Mixed Marriage? Broken Family? Or Something Else?

There is one body and one Spirit, just as we were called to the one hope in our calling. Ephesians 4:4

heartbreak_medIn a church I once served outside Our Nation’s Capital –  where elections impacted personal employment as well as national policy –  some of our ushers added an additional responsibility to their duties on Sunday mornings during election season:  they counted the bumper stickers in the church parking lot.  If the GOP bumper stickers seriously outnumbered the Democratic bumper stickers – it was time to include more progressive images and ideas in sermons and prayers.  If the Democratic bumper stickers seriously outnumbered the Republican bumper stickers, it was time to mention historically conservative examples.

Call me a fence sitter, but I believe that Scripture is an equal opportunity offender.  And we are called to be a Church that looks like the kingdom of God, with a rainbow of all races and ethnicities, political proclivities and ages, education levels, physical/mental abilities, and socioeconomic classes.

And speaking of rainbows . . .

I am fairly certain that I offended some of my friends and family last week when I joyously touted that enough Presbyteries had voted in favor of changing the definition of marriage in my denomination, the PCUSA.  The new definition is:

Marriage is a gift God has given to all humankind for the wellbeing of the entire human family. Marriage involves a unique commitment between two people, traditionally a man and a woman, to love and support each other for the rest of their lives.

These are fighting words – heartbreaking words – to some people I love.  They are also words that make many of my sisters and brothers weep with joy.  For a long, long time, faithful followers of Jesus who are also LBGTQ have waited for the rest of the church to experience an Acts of the Apostles moment:

  • Remember when God made food clean that had once been considered profane?
  • Remember when the Council of Jerusalem debated whether or not the uncircumcised could be saved?  There was “no small dissension” about this issue and “they parted company” over the issue.
  • Remember that in the discussion about whether or not being uncircumcised was okay, it was not okay to “fornicate”?

Being able to marry the person you love – if we are concerned about fornication – seems to be a good and holy thing.

Yes, we can argue about these issues (and God knows we have.)  We can stay together as a church in spite of mixed perspectives on the interpretation of Scripture.  We could “break up” (again) as a Church.  Or we could do something completely different – although I don’t know what that might be.

I believe that God continues to speak.  (Thank you United Church of Christ friends.)  And I believe that sometimes it’s a good thing to break up the family. And I also believe that God still calls us to wrestle angels.

And I believe it’s imperative to be a good sport – whether we are talking about March Madness or denominational policy-making.  May God have mercy upon us.  May God continue to speak.

Image source unknown.

One Mother, One Daughter, Two Midwives, & a Big Sister

“The stories we tell our children shape what they believe to be possible—which is why at Passover, we must tell the stories of the women who played a crucial role in the Exodus narrative.”

Nikki Lugo tattoo 2014Passover is a couple weeks away, but The Notorious RBG and Rabbi Lauren Holtzblatt have given us food for thought as Jews and Christians move from slavery to freedom,  from darkness to light, from death to life.

Just as Shonda Rhimes said here, it’s essential to see ourselves in stories.  If we read and watch stories that show People Like Us, we are inspired to step up and be who God created us to be.

(Note:  It’s an underrated miracle when, for example, a young black girl becomes a brain surgeon even when she has never in her life seen a black female doctor until she herself goes to medical school.  I am humbled to have been part of that miracle too.  I never heard a woman preach until I went to seminary.)

It’s much easier to step up into our calling if there is a story that teaches our daughters that they can carry forward the traditions of the women who went before them.  We easily forget that a brave woman gave birth to Moses, assisted by two wily midwives.  We downplay the fact that without a daughter of privilege and a daughter of slavery teaming up, there would be no exodus out of Egypt.

As Spring begins today, it’s a lovely time to prepare for a new Exodus.  Who are we mentoring?  Who is watching us and how are we encouraging them to be who God has called them to be?  Who needs a fresh vision to escape some 21st Century version of slavery?

