The Value of Networking

This past week I had the opportunity to be part of a coaching cohort that was provided by our friends at Slingshot. It was one of the best things I have ever done for myself when it comes to ministry and growth as I came away being encouraged, challenged, and refreshed after what has been quite a difficult season.

This cohort was originally intended to start in late 2019, got bumped to March 2020, moved to fall of 2020, then to spring 2021, and finally October of 2021. While these setbacks and schedule changes were frustrating when they happened, looking at this past week I truly believe God had every intention of moving the cohort to this moment because He knew how many of us needed it in this season.

One of the many things I walked away with was the understanding that community and networking is highly important in our ministry contexts. Many of know and affirm this, but like everyone else over the last year and a half, have struggled to make it a reality. My hope and prayer for each of you reading this is that networking and community become a priority for you and that we radically pursue it in our lives. But I think for some of us, we may be curious as to why it’s important, and that’s what I want to share with you today. I simply want to point out a few key reasons networking is so important and hopefully encourage you to be a part of this as it is highly important to your sustainability and the sustainability of your ministry.

Vulnerability and transparency.

As we gathered at this cohort I was reminded of how good it is to be raw and honest with others. Many of us had been experiencing similar things over the last year and as a result we we able to be transparent and real with one another. What happened was not a moment of critique but a time of support, encouragement, and care for one another. As members of the body of Christ we are called to love and care for one another, but we can only fully do this when we are honest and transparent with one another. When we build networks and relationships, they help us to be real and honest with others who care about us and understand.

Community.

I think we all recognize the value of community, but if I am being honest, I think over the last year I was missing out on it. When you have a group of people who know you, care about you, are going through similar things, and can relate to what you are experiencing, you feel known and loved. This type of community isn’t always the easiest to find, but when you do it will help you in amazing ways. You will feel heard, you will gain insight, you will have people in your corner, and you will know you are not alone. Community is one of the best things that can come out of networking with others.

Being challenged.

At our cohort we talked about the complexities of leading in ministries and we took some deep and challenging looks at our current ministries, systems, and visions. And if I am being truly honest, this was really difficult for me. I was forced to work through areas I was weak in, to think about failures, and to look at areas I needed to cut. These types of conversations are never easy and are really challenging. But because of these conversations, I was forced to think critically about why I was doing what I was doing. It forced me to be reflective and to rethink what we were doing in our ministry. These types of interactions are not meant to be critical but instead to challenge us. When you are doing life with a community of people they will challenge you to grow, they will push you to adapt, they will provide helpful critiques, and they will be in your corner. Being challenged isn’t easy but it is necessary to help us grow and mature personally and within our ministries.

Personal growth.

One of the many things I loved about this past week was the ways I was able to grow and mature. I never want to get to the point where I feel like I know it all or have done everything, especially as it pertains to ministry. This cohort helped to challenge and make me more self-reflective as we took various leadership and personality assessments. Allowing for these assessments and godly men and women to speak into my life helped me to see areas that needed growth, it helped me learn how to be a better leader, and how to relate to other people in a more intentional way. When you engage in intentional community, networking, and education with people who care, you will see yourself grow in wonderful ways.

Collaboration and new perspectives.

During the past year I have missed this part of networking. And if I am being honest, I think we can become comfortable and complacent because we are used to the status quo. We do things one way because we have always done them that way. They may not be bad or wrong, but when we network with others we see things differently and in new and exciting ways. Networking affords you the opportunity to rethink, adapt, and improvise. You learn new tricks, find exciting opportunities, and build your toolbox. Collaboration helps you to do your job better as you are able to grow and experience new opportunities.

Shared passions and unity.

As I sat with youth workers from around the country last week, it was so evident that we all had shared passions. We all love Jesus, we all love students, and we all desire that our students love and walk with Jesus. This was so encouraging and refreshing. It was a moment where it was good to know I wasn’t alone. I knew I had a team and family of likeminded individuals around the country. People who shared the same mission and had the same heart for students that I do. This was something that I believe we all need. We all need encouragement and to know we aren’t alone, and networking affords us that opportunity.

My prayer for all of you reading this is that you know that you have a tribe. That there are people who love and care about students like you do. That you know there are people who understand and can relate to what you are going through. That you know that you are not alone. At the very least, my hope is you have found that refuge here at Kalos, and that you know we are in your corner. If there is anything we can be praying for or encouraging you with, please do not hesitate to reach out because we are a part of your network.

How to Work Well on a Team [Part 2]

Last week we began sharing some insights into how to work well on a team and this week we want to continue the conversation by providing a few more ideas. While none of these ideas is a guaranteed fix-all, utilizing them together will help you as an individual and your team grow and mature as you seek to serve God together. Today’s ideas are more directed toward self-reflection and growth but can also be applied and embraced within the team.

Strive to enhance the team not individual goals.

For most of us it is easy to default to seeking our own goals even when we are on a team. This isn’t always from a place of pride or ego, but from simple human nature and the way culture has shaped us to think of ourselves. But Christ has always challenged us to put others before ourselves, and Paul actually encourages us to die to our own desires to elevate Christ.

