not to entertain students, but to equip them for life. Our vision statement for our youth ministry is to see students become fully-devoted, passionate, life-long followers of Jesus. In order for that to become a reality, they must be challenged in their thinking and in their practice. We have to stretch them to do hard things … uncomfortable things.

Growth only happens by doing things you’ve never done before.

Just the other day, my friend Thom Schults, founder of Group Publishing, said, “Too many people think if it’s uncomfortable it must be wrong. This is one of the biggest problems in the church today.” How true a statement!

Then, just this morning I was reading Vanishing Grace by Philip Yancey in which he quotes Shane Claiborne who said, “I am convinced that if we lose kids to the culture of drugs and materialism, of violence and war, it’s because we don’t dare them, not because we don’t entertain them. It’s because we make the gospel too easy, not because we make it too difficult. Kids want to do something heroic with their lives, which is why they play video games and join the army. But what do they do with a church that teaches them to tiptoe through life so they can arrive safely at death?”

As I am writing this, my daughter is texting me about some of the challenging realities of our upcoming mission trip to Jamaica. Because we love students and want to help them see the world as God sees it and want them to have a bold, mature faith, we do not shy away from difficult situations. Of course, safety is very important, we aren’t talking about being stupid and rash. I want to be very clear about this. We do indeed take safety very seriously. That being said, the truth is, if safety was our only consideration, we would never go anywhere new or do anything we’ve never done before. We have to have something higher than safety, and that is a vision.

God’s vision is for the whole earth to be filled with the knowledge of the glory of God, and we are called to be a part of the advancement of His kingdom. We are called to be agents of light in a dark world. We are to take the light of Christ into dark places, and that inherently means we have to do hard things. So, we go with God’s vision, we go with God’s power (the Holy Spirit living inside of us who gives us wisdom and courage), and we go with God’s promises (not to be free exempt from trouble, but that He will be with us as we go through trouble). Therefore, we say yes to mission of Jesus, even when we don’t know exactly all that will happen, and we move forward with faith as our guide, not fear. Just some thoughts I have as I am spending time with Jesus this morning. I hope they are encouraging, challenging, and helpful.

5 Questions to Help You Get a P.U.L.S.E. on Your Leaders

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Over the next few weeks my staff and I will be meeting with all of our volunteer adult youth leaders one-on-one. During our conversations, here are the 5 questions we are going to be sure to ask:

  1. How can I Pray for you? For your family?
  2. What do you need to Understand about the youth ministry or something coming up?
  3. Who is another potential Leader that we could invite to consider being on our adult leadership team?
  4. Tell me Stories of how you see God moving in the lives of students. How do you see God using you? Who are you connecting with?
  5. What can we do to Equip you to be a better leader for students?

Simple New Discipleship Initiative for Students

Last week I had the idea to produce simple 1-minute videos to encourage our students. In our youth ministry we have a ministry to girls called hrt ❤ and a ministry to boys called manUP. Here is the first one for each.


Small Groups Kickoff Night!

Last night we had our Delta Small Groups Kickoff Party. We all met at the church, had food, played some dodgeball, then I cast vision for small groups and our dream to see every student connected in a group. We introduced all of our incredible small group leaders then showed a preview video for Youth Alpha, the curriculum we are using in our groups this fall. (Yes, I know … there are a lot of Greek letters flying around here. I should tell you that before deciding to do Alpha in Delta, we ran a Beta test.) Finally, the students got into their groups to get to know one another and their leaders. I am very, very excited that we are adding two more groups this year, for a total of 7! I dream of the day we have 50 all over Long Island! Next week the groups begin meeting in homes, and I am praying and believing for an amazing year of connection, decisions for Jesus, and spiritual growth. If you are a student or a parent and you want information about groups, click here for times and locations.
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10 Ways Youth Leaders Can Have Impact During Summer

stock-footage-two-girlfriends-lying-on-beach-and-chattingYesterday I wrote about why we change things up in the summer, pausing our regular weekly programs and offering fun events and a different discipleship venue. One of the reasons we stop our regular weekly programs is to give our adult leaders a break from the grind of prepping and leading lessons and so forth. BUT, that doesn’t mean they should totally disengage from students. Here are 10 ways adult youth workers can have an impact on students during the summer.

  1. Go to camp or on a missions trip with students. One week at camp or on the mission field can offer as much (if not more!) relational time with students than a full year of seeing kids once a week for Bible study, or before and after service.
  2. Attend summer events. For us, most of our summer events are designed to be fairly low-prep and to simply have fun together. As far as discipleship, I personally lead our summer Bible study. As such, adult leaders can simply come and be with students without the burden of prepping and facilitating.
  3. Lead summer events. If you happen to be an adult with the extra time on your hands during the summer, why not volunteer to help lead one or two or ten of the events.
  4. Champion summer events. Probably 75 percent of our summer events are planned for the evenings, but a couple of them do happen during the day. That inherently means many of our adult leaders can’t attend because of work. When that is the case, adults can still serve and have impact by championing what is happening with students. Shoot the kids a text and encourage them to attend, share the event on social media, etc.
  5. Take a student out for ice cream. Who doesn’t like ice cream during the summer? Whether ice cream, frozen yogurt, Italian ice, or (we’ll even expand it to …) coffee, breakfast, lunch, dinner, or dessert … take a few students out one-on-one. They will never forget it! I even offer to reimburse our leaders. (If you’re one of my leaders, I am reminding you of this.)
  6. Take some students to the beach. If you’re inland, take them to the lake or river or pool or water park. While you’re driving and hanging out, engage them in conversation about God.
  7. Have students over for a BBQ. Why not invite a handful of students to your home and grill out? Perhaps they’ve never been to your home. This is a great way for students to see you in another context. Plus, who doesn’t love grilling out in the summer?
  8. Do one-on-one mentoring with a core student. If your schedule permits, and you have the passion to do it, invite one or two of your core students to meet you for a Bible study or for mentoring in an area of their life over the summer. One thing I like about summer is that kids have more availability to meet during the day. Perhaps they can meet for breakfast once a week.
  9. Send notes. I am a big fan of snail mail. Everybody loves to get something in the mail. Whether it’s a card in the mail, a message on Facebook, a pic on Instagram, an e-mail, a text … pray for your students, then send them a little something to let them know you are praying for and thinking about them during the summer. Encourage them to be connecting and growing, and let them know you are cheering for them.
  10. Grow Yourself. Invest in your own spiritual growth and development so that you have more to offer students. Pick a book to read at the beach or on vacation that will help you grow in God and as a leader. Listen to a leadership podcast while you’re driving to Florida.