Image is a tattoo created by Nikki Lugo after RBG’s 35 page dissent against the 2014 Supreme Court ruling  that Hobby Lobby could deny contraception coverage to employees as part of the company’s health insurance plan.

What’s Next for the Church? (Shonda is Helpful)

Human Rights Campaign Los Angeles Gala 2015I write this after the NEXTChurch National Conference in Chicago (which I attended) and the White Privilege Conference in Louisville (which I didn’t attend.) Whatever the Spirit leads God’s people to be and do in the coming years, it will be surely be more racially and ethnically diverse. At least in the United States, people with white skin will no longer be the majority by 2043. On July 1, 2012, non-white births first outnumbered white births according to the US Census Bureau.

So, this is a thing.

This is the new normal (or maybe the old normal depending on who you are and where you live.)

Shonda Rhimes has created several popular televisions shows, all of which include characters who are as diverse as any on television: white, black, brown, olive, LGBTQ, straight, old, young. She doesn’t do it to be politically correct. She does it to show what normal looks like.

What Shonda Rhimes said on March 15, 2015 at the Human Rights Campaign Gala in LA should be required reading:

I really hate the word “diversity”. It suggests something…other. As if it is something…special. Or rare.

Diversity!

As if there is something unusual about telling stories involving women and people of color and LGBTQ characters on TV.

I have a different word: NORMALIZING.

I’m normalizing TV.

I am making TV look like the world looks. Women, people of color, LGBTQ people equal WAY more than 50% of the population. Which means it ain’t out of the ordinary. I am making the world of television look NORMAL.

You can read her entire speech here and I hope you will.

I have a couple of random thoughts:

  • My denomination is predominantly white. This is not a shocking news flash. Either we are okay with this or we are not.
  • My denomination is full of church people who are faithful and good and yet we are also racist – either softly or hard-core.
  • We white people are offended when somebody refers to “white privilege.” We take offense. We feel attacked.
  • We assume that television characters and magazine models and textbook illustrations will look like us.
  • We white people generally fail to notice that security officers do not follow us around in nice stores assuming we might steal something, that police are not called when we are walking in nice neighborhoods assuming we don’t live there, that teachers do not assume our children are in gangs.

Genuinely getting to know each other melts assumptions. And when we hear stories of exclusion, there is going to be some confessing to do when we realize that we were the ones who excluded other people. There will be pain to acknowledge.

On March 17, 2015, my denomination officially made marriage “between two people, traditionally a man and a woman” the law of our denominational land. This is our new normal, not because we are trying to “mock God” or “change God’s Word” but because Scripture is a living Word. But we have excluded faithful people who were created to love in ways that are – perhaps – not like we were created. We have excluded some of God’s children who deserve to be included.

Many of my brothers and sisters will disagree with this understanding of Scripture. In a Bible that has – through the ages – been used to support slavery, forbid interracial marriage, and force women to stay in abusive situations, Acts 10 helps us understand what is indeed the Next Church. What we have often called unclean, our Creator has made clean.

By God’s grace, diversity is not only our future. It’s the way things are now. And it’s a good and holy thing. But we have a lot of work to do.

Image of Shonda Rhimes. And really, read her whole speech at the 2015 Human Rights Campaign Gala last weekend.

Is It Faithful to Be Corporate?

The national gathering of NEXT Church is here in Chicago next week and PCUSA Headquarters PCUSAleaders from all over will be in town to talk about the new ways God is calling us to be The Church. My hope is that the results will be more impactful than mere talk.

I had a bad attitude about NEXT Church when it started because it felt uncomfortably corporate. In other words, there were those of us who had been talking and writing about shifts in 21st C. church for a while but we were serving small steeple congregations without a lot of prestige in the greater denomination. At least in the beginning of NEXT Church, the organizers were from the largest congregations in the denomination who began to agree that some adaptation was needed in the way we are The Church together. Personally speaking, it felt like church transformation wasn’t taken seriously until the big churches started to take it seriously.

