November 13, 2010

We Love Our Youth Worker

This year, as I start a new school year of ministry at my current church, I have realized that I am now the longest tenured church youth worker in my town and the third longest in the county that I live. For some, this may seem like an amazing accomplishment but in reality it really is more of a concern. It would be one thing if I could say that I was in my tenth year of ministry at my current church but this year only marks the beginning of my fourth. At four years, I shouldn't be the church Youth Ministry elder in my community.

Unfortunately, I don't think my area is the only one that has this issue. Throughout the nation, the average life span of a youth worker within one church is about three years. Compare this to the fact that when Doug Fields took the job of Youth Pastor at Saddleback Church he told his senior pastor to not expect to really see fruit from his ministry until year five. If that's the case, many youth workers only make it about halfway to that point.

On top of this, there are many concerning studies and voices that speak towards the decline of young people involved in church and faith and many have speculated what the reasons are. I would assume the  above fact of the turnover of those committed to working with our students has to have a major impact. Our teens are taught by many churches that they are an after thought as they do the bare minimum to have a ministry to them. They are taught not to get too close to the current youth worker (which is really what discipleship is) because they won't be around for too long.

With this in mind, consider the findings of George Barna, Josh McDowell and others who have reported that 80% make a commitment to Christ before the age of 21, and many would even say that it's by the age of 18. Could you imagine what the response would be from Apple if they had those same statistics in regard to their iPod sales. They would commit 80%, if not 100%, of their resources and marketing efforts towards that age group. This is exactly opposite of what the church does.

Because of these issues, I am really excited about an initiative I connected with over the summer called We Love Our Youth Worker that is currently based in the UK. WLOYW is an attempt at creating a national standard for how a church employs a youth worker by asking churches to make 7 promises to their employees and volunteers.

1. We will pray and support
2. We will give space for retreat and reflection
3. We will provide ongoing training and development
4. We will give a full day of rest each week
5. We will share responsibility
6. We will strive to be an excellent employer
7. We will celebrate and appreciate

Such simple things but yet such important things for every youth worker to have in their life and ministry. Over my ten total years involved in youth ministry, I have watched over a dozen peers burn out or fall out of ministry. I even burned out myself at the first church I served at. To be honest, I can look at those 7 promises listed above and tell you that the reason for the majority of burns outs and youth workers stepping out of ministry was due to the neglect of one or more of them at the fault of the youth worker and the church.

I am very privileged to be part of the team working on bringing WLOYW to the US and I am extremely excited about the potential. The opportunity to help educate churches and young youth workers about the importance of these things will create an amazing opportunity for healthier, longer lasting youth workers. This will lead to healthier ministries which will mean that more teens and their families are hearing the Gospel and being discipled.

If you want to learn more about We Love Our Youth Worker, check out the UK website at www.weloveouryouthworker.co.uk. To help support the US initiative, join our Cause on Facebook.

Lastly, if you will be at the National Youth Workers Convention in Nashville next week come and say hello at our exhibit hall booth or at one of our three informational meetings:

Saturday afternoon, 2:00-4:30pm in Room CC202
Saturday night during Latenight options 10:15-11:15pm in Room CC202
Sunday morning 8:15-9:30am in Room CC202

November 4, 2010

The Fading of Youth Ministry?

This past week I got my copy of Leadership Journal in the mail and began to peruse through it. As I got to page 13, they included two short blurbs about youth ministry and teen spirituality. Both of the short articles frustrated me to be honest.

The first was really more annoying than frustrating and was about an outreach that a church in Illinois came up with called the Pizza Pig-Out. The event is pretty much exactly as it sounds...students would come together, eat as much pizza as they can, play some games and then hear the Gospel. That event went so well, that it led to another event called The Dodgeball Revival which was a round-robin tournament.