When it comes to working on a team we need to consider these truths and be willing to put aside our own desires and wants, seeking to elevate the goals of the team and the ministry you serve. It isn’t about self but instead about the team that is working to impact the kingdom of heaven through the ministry of which you are a part. This is not to say that your personal goals aren’t worthwhile or important, but instead to interpret them within the overall mission and vision of the ministry team.

Be for one another.

Being for one another is something we should focus on within each aspect of our lives. Whether your team is present or not, you should seek to speak well of them. We shouldn’t talk poorly about each other or try to point fingers because that will fracture the unity of your team. Being mindful of how we speak and represent one another will help us be for one another in all moments.

It may be easier to be for one another when the team is present, but your conversations outside of the team should also reflect that mentality. If you are not honoring and supporting one another in your private conversations then you are not for your teammates. I am not saying you cannot vent or share how you’ve felt with those who you are close with, but be mindful of what you say. Is it simply sharing frustration or is it being critical of your team?

Pray for each other.

Whether your team is united or not, praying for one another should be a high priority. Praying for one another helps to unite a divided team and brings strength to one that is already united. When you pray for others you see them as real people rather than just a teammate or someone who frustrates you. Prayer allows for teams to be for each other but also to be intentional in how they relate and work with each other. Praying for your teammates allows for you to care for them and love them as Jesus does, and is a way to protect your team from faltering by relying on God to carry you through all moments.

Have important conversations in person.

This is actually a piece of advice I give to everyone when it comes to relationships. Texts, emails, and even phone conversations can often be ambiguous and they tend to embolden people due to distance and the inability to actually see the other person. In many ways, conversations that aren’t in person allow us to think of the other person in a non-relational way. We have actually dehumanized them because we feel empowered and emboldened to say things we normally wouldn’t in person.

When you have important conversations in person it allows you to see, hear, empathize, and sympathize with the other person(s) involved. You are able to read facial expressions, observe body language, and hear inflections and emotions rather than trying to interpret them from afar. You see the person as a real individual and it challenges you to lovingly speak truth while caring for them in the same moment.

Be willing to be humble.

Sometimes when we work on a team we may not always be humble, not because we don’t want to, but because we aren’t always thinking that way. On a team we may have a propensity toward trying to win, or push our ideas, or think we know better than the rest of the team. These feelings aren’t always intentional because our society seeks to cultivate a “me first” focus and direction. But if we don’t seek to understand our emotional and relational intelligence we could actually harm relationships with our team. When working with a team be willing to be humble and choose to die to yourself. Be willing to elevate the team. Be willing to not always have your ideas be the ones that are chosen. Be willing to encourage and love your team. This type of approach will allow for your team dynamic to flourish and for relationships to be strengthened.

Try new things and ideas.

As we continue to grow and mature sometimes we get stuck in our ways and habits. We have developed our rhythms and ways of doing things. But the beauty of working on a team is hearing about and participating in new ideas and methods. So take time to try new things, be willing to adapt, and allow yourself to be stretched. These opportunities will help you grow as an individual and a leader, all while working with and encouraging your team.

How to Work Well on a Team [Part 1]

When it comes to working on a team, whether a student ministry team or an all church team or even as a volunteer, there are unique challenges and opportunities that come with that role. Often these challenges and opportunities will manifest in different ways with each individual and that can make the team dynamic feel stretched or challenging. The question we must be thinking through as members and leaders of these teams is how can we set them up for and contribute to their success so the Gospel ultimately succeeds. Today I hope to share with you some insight that I have learned from working on teams that will prayerfully help you and the teams you lead or are a part of be successful on your mission to reach people for Jesus.

Communicate clearly and consistently.

When it comes to being on a team one of the biggest things to focus on is clear and consistent communication. What you say, what you don’t say, what your body and facial expressions communicate is highly important. As you work with a team think about how what you say, how you say it, why you say it, and when you say it is received by those on your team. This will help you to be self-reflective and to think through motive and purpose behind what you are communicating. Clear and consistent communication also removes ambiguity and allows for clarity amongst the team so everyone is on the same page and knows if there are differing emotions, expectations, or alignments within the team.

Listen well.

This is something that we can all work on. Listening well in life is important but as you are working with a team it is even more so because poor listening leads to poor communication and no clarity or direction. So as you come together as a team be willing to listen to and hear from other people well. Don’t come with presuppositions and do not presume that you know what they will say or motives behind what they do. Instead seek to understand by listening well and look at the heart of what is being communicated.

Be willing to help even if it isn’t your job.

Often times we can get hyper focused in our roles and only see what we need to do. Or we can make excuses about how we can’t help due to busyness, time, or it isn’t part of our job focus. But that is born out of selfishness, and instead we should die to ourselves and seek to help one another. When you see your facilities team setting up or cleaning up from an event (even if it isn’t one of your’s), seek to honor them by helping them out.

Now I will say this: being willing to help others does not mean you sacrifice everything in every moment. You need to make sure you are setting and honoring healthy boundaries to make sure you are staying healthy holistically. It is okay to say “no,” but we need to make sure it is for appropriate reasons and not out of selfishness.