So next week, we meet in one of the largest Presbyterian church buildings in the U.S.A. with folks from small, medium-sized, and large (corporate-sized) congregations, along with seminarians, new church planters, and specialized ministers.

At the risk of stirring up the 99%, I’d like to speak a supportive word about The Corporate Church. “Corporate” is an interesting word:

  • Mainline Christians often include corporate prayers spoken in unison in our liturgies.
  • The PCUSA is a rich denomination – financially – because many of the corporate business leaders have been Presbyterian historically.

And yet “corporate” is a dirty word for many of us. Some second career clergy friends were once “corporate” before hearing God’s call to professional ministry, and we who didn’t take that path look upon them with both respect and admiration. We respect that they’ve given up six figure salaries for clergy wages and we admire their prowess in financial management skills – something we English majors lack.

I recently heard a business school professor – who is also a follower of Jesus – speak about being a Christian in the corporate world, and because of her position, I don’t want to reveal her name or school, so I’ll call her DCL (Devout Corporate Leader.) She believes in markets. She believes that creating wealth also creates jobs and opportunities for the poor. She also believes that we can create businesses that serve people well. Numbers are her friend.

The 21st Century Church – as I’ve been known to say – must be less about numbers (attendance and cash) than about relationships (spiritual growth and community impact.) But numbers can be our friends too if they are more about impact than ego.

DCL believes that the goal of management training is to create low ego/high impact leaders. Do we want Big Numbers so that we can brag about the size of our congregation. (1000s of members = “I am a big deal“) or do we want Big Numbers because it means that more people are experiencing transformation in the name of Jesus? (1000s of members = “We are profoundly changing the community to be more on earth as it is in heaven.”)

It’s really okay to “be corporate” if we are low ego/high impact leaders. In fact this is one of the huge shifts we need to be making. Big Steeple Churches that are all about the pastors’ and members’ egos are a quick decade away from closing if they do not become about making disciples and transforming the community for good. And small congregations can make a tremendous missional impact if we stop feeling shameful about being smaller in numbers than we were in 1962. Who cares if we have 50 or 500 in worship, if we are reaching broken people and bringing hope?

Corporate doesn’t have to mean cold and commercial. For the church it can mean unified and communal. Together we can do more. But it can’t be about ego.

Image of the corporate headquarters of the Presbyterian Church (USA) in Louisville, KY.

Magazines for the Ages

As you read this, I am easing into my sixtieth year.  magazine mosaic

I read Seventeen magazine when I was 14 and AARP when I was 45, so maybe age-specific magazines don’t necessary reach their intended ages.   I remember loving Good Housekeeping as a teenager when I had no house to keep. Today Seventeen magazine strikes me as terrifying.   I vaguely remember when it was about hair styles and clothes, but it seems icky now.

The older I get, the more it seems that statements about age are not necessarily about age.  I wrote a post a while back that felt hurtful to some readers.  I didn’t mean for that to happen.  Honestly, it’s true that many 60-something pastors need to retire, but it’s not as much about age as it’s about energy.  I spent last week with my preaching group which includes a few 60-somethings.  But they are still energetic, ready to learn new things, and willing to try new ways to be the church.

It’s not about age.  It’s about energy.  The truth is that we get tired as we age. The pastor who was ordained at 27 and serves the institutional church until she is 67 potentially preaches through The Common Lectionary (Years A, B, & C) over thirteen times.  How many new things can we preach afresh about John the Baptist?

I know 40-something pastors who basically phone it in.  They need to move on. And it’s possible to be a 50-something pastor who also needs to hang up the clergy stole for now.  Maybe – after many years in professional ministry – many of us just need a sabbatical.  We become cynical after spending countless hours in meetings that achieve nothing transformational.  We become pessimistic, perhaps, after giving our lives to “grow the church” only to find that our culture is changing and – no matter what we do, it seems – our congregations are only growing smaller.  It’s disheartening to admire creative colleagues who turn out to be misconduct pastors.