What annoyed me wasn't the idea or the events themselves, I'm all for each of them if they reach students with the Gospel. What really got to me was the fact that in a whole magazine devoted to leadership within churches and ministries, this was the longest piece devoted to Youth Ministry. It's no wonder that Youth Workers can have a hard time being taken seriously. I believe that within the Youth Ministry world we have some of the best, most creative up-and-coming communicators, pastors, theologians and leaders in the country but yet so often, the things that get the air time are pizza and dodgeball. 

I dunno, perhaps I am over reacting but it just bugs me as a youth worker. I am more than just dodgeball and pizza and I know others are too. We are working hard to disciple students, teaching them to live out their faith, running Bible studies and taking care of the administration of our Youth Ministries. In some cases, we find ourselves basically running an entire "church" among our young people as our peers have multiple staff split up among responsibilities to do the same thing with adults. I feel like we deserve more credit than pizza and dodgeball!

The other blurb I found very frustrating as a youth worker, and I think some of it may been because of with how it was worded. It focused on some new research that youth group attendance across the country has been flat over the past view years and many groups are reporting drops. The blurb quoted "The result in reports this year of drops in teen participation in summer camps has youth leaders concerned with the future of their programs."

Really?? Kids aren't coming to camps or youth group and the first concern is a program? How about salvation? Or learning morals? Or being part of the Body of Christ, something bigger than themselves?

Then, this quote from Thom Rainer president of Lifeway, "A decade ago teens were coming to church youth group to play, coming for the entertainment, coming for the pizza...They're not even coming for the pizza anymore." (Again, with the pizza!!) He then adds that many teens don't see the church as relevant.

The thing that bothers me so much about this quote is that, personally, I see all of the above as a good thing for this generation. Teens aren't settling for being entertained and duped into hearing the Gospel anymore. They show up because they actually want to hear the truth about Christ and his plan for their lives. This generation is hungry for something more and for something real.

As Youth Workers, Parents, Pastor's and Volunteers, it's our responsibility to give them just that. Sure, it may involve pizza, or dodgeball or other youthful things, but they are simply a means to something bigger. It is such an exciting time to be in youth ministry! As Jesus says in the book of Matthew, "The harvest is plentiful."

Let us continue to be faithful workers and continue to pray for more youth workers who will take ministry seriously and make it more than just fun, games and pizza but instead about Truth, the Kingdom of Heaven and Christ's love for us all.

October 22, 2010

Romans 8:28

Over the past couple of weeks, I have been doing a lot of reflecting on Romans 8:28:

"And we know that God causes everything to work 
together for the good of those who love God and 
are called according to his purpose for them."

About four weeks ago, my wife and I found out that after two years of trying we were finally pregnant... but unfortunately the excitement was short lived as just a week and a half later, we found out the pregnancy wasn't healthy and therefore my wife would miscarry. It was such a rollar coaster of emotions. Going from such a high and imaging taking your kids to the park someday to all of a sudden having that stripped away. 

After hearing the news and experiencing the miscarriage, my wife and I were both left questioning God and expressing our hurt and frustration to Him. It was in these times I came to Romans 8:28. A couple of thoughts:

1) "God causes" - it's important to notice what it is that God causes. He doesn't cause bad things to happen but He causes them to work together for good. Many people blame God for a tragedy but that couldn't be further from the truth. Our God is a redeemer and a restorer, not one who brings troubles upon those He loves. 

2) "everything" - there is nothing that escapes God or is out of His reach. Whatever happens in life, no matter how big or how awful, it will not escape the redeeming power of our God. 

3) "for the good of those who love God" - the promise from God is that things will be used for good and we must cling to that promise in the midst of struggles. We can have faith to eventually quote Joseph as he exclaimed to his brothers: "You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good." 

As I reflected on all these important points, God used a very interesting situation to drive this point home this past weekend.

We had a weekend event this past week for our youth and on Saturday that involved heading into New York City to do some service work. Towards the end of our first location, I realized that one of our girls was upset and on the phone with her mom. Turns out, she wasn't feeling well and her mom was unable to come into the city to pick her up. Because her mom couldn't come, she asked me if we could pick up some basic meds to help her feel better. 