Bring your ideas to the table.

Part of being on a team means that someone has seen your skills and value, otherwise you wouldn’t be on the team. So share your thoughts and ideas. An idea not shared won’t ever come to fruition. But it is also important to remember to value and encourage the ideas of others. It isn’t only about getting your ideas across to the team, but it also includes valuing and affirming other ideas that are presented. Ideas and thoughts from a team provide meaningful insight, creativity, and opportunities for growth and they should be valued.

Be honest with your thoughts and feelings.

This point goes hand in hand with the previous one. When it comes to working on a team, open and honest conversations are hugely important to the health and well-being of the team. So if you’re feeling a certain way about the team, a teammate, or even how you are viewed or utilized, make sure to share that. It isn’t easy in the moment, it will feel uncomfortable, and the tension may be palpable. But actually engaging with one another and being honest is hugely important and will make the team stronger.

I would like to offer a few suggestions on how to do this that will be helpful in having these conversations:

  • Be honest, but be full of grace and humility in doing so.
  • Do not assume or presume about others. Don’t walk into a conversation assuming the worst. Go in knowing God is at work and working all things out for His glory.
  • Be willing to receive. Sometimes you will need to be talked to about how you have been engaging others, and you need to be willing to receive that well.
  • Be willing to hear out your teammates. Hear what they have to say because at the end of the day they may not know how things were received or heard, and by doing this you can help shape future conversations and interactions.
  • Pray for your teammates. In these moments prayer is hugely important as it helps us focus on God and it centers our hearts in how we engage with others as a result.

Next week we will conclude this conversation and look at our final points on how to work well on a team. In the in-between time, what have you done or seen that helped teams work well together?

8 Questions Interviewees Should Ask

Many churches are hiring as the start of a new school year approaches, and youth workers are getting ready to candidate. For many youth workers there are always obvious questions heading into these interviews: what should I ask the church? Are there certain questions I should ask? Are there questions I shouldn’t bring up?

Today, my desire is to provide you with some questions that I believe every youth worker should ask as they prepare to take on a new role. Not all of these questions are easy nor will they necessarily be comfortable, but asking them will better prepare you in discerning if this is where God is calling you.

1. Why is the position open?

Sometimes in our excitement of being brought in to interview we forget to consider why there is an opening to begin with. It could be that the former person left under amicable terms or moved into a new role. Or the potential exists that the previous person was let go, left on poor terms, or did something wrong. Knowing this gives you insight into the church, its leadership, and the student program, which will better prepare you to serve and minister to them.

2. What are the expectations for this position?

Sometimes the written versus desired expectations of the church are different. Asking this question will help you to discern what is most important to the church, the position, and to the ministry. When you know the unwritten expectations you are able to step back and assess whether or not you can meet them and if you are the right fit for the position.

3. What are the expectations for my spouse?

This is a big question that should always be asked by married interviewees. Some churches believe that in hiring one spouse, the couple comes as a shared package. That isn’t true unless they are paying both of you for your time. Your spouse should be empowered to engage with the church in the ways they are gifted. If it’s student ministry, fantastic. If it’s leading elsewhere, praise God. Regardless, a church should never expect your spouse to work for free regardless of rationale.

4. Are there any sacred cows I need to be aware of?

Churches all value different things at varying degrees of importance. You may come from a background where methodology of communion wasn’t important, but the church you are interviewing at may only do intinction. Imagine the awkwardness that would come about if you lead communion in the “wrong” manner. This can be avoided by simply asking a question and seeking to understand what the church values. Asking this question doesn’t guarantee that you’ll find out all of the things that are valued, but it will give you an inside look to understand and discern what is important to this church body.

5. What does the salary and benefits package look like?

We aren’t always willing to ask this during an interview because it feels presumptuous and a bit prideful. But it is important for you to know what the church is offering to see if it is actually a livable wage and something that will not only provide for you and your family but also afford you the option to save.

6. Are you willing to negotiate?

We don’t often think in this way when it comes to serving in churches because we allow our calling to say we will give more than we are paid. While having a servant’s heart is a great quality, your time, effort, and work ethic are worthy of a proper salary. So be willing to counter an offer and ask for changes to the package. Don’t be greedy, but know that you have value. A great comparison is to research what local teachers make and compare the package you are offered to ones they receive.

7. How do you and how will you measure success for this position?

This is a great question to ask because it prepares you for how you will lead. One church may measure success by the number of attendees while another measures it by baptism and still another by simply maintaining the status quo. When you have this answer not only will you have clarity on where the ministry is desired to go, you will also be able to discern if this is in line with how you view ministry and success within ministry.

8. How many hours a week am I expected to work?

Many churches will offer a salaried position, to which many people default to understanding as a forty hour work week. But for some churches that isn’t the case. I have worked for churches where you are paid for forty hours but they want upwards of sixty hours a week. Be cautious with this mentality. A church should care about you and your family’s overall health, and if you aren’t spending time with them and having adequate downtime, you cannot be an effective leader in ministry. Our priorities should be our relationship with God, our relationship with our spouse, our relationship with our family, and then our relationship with our church and jobs.