And yet . . .

the Spirit continues to infuse dry bones and lead the old to dream dreams while our sons and daughters prophesy.  God speaks through secular periodicals and nature and random comments made by a stranger on the street.  I’m feeling pretty energized today.  I hope you are too.

God Still Creates Cool Stuff

Having a sense of wonder is not just for children.  God still creates cool stuff and the more we learn about it, the more our ministry is enhanced.
Scientific American Mosaic

Just as Jesus used nature created by God to explain things – seeds, sheep,
lilies – we can find countless images in science to help us interpret Scripture. Preachers love sermon illustrations.  There are hundreds of them here.

God uses everything to point to what’s True and 21st Century preachers can also find illustrations in science that will enhance our interpretation.  Did you know that there are “tongue experts” (James 3:6-10) and provocative studies about ashes (Genesis 3:16)?  Spiritual practices as well as bad habits can be understood by considering how our brains work.  And remembering that Abram was 75 years old when called to leave Haram is enhanced by knowing that indeed some of our elders are more nimble than younger generations.

Some of us are big fans of this website (although I’m uncomfortable spelling out the word.)  God created an unspeakably interesting world and for the sake of the Gospel, let’s read about it.

Image is a mosaic of Scientific American magazine covers.

Secular Magazines Are Our Friends: Fast Company

Fast Company MosaicClergy, seminarians, and other church leaders often look to denominational resources, churchy blogs (like this one) and theological periodicals for inspiration. I’m not suggesting that we don’t read those offerings.

But just as it’s important to get out of the Church Bubble in our recreational endeavors (take a Thai cooking class!), it is essential to broaden our reading horizons professionally.

Secular magazines are an excellent resource for figuring out fresh ideas for congregational leadership, and – with the NEXT Church National Gathering around the corner for me and my PCUSA colleagues – this week’s posts will focus on secular magazines we should be reading as we consider what the Next Church might look like.

I love Fast Company magazine.  It’s dense with ideas, filled with recommendations for further reading and research, and decidedly not churchy. But many articles, graphs, and lists speak provocatively to Church World.

The annual issue featuring The World’s 50 Most Innovative Companies is currently on the racks and while their “20 Lessons of Innovation for 2015″ do not completely resonate with management of religious non-profit organizations, many of these lessons actually apply well.

Those lessons – by Editor Robert Safian – include these:

1. “Inspiration needs execution.”  What drives me crazy in Church World is that congregations hire consultants or participate in denominational programs but then Nothing Happens.  A report sits on a bookshelf.  A new mission plan is considered, but no execution occurs.  I believe that – after the consultation – every congregation needs ongoing coaching to prompt real action.  We need to be held accountable.  How are we moving towards the vision?  Who is tending to the necessary details?  We need congregational coaches.

2. “Tomorrow is too slow.”  Remember what Jesus said about not knowing the day God will show up?  We in the church move as if God will never show up. Call me impatient, but there is an urgency about serving those who are hungry or broken or lonely.  Let’s do this!

3. ” . . . But great ideas may need time.”  We can’t change congregational culture, heal from misconduct, or figure out who God is calling us to be without serious discernment and prayer.  One leader cannot carry the vision alone.  We need buy-in from the whole community, or at least from a substantial part of the community.  This takes time.

4. “Innovative cultures are rewarding.”  Fast Company is talking about financial rewards here.  But I’m thinking about spiritual rewards, emotional rewards, and cosmic rewards.  Imagine a culture in which lives are being changed for good and neighborhoods are thriving.  Yes, please.

5. “Failure does have a price.”  Some efforts fall short.  Some are expensive.  Sometimes “performance” doesn’t align with “aspirations.”  Some congregations ruthlessly punish and shame those who fail after trying something new.  Yes, there is a risk.  But show me a congregation that doesn’t try new ways of being the church and I’ll show you a dying congregation.

6. “Millennials are making waves.”  Show some love to  Millennials.  “This demographic cohort is often caricatured,” says Safian, but they are smart and interesting and super capable.  Point them to leadership positions.