We asked the location where we were at if they had anything around the warehouse and if they could help but they had just given out there last remaining meds. So, that meant we had to stop and purchase something and in order to do that, I had to switch the groups around for our second activity so that she could be in my group. 

We eventually headed out with the intention that our first stop would be a market to get what she needed, thinking it would be easy. Unfortunately, the first three we found didn't take a credit card and no one in my group, including myself, had cash. Finally we were able to find a fourth pharmacy that did take a card and we were able to get what she needed. 

When the girl and I came outside, one of the other girls in my group proudly displayed $15 that she had just found because a runner had gone by and didn't stop once he had dropped it. By the time the girl picked it up, he was too far away. We decided we would spend the money on a lunch for a homeless person when we got to Washington Square park which was our next destination. 

Once we arrived, we promptly began to hand out the bagged lunches that we had brought into the city with us but part of the way through I got phone call from our speaker for the weekend. As soon as I picked up the phone, I knew there was a problem. I could hear the house alarm, where he was staying, blaring. Both the security company and the police had called requesting the "secret code" of which we didn't have. 45 minutes later, after a long conversation with the police department, a call to a church member to go over and help out and tracking down one of the family's older sons to get the code everything was ok. But, by then, it was time for our group to head back to Grand Central to meet up with the rest of our group and head home. 

As we got to the subway station, I began to swipe my Metro Cards and let the students pass through but we quickly realized something was wrong as my cards malfunctioned and only had enough funds to have two people pass...five of us were left on the wrong side of the gate! With my credit cards blocked (MTA only allows the purchase of 2 metro cards per day, per card and I had to use all three to get our students into the city) and no cash we had no way to get everyone back other than walking the 30 blocks...until we realized we had the $15!!

Out of all the "frustrations" that morning:
  • the girl getting sick
  • her mom being unable to come and get her
  • the ministry not having the meds we needed
  • having to switch the groups
  • the first three stores not taking a credit card
  • our speaker dealing with the house alarm
God used each and every single one to put us exactly where we needed to be to find that $15 and ensured that we would still have it in order to get home!! 

October 1, 2010

Lessons at Laser Tag

A few weeks ago to finish out our summer, we took a group of students up to New Hampshire to work at Monadnock Bible Conference for a day and then the day after went to check out an extreme laser tag place called The Strategy Zone. To be honest, it was one of the coolest places I've ever taken our kids (outside of missions opportunities).

The Strategy Zone is not your normal, Chuck E. Cheese laser tag place where you spend 15 minutes in a dark, black light filled room with a bunch of plywood walls around you. That laser tag is fun and all but The Strategy Zone takes laser tag to a whole other level.

For $20, our students got to play for 4 hours on a 50+ acre playing area which was a fantastic deal. Beyond that, the actual laser tag guns came in a handful of sizes - a handgun, a rifle and a sniper fully equipped with a scope that could hit someone 100 yards away. (The site is actually used from time to time to train police officers and military personel.)

Our group really had a blast working as a team to complete missions and running around in the woods together playing laser tag. It was such a fantastic time...

BUT, the whole reason our group was actually able to play was because another youth group from New Hampshire teamed up with us so that we could meet the minimum numbers required. So, instead of having 8 disappointed students, we had 17 of us who had a blast playing a fun game but also making some new friends and sharing life together.

When we were finished and parted ways, I was struck with the huge importance that networking has to play within our ministries. Networking has always been an important focus of mine but it seems that I am still surprised when I witness the direct benefits of working together with our Christians.

Beyond simply being able to play a fun game together, it was awesome to overhear conversations about faith, life, church and school between our students. It was a great time connecting with the other churches Youth Pastor talking about backgrounds and our experience in youth ministry. And, it was awesome walking away knowing we have a sister church up north now to share in other activities together such as skiing, camping or playing laser tag again.