What are some questions that you have found helpful to ask in the interview process?

Ways to Decompress & Rest

Feeling tired from the past nine months? Are the pressures of doing ministry becoming overwhelming? Has your home become more work place than refuge? For many of us in ministry, the reality of doing kingdom work in the middle of a pandemic has been taxing and overwhelming. The constant push-back, disappointment, discouragement, and cancellation of events and trips has been difficult to say the least.

These things compounded by our own emotions, personal struggles, and realities we are facing can be felt deep within our souls. The more I have reflected on this time in our lives the more I am convinced that we as ministers of the Gospel must be decompressing and modeling healthy rhythms for those we serve. But the great question before us is, how? How do we do this well? How do we do this when time is at a minimum? How do we do this when our sacred spaces have all but been removed?

Today, I want to share with you some ways to decompress and some tips for building healthy boundaries to protect your own spiritual, physical, emotional, and mental well-being.

Healthy ways to Decompress

  • Take a Sabbath. I wrote on this about a month ago, but the more I think about it and study Sabbath rest, the more I realize ministry leaders are not good at this. Let me encourage you to build this into your rhythms and find time to incorporate the Sabbath into your life.
  • Find a counselor. I could not be a bigger advocate for counseling. This is something that I firmly believe everyone in ministry should be doing. Having someone you can talk to who can help you think through difficult circumstances, help you see through the fog, and allow for you to have a place to freely express how you are feeling and where you are at is not only healthy, it is life giving as well.
  • Turn off your phone. This is a big one for me that I have talked about before. But so often our phones are tools that actually bring about more anxiety, worry, and doubt. Our phone buzzes with an email or text, and our hearts jump a bit. We see a message from a parent and we instantly wonder if everything is okay or if we messed up. While phones are great resources, they are also a direct avenue to our hearts and cause problematic emotions and thoughts to creep in. So consider turning your phone off or putting it on “do not disturb” on your days off. If this is something you believe you cannot do, then consider sharing that you will be doing this with your superiors, volunteers, and students so they know your rhythm. Or consider turning it off for a portion of your day off so you can focus on what’s important.
  • Find a new hobby that can be completed. This is something I have found helpful among ministry leaders. Our jobs are never done. Unlike many other careers where there is a metric to tell you when you have completed your goal or target, we don’t necessarily have that. What that means is we are constantly working to accomplish a task that is never fully accomplished. And that can be exceptionally frustrating. So consider taking up a hobby like lawn care, reading non-ministry related books, creating something, cooking, visiting all the new restaurants in your area, or trying to find all the ice cream places in your state and try them. Yes, some of these are crazy but who doesn’t like ice cream? But the point behind them is they all have a completion point. Doing something new that has an end goal will help you feel at piece completing something.
  • Write things down. This is huge, and I will be honest, I am not great at this. I don’t do well with journaling or putting my feelings to paper. But Elise is. She has journaled for as long as I have known her, and has done it for most of her life. Being able to write down how you feel, the tensions that are in your life, the victories, the low points, and just to put your thoughts to paper will help you to process and think through what is happening. It also gives you a resource to look back on and reflect on how God has answered your prayers throughout your life.
  • Pray. I am not throwing this in because we are Christians but because this is true. And I think often times we can be just as guilty as others when it comes to forgetting to go to God. We tend to do this in difficult times, but we must remember that we need to be praying constantly to build spiritual protection, awareness, and depth in our lives to help us weather the difficult moments. So let me encourage you to build healthy prayer rhythms into your life to help you decompress and process what is happening. Carve out time each day or throughout the day to take your requests, praises, and deepest longings of the heart to God.

Tips for Setting Boundaries

  • Be honest. Often times as leaders in ministry we aren’t honest with ourselves or our superiors about how we are doing. In order to actually be able to rest and decompress we need to be honest with ourselves that we need it. And we must bring in others to avoid getting to the place of exhaustion and burnout.
  • Take a spiritual checkup. This is so important for us as leaders. How is your spiritual walk with Jesus doing? And I am not asking if you are reading your Bible and going to church. I am asking if you are feeling nourished and refreshed by God’s Word and by His Spirit. Do you still find joy in your walk with Jesus? Is it something that is feeding your soul? These types of questions will help us to see where we are at in our relationship with Jesus and how we answer will be reflected into our physical lives as well (i.e., no time with Jesus leads to frustration and exhaustion, time with Jesus helps to remove the stress and weariness).
  • Bring in your spouse or close friends. Our spouses are wonderful people. Without them we wouldn’t know what to do. And our spouses know when we aren’t doing okay. But for some reason, we try to shield them from how we are doing and in doing so, alienate them and cause them to worry. Our spouses love us and we are a team. So be honest with them. Let them walk with you. Allow for them to be a sounding board of wisdom, discernment, and encouragement. If you are unmarried, find a close friend or group of friends you trust who will walk with you and you can bring in. Don’t try to go through this journey alone.
  • Ask for help. It is okay to admit when you need help. If you are feeling overwhelmed or like there is too much to accomplish, bring others in. Ask your volunteers to help with things. Consider bringing in some of your students to help run different aspects of your program or to organize that one closet that is always a mess. Go to your supervisor and be honest with them that you need help. Allow for others to step in and help you when it is needed.