7. “Values are valued.” “Next gen customers appreciate enterprises with soul,” writes Safian.  Amen.

8. “Bold ideas are global.”  How are we connecting with sisters and brothers in other parts of the world?  I’m not talking about sending them checks.  I’m talking about relationships.

9. “Every company is a tech company.”  Or in our context: Every spiritual community is a tech community.  We connect digitally.  Apps improve our lives. We don’t use social media to be trendy.  We use it to connect.

10. “World-changing ideas are bubbling.”  Do we imagine partnering with others (maybe even inter-faith partnerships!) to serve trafficking victims, refugees, people with PTSD, or basic hunger?  There are some cool organizations that would love to partner with us.

This post could be much longer as I could share so much Good Stuff from Fast Company magazine.  I read it so you don’t have to.  But if you want more . . .

Image of assorted Fast Company covers.

Not-So-Good Reasons to Feel Ashamed

O my God, in you I trust;
   do not let me be put to shame. Psalm 25:2a

My Roundtable preaching group is in Austin discussing Brene Brown and shameWarholized Brene Brown this week.  Not only is shame is a repeated issue in the Bible (Hannah’s infertility, Hagar’s abandonment, the woman at the well, Peter’s denial)  but our pews are filled with people living in shame:  the woman who is infertile, the family whose child is mentally ill, the parents whose child didn’t get into college, the man who was a victim of abuse.  Church can be a circus of secret shame.

But one of the issues I often observe is that long time, faithful church people seem to carry shame about their congregations:

  • “Our choir used to tour in Europe every summer but now we don’t even have a decent tenor.”
  • “We used to have 300 children in the Sunday School but now we have less than ten.”
  • “We used to have three pastors on staff and now we can only afford one.”

There is other shame, of course:  the shame that befalls a congregation whose pastor has been charged with a crime, the shame some feel when their denomination takes a stand that is opposed to their own understanding of Scripture.  But that’s not what I’m talking about here.

As congregations decrease in size and budgets are smaller, are we embarrassed that our church is not what it used to be?  Does it feel like we are not enough as a congregation?  And what is enough?

My hunch is that when a congregation is a safe community for members to be vulnerable, it’s also a church that feels unashamed about who they are as a congregation.  In other words, if we can be vulnerable with each other in the church, then we can more easily talk about the realities of Who We Are now:

  • Yes, we are much smaller than we were 25 years ago.
  • Yes, it’s true that we no longer take annual mission trips to Malawi.
  • Yes, we have fewer children and our choir is smaller.

But if we are making a difference in our communities, if we are offering solid spiritual formation, if we are serving the poor and lonely in our community, then we will not care about numbers quite as much.  We will not be ashamed of who we are as a church because we will be serving a clear and holy purpose as we are right now.

If our current ministry is ineffective, we will naturally focus on our golden past.

And in ineffective churches, there are actually some good reasons to feel a little shame:

  • When our church only serves our own.
  • When we wring our hands over meaningless decisions.
  • When we speak to each other with sarcasm and harshness.
  • When we grab power (such as it is, in the church:  “But I always chair that committee.“)
  • When we blame each other – especially the pastor – for our plight.
  • When we bicker.
  • When we trust no one, especially our leaders.
  • When we say we are “friendly” but ignore guests and strangers.

There are very faithful small churches.  There are exceptional congregations with no choir, no Sunday School, no children, and no FT pastor.  We need not feel ashamed that we are no longer what we once were.  By God’s grace, we can become something even better – unless we will not let go of the past.

Image of warholized Brene Brown.

We Have More Choices Than We Realize

There are more than 87,000 Starbucks options on their beverage menu. (Hello, Grande, Iced, Sugar-Free, Vanilla Latte With Soy Milk & a Caramel Drizzle.)

Starbucks choices

But life is not a coffee shop.

Finding ourselves unsatisfied and unable to make a change seems to be increasingly common.  It could be true that we simply need to become content when things are not “perfect.”  Or it could be true that we have more choices than we realize.