If you don't currently do much networking, I want to strongly encourage you to check out an organization called The National Network of Youth Ministries (www.nnym.com). Creating a profile is free and only takes a few minutes but they will provide some great ministry resources, discounts of conferences and trainings and helps you find a local network in your area (or equips you to start one!) NNYM is such a blessing in my life and I will never do ministry without having a local network for support. It was through NNYM that I found the church to connect with in New Hampshire.

NNYM's slogan is, "We're Better Together," and that couldn't be closer to the truth that when it comes to doing ministry it's so important and beneficial to work with the rest of the Body of Christ!

Our group, along with Calvary Baptist Church, Claremont, NH

September 17, 2010

Environment Matters

In my nine years of Youth Ministry, I have read and heard over and over again about the limitations of students, specifically Middle Schoolers, when it comes to issues of attention spans and what they can understand. It's been explained to me how Middle Schoolers can only handle a maximum of 10-15 minute talks or else we will loose them and bore them. I've been told by a parent that their 8th grade daughter wasn't intellectually capable to handle a talk in the 30 minutes range. Yes...her own parent said that...

To back that view up, I have witnessed many times a speaker or leader wrestle through a 15 minute talk because kids kept talking and giggling and being disruptive. I have seen an attempted small group discussion fail miserably because all the kids wanted to do was go back to their game of Call of Duty.

On the other hand and despite the recurring theme, I have seen the exact opposite of this aspect as well. I have watched a group of middle school students have such an engaged and deep conversation that the group pushes past the hour set aside and parents begin impatiently looking into the room. I have watched students take notes on a talk that went 45 minutes and then have a great conversation afterwards. I have watched kids give their lives to Christ at camp once the speaker wrapped up after his 30 minute sermon.

So, what's the appropriate time to engage students with and why does it seem to work in one setting and not in another? Based on my experiences, I have come to the conclusion that the answer to this question isn't so much about our students and their limitations but instead it has to do with how we ourselves treat them and what kind of environment we set.

Almost every time I have seen a leader struggle through a 15 minute talk has been in settings where the environment is really built around games, entertainment and pleading with kids to just give 10 minutes of their time to listen.

My first thought is that this kind of setting builds and builds the energy in a room and then expects the kids to settle down. Sometimes this works, and it's easier with older students, but more often than not I'd say it's unrealistic to expect kids to go hard for an hour and then to just settle down. Our bodies are simply not wired that way. They are wired to either continue or increase in energy or to eventually crash down once they are tired. Thus leading either to disruptive behavior or kids falling asleep.

Second, I would argue that simply by pleading with students "just to give me 10 minutes" unconsciously communicates to the students that it's really all they can handle and they they don't really want to hear what they have to say. So, they act accordingly. They "try" to give 10 minutes but they know they are just kids with too much energy and ADD so they barely make it through the time.

These are things we have to pay attention too because I think sometimes we set ourselves up, and our kids, by setting an environment which tells kids, "You can't handle the truth."

During the times where students are engaged for longer periods of time, I have seen the environment and settings set up exactly the opposite way. The meetings maybe start with games but then are designed to diminish in energy, getting the students to a point where they are winded down when it's actually time for the talk.

Also, there is no apology or plea for time, instead the speaker just dives in a goes for it. The kids are treated like mature students, with the capabilities to handle things bigger than themselves. And more often than not, I have watched students rise to the occasion. I mean, they handle it every day for 6 hours at school, why can't they handle that in our churches and ministries. With creative teaching and treating them like the young adults they are instead of like children who need to be handled with care our students can actually go much farther than we think.

September 11, 2010

This is Church!

A couple of weeks ago on an overnight in New Hampshire, I had a really cool experience with our group of students that made me think about Church and what it’s all about.

After a long day of working for the camp and deep cleaning 3 different buildings, we decided to take some time to listen to a sermon together and talk about it afterwards.

Since I am a big Rob Bell fan, I got out my MP3 and we put on a sermon of his entitled The Weasel Effect (http://marshill.org/teaching/2010/08/01/the-weasel-factor). The sermon took a look at Matthew 5:38-42 and the importance of watching our words and following through on what we say.