The Importance of Sabbath

This past week I was asked a question that I’ve been asked often during this season: how are you really doing? As I was preparing to answer with my usual, “I am just taking it one day at a time” response, I was hit with just how spent I had been feeling. I was busier than ever and with more and more being placed on my plate, I was just feeling overwhelmed.

Later on, I began to process the reasons why I was feeling this way. Sure, I have been putting in more hours. Yes, ministry looks different and I am doing things I never expected to make sure it’s a success. Of course I am pouring out more than I ever have to care for the people I shepherd. And there will always be difficult moments and conversations that leave you feeling inadequate and deflated. But was that it? Were these the reasons I was feeling so tired, overwhelmed, and weary?

This past Wednesday I found myself listening to a podcast by my friend Walt Mueller from CPYU. It was podcast about Sabbath with his guest A.J. Swoboda. The conversation hit my heart in a way it hadn’t before. Of course, as a ministry worker I am familiar with the concept of a Sabbath and have worked to make one of my days off a Sabbath each week. But hearing them share about how during this pandemic ministry personnel are not adhering to this commandment from God just broke me.

Walt shared a comment from A.J.’s book on how the Sabbath is the only commandment ministry leaders are encouraged to break, when breaking any of the others are grounds for being fully dismissed from ministry. I realized that during this season I haven’t been resting well. I haven’t honored this commandment.

Instead, I have poured out everything to make ministry work during this season. I’ve put in more hours than I care to admit. My phone is always on. Email is going constantly. I have been available all the time without fail. While these all sound good to an extent, without the constant filling from a Sabbath, we will inevitably find ourselves drained and weary.

I want to encourage you to rest and to incorporate a Sabbath into your regular rhythm. Turn off your phone or put it on “do not disturb.” Do not do ministry work on your Sabbath. Bring your spouse and family into this with you. Let your co-workers and ministry leaders know what you are doing and lead out as you encourage them to do likewise. We are called to honor God not just through our work ethics and hours, but also through how we honor the Sabbath and apply it to our lives.

My prayer is that this post doesn’t add guilt, but challenges us all to apply the Sabbath to our lives and to allow the deepness and richness of it to overwhelm us in positive ways. I want to encourage you to listen to CPYU’s podcast and to allow God’s truth to speak to your heart.

How do you apply the Sabbath to your life? What does your Sabbath look like?

Tips for New Youth Pastors [Part 2]

Last week we took a look at some general tips for anyone starting a new youth pastor position. However, given that we are currently trying to do ministry during a pandemic this can look very different depending on where you serve. With safe guards in place and new requirements coming up frequently, it is important to address different ways of engaging with your students, families, and leaders in this new normal.

This week I want to share some helpful tips for those starting during this season that apply to a more socially-distanced style of ministry.

Coordinate digital meetups.

I know that many people hate video calls at this point and that Zoom-fatigue is setting in. But try hosting meetups online where people can come and get to know you. If you are doing it for students, try to engage with them outside of the normal meet and greet flow. Have some online games, utilize prizes (digital gift cards are awesome, especially if you can get them to local stores/restaurants), set up a digital scavenger hunt, or have people come in costume. All of these will help engage students who may not be super willing to jump into another Zoom session.

Increase your online presence.

Most youth workers have social media, but if you are like me… your personal feeds may be lacking. I don’t post often, and my students let me know. Even students who I don’t know personally have told me I need to up my Insta game.

My point? Students see us in all capacities, whether in person or online, and they are watching us. A great way to help students get to know is by posting about yourself. Not in some egotistical way, but in a way that shows who you are. Post pictures of your spouse and family doing things together, post where you are going or what you are doing especially if it is in town, host AMAs (Ask Me Anything) and polls in your stories, ask for advice on what to do and where to go. These are just a few ways to help you engage with others.

Utilize your youth group’s social media.

Depending on the size of your church and youth group, you may have social media accounts set up for your youth group. If so, leverage that to help people get to know you. Post about who you are and share some fun facts. Host a “get to know the youth pastor session” on your youth group’s pages. Post fun and funny videos of you getting acclimated to your new work environment. Post “Trivia Thursdays” and whoever answers the most questions correctly wins a digital gift card. Ask questions through a poll on your social media page or story.

Here are some easy questions to utilize in a post or story:

  • What would you like to see this coming year?
  • What series or topics would you like to have covered?
  • What is one thing you would like to see changed?
  • What is your favorite memory from youth group?
  • Why do you come to youth group?
  • What worship songs would you like us to play?
  • What would encourage your friends to come?
  • What games would you like to play online or in-person?

Send a note or postcard.

This will depend on the size of your youth group, but consider sending students a little hand written note introducing yourself, sharing about a digital meetup, and saying how excited you are to meet them. Receiving an actual letter or postcard is a sure way to connect with a student and their family as they will see you taking an interest in their student’s life.