Heard in Church World from Pastors:

  • I can’t retire until I’m 70.
  • I don’t have enough experience to take on that position.
  • It’s too late to seek a new call at 58.
  • I don’t have much energy left in this ministry, but what else would I do?
  • I’m too old to learn how to do ministry a new way.
  • I can’t afford to work part-time.
  • I could never work with an old white guy.
  • I could never work with a tattooed, non-binary twenty-something.

Heard in Church World from other leaders:

  • We don’t have the capacity to offer Sunday School any more.
  • We can’t afford an associate pastor.
  • Who has time to volunteer?
  • We’re not a church without a  Wednesday night Bible study.
  • Can you imagine trying to be a church without a choir?
  • We have nothing in common with the neighbors.
  • Nobody wants to come to our Chili Dinner.
  • What is those people come through our doors?

Maybe we aren’t really stuck.  Maybe we just haven’t broadened the possibilities. (Who ever dreamed 50 years ago people would put caramel in their coffee?)

What I Wish I Knew When I Started in Youth Ministry

Note:  Betsy Hanzelin is a Rock Star youth leader, and in these days when many youth programs are fragile, I invited her to be the guest blogger today.  How does she do it?  Read and learn.

fccwindow-8x10-913x400

These are my reflections after 22+ years of working with teenagers, churches, families and volunteers.    I didn’t go to seminary, but I’ve been in the trenches and figured some stuff out as I went along.

Relationships are key to your ministry, and your relationship with your students should not be at the top of your list.

  1. God: It goes without saying that you need to be working on your relationship with God. You can’t lead people on a journey that you’re not on as well.  All else stems from this (and sorry to be so cliché, but it’s true)
  2. Volunteers: Grow a team of people who love God and love teenagers to serve with you. I spend 40% of my budget and at least that much of my time and energy on building and maintaining relationships with my adult and youth volunteer team!    The time spent in teaching, planning and playing with my volunteers means I have people willing to return year after year because this ministry gives them a place to serve with people they care about and enjoy spending time with.  Younger youth look forward to the day they can be a staffer, because they recognize that we love each other and it’s a bunch of fun.
  3. Senior Pastor: When I have a great relationship with my Senior Pastor, I am energized!   I know I am free to try new things and he/she will have my back.  And when I fail, she/he is there to help pick up the pieces, encourage me to keep trying, and defend me when parents complain.   When I don’t have that relationship I feel afraid to try things, isolated and alone and my ministry suffers.  Seek out regular time to check in with your Pastor and be honest about the joys and sorrows of your job.
  4. Parents are often super busy and details like permissions slips or trip deposits are way down on their to-do lists. Cut parents slack and look for ways to support them in the task of parenting teenagers (which is really rough).   Hold events where they can be included and they don’t have to pay, cook, clean or give the right answers. (parent dinner night; mom/daughter conversations about beauty, self-esteem, acceptance;  A family Capture the Flag night; etc.)  Communicate through emails, texts, Facebook posts, postcards, calendars, the church newsletter, etc. on the off chance that one of those might catch their attention and keep them informed about church stuff.  Answer their phone calls, emails, texts.   Don’t view them as adversaries, but as partners … even when they don’t live up to your expectations.    Parents are the #1 influence on the spiritual lives of their children and they need your help and support!
  5. Students: It may be surprising that this is so far down my list, but besides knowing everyone’s name and some of what makes them tick, I can’t be expected to have close relationships with all my students.  And they don’t necessarily want that either.  That’s why I rely on my volunteers!   They can attempt to forge those relationships with everyone.  I do have close relationships with some of my students, there are those who are naturally drawn to me and who I “click with” deep down.   My goal is for every student to have that “someone” and know that when they aren’t there their absence is noticed and they are missed.  It just can’t always be me.