I knew going in that the sermon would be a bit of a stretch for some of the students 1) because of the length and 2) because it was only the audio and most of the students would describe themselves as visual learners. Sure enough, throughout the sermon a couple of kids dozed off, one left to go to the bathroom and a couple of others began doodling as they zoned out. The grand finally was provided by a student who farted which proceeded to fill half the room with a horrible stink.

So the sermon ends and we gather together to talk about what everyone got out of the sermon and what they were thinking about now and to be honest, based on the above I wasn’t expecting much. But, God had other plans that really inspired me.

As we began to talk, one by one the students shared different pieces of the sermon and their thoughts about what stuck out or challenged them. Nolan was really challenged by one part…and that happened to be the part Gabby missed because she dozed off. Megan loved a different part which was when Nolan went down to the bathroom. Patti had a question about another part and Ashley a completely different question which were answered by two different students.

On and on our conversation went just like that until it dawned on me that we had discussed pretty much every aspect of the sermon over the previous 30 minutes. When we were done I was left with a feeling that something really cool had just happened. I looked at the students and just said, “This is what the church is supposed to be about!”

The Church is supposed to be a gathering of people who get together and encourage one another towards Christ and that was exactly what happened. No one was “the leader” of the conversation and everyone had at different points missed something but yet because of everyone being involved and giving towards the conversation we were all benefited and challenged.

There were also no bells and whistles involved. No band, no speaker and there were only 10 of us. Set up took all of 30 seconds. We just sat in a room, listened to an MP3 players and then sat and talked together and then prayed together. The bells and whistles aren’t bad in themselves but sometimes they do more to distract us from Jesus and one another when that is really what is most important.

We have made church out to be so many extra things when really it is simply about people coming together to encouraging one another to be like Christ. That’s it. It doesn’t matter where that happens, how that happens or how many are involved. If you have people and a combined effort to grow in your relationship with Christ and with one another, you are being the church. Let us focus on having more times like this in our youth ministries and churches.

September 4, 2010

The Lesser of Two Evils

My wife just wrote a blog after listening to two sermons, one by Rob Bell and the other by Perry Noble, that were ironically preached on the exact same Sunday about how there is a huge generational gap spreading in our churches. She stated that this is something we need to pay attention to as well and that this is a problem that needs to be addressed. Throughout her blog, she talks about the implications this has on marriage and relationships. (Read her blog here: http://holymessofmarriage.blogspot.com/2010/09/lets-get-together.html)

There has been a lot of conversation about this issue and topic in the Church today as we try to figure out what to do with our differing cultures that exist from generation to generation. Our young people are not being engaged in our churches very well today and many have chosen to simply leave. The 18-30 year old demographic is the biggest one missing from the church. And for many of our youth, they are clueing into the pattern that their older siblings and friends are setting. It seems that the older kids get, the more they are pulling away from the church.

As the Church figures out how to handle this, I feel that many in Youth Ministry are put between a rock and hard place trying to figure out the lesser of two evils. What do I mean? Let me explain:

For many, I don’t think it is a huge debate that segregated worship isn’t the best way to go within a church. The Bible stresses the importance of family and The Body of Christ meeting together and benefiting one another with the different gifts and experiences of each person. There is something powerful about bringing generations together. I once had our youth band play with our organist for one song and it was pretty cool! Everyone kind of got a piece of something they wanted and needed as we sang together.

I think it can also be agreed upon that one of the reasons young adults are walking away from the Church is because many of them never felt connected to it. For years in Youth Ministry, we created a one-eared Mickey Mouse that left the kids a completely separate entity. Then when they graduated from high school and our ministries, it was like they were graduating from the church as well.

On the other hand though, to just say that this isn’t healthy and that we shouldn’t segregate our youth doesn’t address the full picture of the issue at hand. The question we still need to ask is why are Youth Ministries creating separate worship services and programs for our teens? Beyond the quick answer of developmental differences or maturity level one has to consider the issue of what teens need to be fed spiritually.