If you serve in a large youth group and this isn’t a feasible option, consider sending a handwritten note to all your leaders. Your students will be looking to their leaders to get a feel for the new youth pastor, and if they have a good feeling for you it will be replicated to their students. It is also a sure fire way to value and elevate your leaders.

How have you seen ministry succeed during this time? What have been “wins” for your ministry?

Life After Lock-Down: Tips for Regathering

When it comes to reopening in the wake of Coronavirus, churches in many states have been afforded special rights and privileges as non-profits and houses of worship. We may be permitted to gather and congregate, but there are still recommendations and requirements that should be followed.

We must remember that in all things we need to represent Christ and look to reflect Him and His heart for people to our congregants, communities, and the world. We bear the responsibility to make timely and informed decisions in a reality we were unprepared for but called to lead in nonetheless.

In light of that truth, I wanted to offer some suggestions to help us as we are regathering or preparing to do so. Please know that these are not a foolproof method for reopening, but simply suggestions to help us do this in a proactive and Christ-honoring way. It is not reflective of any one church or methodology, but simply suggestions for how we can think through this as leaders and shepherds.

Don’t rush to get together.

It is easy to push to gather sooner than we should because we so desire community. But we must make sure it is safe to do so. Do not simply gather because you can, gather when you should. Put safe guards in place, communicate well, and honor the guidelines set forth by the church and governing authorities.

Be a force for unity not division.

It seems that for many churches, our ability or right to gather has forced us to take a stand that has lead to much division and fracturing. We cannot be leaders who cause strife and undue division, but instead seek to be voices of the Gospel that honor those in authority as we seek to reflect Christ to this world. I am not advocating for capitulation, but I am saying be mindful of your speech and actions and look to unite people together as Christ did. May we put aside biases, personal agendas, and political parties, and simply be a force for the Gospel of Christ.

Root your decisions in the Gospel.

It seems that for many churches the guiding principle to gauge reopening has been if their rights have been infringed upon. But that isn’t how we should measure if and when we gather again. We must remember that we are not due any rights because of our inherent sinfulness. I know we could go back and forth about our rights here in the USA, but why do we find our identity in our country and assumed freedoms? Shouldn’t we find it in Christ, and Christ alone? If we understand that in all things we must reflect the full Gospel, then we should know that reopening must be rooted in representing Jesus by caring for our churches and our communities.

So we must ask ourselves if what we are doing is a proper reflection of the Gospel, or a manifestation of rights we believe we are owed. We must remember that first and foremost we are to be a voice for the Gospel. Everything we do should reflect Jesus to our world. How we go about reopening, the safeguards we put in place, and the ways in which we minister to our people should all be outlets for the Gospel. Our care, love, and motives should all be to reflect Jesus.

Guard your speech.

It is so easy in today’s context to use our speech in non-constructive ways. We can hastily fire off a Facebook post, share something on our social media to push an agenda, or have a flippant conversation that is overheard and could bring about difficulties for the church at large. We as shepherds of our people must guard what we say and make sure we are not contributing toward tension, frustration, or dissension. All of those will only further fracture and divide our churches. Instead, seek to listen and engage in healthy and constructive dialogue that looks to encourage and build up the body of Christ.

Be proactive not reactive.

As you prepare to open back up, think about ways to keep everyone safe and healthy. This may mean you start with multiple layers of safety procedures and changes which are okay. It is easier to remove safety procedures than it is to add them. We want to be shepherds who do all we can to protect and care for our people, and as new information and data are made available, you can always scale back to adapt. If our people just see us adding more restrictions because we didn’t do it in the beginning, it may cause their trust in us to wane.

Don’t do things just because you can.

Lots of churches are meeting and lots of churches are doing things differently. But before you do things, let me ask you a question: why are you doing them? Is it because you can? Is it because it makes a statement? Is it because of external or internal pressure? Let me encourage you to think through the “why” before you do anything.

I know many churches that have relaunched and have gone back to “normal,” but we have to ask ourselves if this the best thing to do. When restaurants, malls, communities, and countries still have measures in place to protect people, should we as the church buck the system just because we can? Instead, I would encourage us to do things in a thoughtful and measured approach to show how we love and care for our people.

Hear and respond to criticism.

Criticism happens. In fact you have probably seen or heard a lot of it since this pandemic began. But here is what we as leaders and shepherds must do: listen to our people, hear what they are saying, and respond well. When people criticize it is often a representation of a deeper heart issue or concern. We must listen to them and truly hear what they are saying. One of the last times I preached I received an email that heartily disagreed with what I said and how I said it. I am not going to lie, it hurt and I wanted to respond in kind. But I knew that wasn’t right.

Instead, I sought council from those over me and on my team, and I ended up personally connecting with the individual who sent the email. I heard their concerns, I asked questions, and ultimately we agreed to disagree. But then I took the conversation in a different direction and thanked the person for sharing, and told them how much our church loved them. The change was staggering. The person was so thankful and moved, and they emphatically stated that even though we may disagree they will always call our church home.