My Stuff

Be authentic.  Teenagers always turn away from people they know are full of crap.  They respond and are drawn to people who are real and honest about who they are, what they love, and where they falter.  Admit when you’ve made a mistake, apologize often, accept the consequences of your actions and don’t hide any of it.  Be willing to say, “I don’t know, but I’ll try to figure it out”.  Tell stories of your successes and failures.  Speak of your strong faith, and those areas were you are uncertain and/or doubt.  (But also set healthy boundaries … don’t overshare or burden your team or students with stuff that isn’t appropriate).

Take care of yourself.  I’ve met many youth workers who are a hot mess.  You weren’t called to this ministry to kill yourself.  Sabbath is not a suggestion, it’s an imperative.  Hot baths are good, long showers are good, chocolate is good, catching up with an old friend is good, time with your spouse or partner is essential.   Eating well (so hard, I know) and exercising are good.  Don’t be that worn out, tired, mentally frazzled person that shows up when too much is going on.  Be that beloved child of God who needs to take care of themselves so they can do the work they are called to.

Fun is not a bad word.  For the middle years of my ministry, I outlawed the use of the word “Fun”. Fun could not be the goal for a lesson or event.  After all, I only have them for six years and there is so much that I want to teach them before they leave for the scary, secular world of college!  Jesus didn’t die on a cross for us to have fun or be happy!  But I was ignoring my number one goal … building relationships.  I’ve learned that fun is not a dirty word, and that providing opportunities to just have fun together is what binds us together.  My most favorite activity is our yearly Work Camp Nightly Volleyball game.  Everyone plays, no score is kept, each person gets to serve, it doesn’t matter how many are on your team or where you stand on the court, and if you don’t know how to serve, someone will take a 5 minute game time-out to teach you (and you get 20 tries before we move on).    I never set these rules, they just organically happened when I allowed space for fun to take over.   And Jesus might have been willing to die on a cross for these types of all-inclusive games to occur! Don’t always take yourself and your job too seriously.

Grace is the word.  Give it like crazy.  Give it to your Pastor, the parents, your volunteers, your students, your congregation.   Cut people breaks.  Give your volunteers time off.  Forgive when people screw up.  And give grace to yourself as well.  Don’t just preach it, do it often and without hesitation.

Congregational Stuff

Keep your Congregation informed.  When they don’t hear about the good stuff we are doing and the challenges we are facing, they write us off.  You are the advocate for teenagers to your church.   If you need more money, volunteers, resources, space, etc. you will have a much easier time with those requests if your congregation is invested in your ministry.  But they aren’t going to walk into your office and say, “Tell me about the youth”.   Cheerlead for your youth, make spaces for them to participate in worship, hang pictures in the hallways of their crazy activities, feature a student each month in the church newsletter, and ask them to write summaries or give talks following meaningful trips or retreats.  Anything that helps the congregation know and care about who they are and what they do will help when you need them to back you up and invest in your ministry.

Getting youth to worship is a difficult battle.  Churches often believe their youth ministry is weak if they don’t see youth in Sunday worship.   I’ve tried for years to think about ways to get my youth to come the hour or so early to attend worship before youth groups.   But they just don’t, and often times their parents don’t either.    Teenagers like to sleep in when they can and often Sunday is the only day they are not scheduled like crazy.  IF they do go, their friends aren’t there and they often get dirty looks if they are dressed in t-shirts and jeans.   Traditional worship isn’t touching them down deep.    But none of this means teens are not faithful, deep, inspiring or in touch with the living God.     They are, they just don’t often find that in worship.  Choose your battles wisely on this one.

Youth doesn’t have to happen on Sundays.  Tap into the pulse of your families and find out what works for them.  The traditional models aren’t working anymore in much of the country and we need to be in touch of the demands on students and their families.  Be creative and willing to try something new.    If you need to run things through a Board or Committee, bring those results and preferably a few parents with you as your present new models, dates, and times for approval.  Congregations who are unwilling to meet the needs of families are losing members and frustrating Youth workers.

Good luck, God bless and be ready for the best job ever!
Betsy has been the Director of Youth Ministries with Flossmoor Community Church in IL since 1992.  The image is a stained glass window from their sanctuary featuring Jesus going out into the world.