Changing Things Up: Youth Ministry in Summer

summer-break-glassesDuring the summer we take a break from our weekly programs on the weekends and midweek. We do this on the biblical concept of Sabbath. We do it to give our regular adult volunteers a breather from the weekly preparations and leading, so they don’t get burned out. We also do it to affirm the primary importance of families, giving them the chance to sit together in church, and to encourage more quality time together while the kids are out of school.

In place of our regular programs we simply have weekly events designed around the value of fun and the purpose of fellowship. We want our students to enjoy themselves and have fun events to do and to which they can invite their friends. It’s also a great way to help lower the “threat” or “intimidation” level for students who are making transitions, whether from Kid’s Ministry to Student Ministry, or from Jr. High Ministry to Sr. High Ministry.

I also offer a Bible study in a casual environment for student who would like to intentionally deepen their faith during the summer. I do it late enough in the morning so that students don’t feel like they can’t sleep in (not to mention, because I am not a morning person) – usually at 10am. Last summer I had students join me at a diner and we did a study on the Holy Spirit. This summer I am inviting students to join me at my house for Philippians and Pancakes.

Tomorrow I will write about how volunteer Adult Youth Leaders can maximize their impact over the summer months.

Every summer we experiment and have fun. If you’re in youth ministry, I would love to hear some of the things that you do to change things up in the summer. Share some of your success stories, funny stories, as well as stories about things that were not so successful. 

Video: Natalia Speaking at Youth For Christ Banquet

Last night was one of the greatest highlights of my life as a father and as a youth pastor. I had the privilege of sharing the stage with my daughter at the Youth For Christ banquet as she shared about starting a Christian Club in her middle school. Our family is so proud of her!

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Natalia with banquet speaker Pastor Dimas Salaberrios of The Bronx

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Passing On a Pastoral Heart to Students

Last week my daughter Claudia ended up in the hospital because of some further illness triggered by a bout with the flu. Mom went with her to the Emergency Room, and when she was admitted to the hospital, I was the one who went along and enjoyed sleeping on the fabulously comfortable pull-out sofa. Fortunately, the doctors were able to identify the issues and she was only in the hospital for two days before being released, and she is on the mend.

As a youth pastor, I am usually the one going to visit people in the hospital. It’s not often that our family is on the receiving end of hospital visitations (for which I thank the Lord!). But this time we were. I was blessed as I witnessed my daughter receive texts and calls of concern and prayer. And, of course, when one is in the hospital, it’s always nice to have people drop by for a visit. Several of Claudia’s friends and folks from the church did so, and all were meaningful. As a youth pastor, a few specific ones that blessed me were several of our youth ministry adult volunteers. It was such a blessing to see my team caring for my own daughter in her time of need. Pastoral ministry at its finest.

One of the visits, in particular, stood out to me. Jen is one of our great volunteers. During Claudia’s stay in the hospital, Jen arranged to stop by for a surprise visit. It was about 4pm when I was awakened from my nap on that fabulously comfortable pull-out sofa by the sound of faint giggles. I opened my eyes to see Jen, Rachel (another one of our volunteers), and Liz and Faith, two of our students laughing at us as we had fallen asleep. I then used the remote control to make Claudia’s bed go up and down until she awoke as well, and we all had a good laugh. As they sat and visited, I took note of something awesome that was happening.

Hospital visits afford great opportunities for the exercise of pastoral care. In my philosophy of ministry, I seek to encourage and empower our entire team of leaders to care for students pastorally (Ephesians 4:11-12). Here were Jen and Rachel living out our calling as youth workers to care for students. But something else was going on here. Not only had they come to pastor Claudia themselves, they had brought along two students with them. Liz and Faith had come as friends of Claudia, to be sure. But they had come at the invitation and along with two of their youth leaders. Beyond simply pastoring Claudia, they were also providing hands-on mentoring to Liz and Faith.

Experiences are far more impactful than words. Jen and Rachel didn’t call up Liz and Faith and say, “Come on, let me mentor you in the art of hospital visitation.” They simply lived out my definition of a great youth worker: Live your life for Jesus, and take a student along for the ride. By inviting students along as they pastored, they were effectively passing on a pastor’s heart to students. I was blessed and very proud of them.

It’s not always possible, but my challenge to you today is to think one step beyond just caring for and supporting students yourself; whether it’s visiting them in the hospital or attending their games or events. Pick up the phone and invite a student or two to come along as well. It’s the best way to pass along the heart of the gospel to love God and love others to students.