My point here is this: no matter what decision you make in regard to reopening, no matter what safe guards you follow, and no matter how much you communicate, there will always be criticism. But it is essential to respond with love and understanding and seek to emulate Christ in all things.

Tips for Maintaining Your Spiritual Health

When life feels up-ended, it can be easy to let our spiritual health decline. Other things crowd in–whether it’s work, the needs of others, or our rapidly changing context–and we shift into a “survival mode” that can cause us to neglect our spiritual well-being. But if we are honest, if we don’t maintain our spiritual in-flow, we won’t survive for long.

We want to encourage and challenge you to make your own spiritual health and relationship with Jesus the top priority during this challenging time, and going forward. Sometimes that can be easier said than done, so today we’re sharing suggestions for prioritizing and enriching your spiritual growth.

Spend time in the Word for your own spiritual enrichment

If you are a ministry leader, you are no doubt already spending time in the Scriptures as you lesson plan. You might be preaching multiple weekly messages, preparing devotional materials, and mentoring individuals. This can result in a lot of time spent in the Bible, but not necessarily concentrated on your own growth.

Before you dive into Scriptural “work-study,” spend time in personal Bible reading, even if it’s only for a short period of time. If you can, find a quiet place where you can rest as you read, looking to hear from God and refresh your spirit. Spend time in prayer, specifically asking the Holy Spirit to speak to you and strengthen you for the work to come.

Establish healthy boundaries between work and personal time

It can be easy to let work bleed into your personal and family time, especially if you’re working from home. Taking calls, responding to texts, jumping on your computer to do something “real quick,” can begin to add up. You may struggle with what to prioritize, especially when it comes to ministry.

There will always be exceptions, but as much as you are able, set boundaries between “work time” and “home/family time.” This may mean keeping up regular office hours, and then setting your phone on “do not disturb” after they have ended. Or it may mean working in blocks of time and setting aside other blocks for personal and family time. Whatever you decide, don’t forget to explain it to your team or those who may be contacting you during “off” hours.

This may feel selfish at first, but it is essential to maintaining your mental health, your spiritual health, and your relational health with family and friends. If you don’t set aside time for these things, ministry work can easily take over your entire life, leaving you feeling burnt out and depleted.

Engage with church services for your own benefit

For ministry workers, church services are often times that are focused on work, and what’s coming next. It may be hard to dial in as your mind is already on what needs to be done as soon as the service is over, or what’s coming up in the week ahead. Whether you participate in your own church’s service, or another one online, give yourself the space to listen, engage, and grow.

Let us encourage you to actually pause and worship with your church community. Eliminate the noise and worship with your family without the worries of what is coming up. Seek to simply be present and worship. Read the Word of God with the church, take notes throughout the sermon, sing loudly without worry of who may hear. Engage with your family before, during, and after the service is done. Respond to what God’s Word is doing in and through your life.

If you find that you have more to do on a Sunday because you have become the “official tech guru,” you can still find meaningful ways to worship. To the best of your ability, seek to engage with and respond to the service as you contribute to it. Or, you may find it helpful to rewatch the service later, or listen to another one online.

Pursue mentorship

Due to our present circumstances, mentoring is something that can easily fall by the way-side. If we can’t meet in person, we may stop meeting altogether. However, mentoring is just as important now as we seek to do ministry in new ways. So we want to encourage you: keep seeking to be mentored and to mentor. In light of social distancing, this will most likely mean meeting via video chat or phone call, but the ability to have real, honest conversations is essential to maintaining spiritual health.

Engage in other spiritual exercises

Our current context calls for creativity, especially when it comes to spiritual growth. We may have to work a little harder to focus on Jesus and building our relationship with Him, but it is so incredibly worth it. Here are a few of our ideas for creatively engaging with God and His Word.

  • Practice journaling. As you read the Bible and pray, journal your thoughts and prayers. This is an excellent way to keep track of what God is teaching you, to respond to His Word, and to see how and when He answers specific prayers. If you’re creatively inclined, you can use different colors, lettering styles, and sketches to add to your writings.
  • Meditate on Scripture. Select a passage that speaks to your current context, whether it is something you are struggling with, something you want to work on, or an area of life where you need encouragement. Write the passage on a card and keep it beside your bed. When you wake up in the morning, before fully getting out of bed, take time to read the Scripture and ask God to bring it to your mind throughout the day. You can also come back and read over it during the day.
  • Listen to podcasts. This is something you can do while you’re cleaning, working out, or doing mundane daily activities. We especially love podcasts that help us think more deeply about what we believe and why. In the fall we shared a few of the podcasts we enjoy listening to. These can also help generate good discussions at home!
  • Engage in spiritual conversations with friends. Ask your friends what they are learning from God’s Word; share what He is teaching you. It is incredibly encouraging to talk through what God has been saying to us, and to hear how He is speaking to others.

How have you been maintaining your spiritual health during this season of life?

Coronavirus: Tips and Resources for Ministry Leaders

Over the past couple of weeks Coronavirus became very real for many of us, and in the coming weeks will be a reality for all of our churches and communities. This virus has left churches and youth ministries scrambling to figure out what to do and how to respond.

I have seen responses ranging from fear to faith, condemning to affirming responses, arguments to flat out fights, and this was just in pastor and youth ministry groups on Facebook. Isn’t it interesting how in the midst of a global and local pandemic, we can so easily revert inward and become exactly who we don’t need to be?

This week I want to offer some ways to engage with what is happening, tips on how to care for your people, and resources to help you navigate the current situation. My prayer is that we respond with love, compassion, and understanding during a tumultuous and trying time.

Pray and trust God.

This is a no-brainer, right? Wrong. It is easy to let fear and panic overwhelm in our hearts and minds, even as we present ourselves as calm, cool, and collected. Remember that even in the midst of the unknown, God is ever sovereign and still in control. He is neither surprised nor caught off guard, but instead is empowering His bride to continue on and be the vessel that loves His world.

Be understanding.

There is a lot going on with the Coronavirus. People are scared and worried. People are consumed by fear and are overwhelmed. Still others are reacting with skepticism and cynicism. In all things we as shepherds and caretakers of our flocks must seek to love and care for them. Hear their thoughts and fears. Listen to their input and be willing to understand how others are feeling and why they are feeling that way.

Affirm your church’s decision and don’t break down others.

We all have reasons for the decision(s) we and our leadership have made and will make. Please stand by the decision and uplift it, especially if it is made by those in leadership over you. The weight of making these decisions is extremely heavy and not something done on a whim. I know many pastors who have agonized over the decision to move to online church services or cancel all together. The potential financial hit is enough to overwhelm any senior pastor.

But even more than affirming the decision your church and ministry is following, don’t accuse or condemn other churches who are not doing the same. Regardless of others’ decisions, let us still be the body of Christ. Let us love each other and look to assist and share resources and information. Rather than question people’s faith and their commitment to their people, we need to understand that everyone is looking to respond to something we have never responded to before.

Don’t forget the easily forgotten.

There are many people who, due to the nature of the virus and the advice of our government, are staying away from large groups. Our elderly congregants are very restricted and isolated. People who deal with anxiety and chronic fear are scared of what is happening. You may have church-goers who are quarantined. And there are people who love to be around others, but because of social distancing, cannot. Check in with these people. Call them, FaceTime them, ask if they need anything. Organize, love, and care for those who could easily disappear.

Remember your college students.

Many colleges and universities are suspending on-campus activities and sending students home. This means that our college ministries are now in a great position to minister to our students. Their lives have been disrupted; some seniors are unsure of whether they will graduate now. This is a prime opportunity to care for these students and let them know they are loved and valued. Send them a text, host a Zoom gathering, or if you’re still able to, meet them for coffee. A little intentionality will go a long way with your students.

Care for your community.

In as much as the next days, weeks, and months may feel uncertain for us as church employees and volunteers, this new normal provides amazing opportunities for us to care for our communities. My senior pastor has put it this way, “This our opportunity to be good neighbors.”

Let me encourage you to think about how you could care for first responders, hospital workers, nursing homes, students who won’t have meals now that schools are closed, grocery store employees, and whomever else God brings to mind. You may not be able to go to into all these areas due to restrictions, but you can open communication lines and see how you can come alongside and love them. Let us love our neighbors as ourselves, especially in times such as these.

Resources

Download Youth Ministry – The DYM team has put out some free resources to help youth ministries love, care, and minister to their people during this time. There are lessons, tips on streaming videos, social media resources, videos, games, small group resources, and much more. There is also a really helpful article that they put out entitled “5 questions parents can ask their kids about Coronavirus” to help students and children process through their emotions, thoughts, and feelings.

Restream – This is a great resource if you are looking for a product to stream your services or programming on a different platform than Facebook Live or Instagram Live. There is a free option as well as two paid options depending on your needs.

LiveReacting – This is a resource that allows for you to create interactive Facebook Live videos. You can load pre-recorded videos, play games, create polls, and more all through this one platform. There is a free trial version if you just want to try it out, as well as monthly subscription plans.

Outreach.com – This organization is offering a free live streaming service for churches that plans to go live on March 20th. Check out freeonlinechurch.com to submit your email to be on the list of people who can sign up when it launches. This is a great option for smaller churches or youth programs looking to stream services and content.

Ministry to Parents – This is typically a subscription-based service that any youth program should sign up for, but with everything going on they have put out a really helpful article on talking to families about fears and the Coronavirus. This not only offers helpful steps, but it also has additional links for more information and resources.

Parent Cue – Another great resources to always be engaged with, Parent Cue has put together a really helpful article on “Managing fear and anxiety during a health pandemic.” It provides great talking points, helpful links and suggestions, and suggestions for managing life going forward.

Red Cross – The Red Cross has put out an article to help cope with this present reality. This article is extremely helpful for thinking about those who are dealing with fear, isolation, stress, and all the emotions coming through this time.

Church Leaders – Church Leaders shared a very comprehensive guide for dealing with the Coronavirus as a church. This is also available for download so you can have it handy to give to your staff teams. This can be easily adapted to your church and context, and it is super beneficial to have a ready-made guide to help build out your plan.