One of the other reasons young adults are walking away from the church is because they simply don’t find it relevant any more. Some Senior Pastor’s don’t know how to teach in a way that engages students at the same time as adults and some topics don’t easily apply across generations. Many of our churches still rely heavily on audible learning styles when many of our young people, due to technology, are much more hands on and visual when it comes to learning. When it comes to visual learning, the church is decades behind the world that embraces and catches the eyes of most young people. And when it comes to hands on approaches, many argue they are not appropriate within a Sunday service. Also serving, which is also a big component of hands on learning, is left for the adults and watched carefully under the excuse for quality control.

So, segregating worship isn’t the best thing to do and is possibly one of the reasons young adults are leaving the church but at the same time we have young people saying they need something different and many churches are telling them no which leads to another reason young adults are leaving. Then the leadership of these generations are left to choose between the lesser of two evils: do I segregate worship and give young people a worship experience they can connect with OR do we allow young people to feel that the church isn’t relevant?

For many, including myself as we launch a Youth Gathering this fall, choose the former as being the lesser evil. But overall, it makes my heart sad that the decision even comes to this. The Church is supposed to be a place where we can all come together to give – give to one another and to Christ. But all too often Church has become about getting and not bending for others and in my experience this is much stronger when it comes to adults than our teens.

I once had a Senior Pastor who told me that I had to teach our kids about the importance of hymns and liturgy, which I agreed and did but yet when the table was turned and I expressed that the adults should be taught how to appreciate more contemporary music and a different preaching style, I was met with hesitance and concern. It’s almost like some churches have this attitude of, “The adults do church the correct way. So let the kids be kids for now but eventually they need to learn how to do church right when they grow up.” This couldn’t be any further from the truth.

Within our ministries and our churches we need to work hard at trying to bridge this gap between generations and we as the adults need to learn to lay down our pride and our likes and instead look to the next generation of church leaders and incorporate them into our worship. Sure, we will have enjoyed church and got a lot out of it but will it really be worth it in the long run? Without our young people being connected and fed, the future of our churches will be a very empty place.

June 14, 2010

Coming or Going

I have been doing a lot of thinking lately about the topic of evangelism. Typically, if you explore the Bible on this topic you tend to find actions words like “share,” “send,” and “go.” You think about Paul’s missionary travels or Peter going and preaching in city centers. You think about Jesus going to villages; going to the people he was trying to reach with the Good News.

Lately, I have been wondering if this attitude and example of evangelism has really been lost in our churches and even more so with our youth.

It seems to be that the idea of “going” has gotten lost on our current church cultures. Rarely are churches and youth ministries going out into their communities or teaching their congregates how to share their faith in the workplace, at school or with their families. Instead, we create special events or services where we encourage people to “bring a friend.” In youth ministry, we even offer incentives if our students bring enough friends – cutting our hair, ice cream parties or swallowing goldfish.

This flips the Biblical idea of evangelism on its head. Instead of “share,” “send,” and “go” we turn a 180 and focus on “come,” “bring” and “stay.” This I think has created some issues within the faith development of our students and churches:

1) Evangelism should be left to the professionals.

Rather than challenging our students to share about Jesus at the lunch table, at the athletic field or at home we tell our students to simply just bring a friend to church (which isn’t even a theologically correct statement). By focusing so much on “bring a friend to youth group” and creating outreach events where students can bring their peers to hear about Jesus, I wonder if we are subconsciously teaching our students that sharing about Jesus should be left to the trained professionals.

2) Students don’t know how to share their faith.

My favorite teacher growing up, Mr. Keeney who I had for math for three years in high school, always used to tell us, “Hear it, learn it once. Do it, learn it twice. Teach it, learn it for good.” And that was how he ran his classes. He would teach it to us as we listened. Then we would do a work sheet and practice it ourselves. Then he would put us in groups where we then explained the math processes to each other. Math was the only subject in high school that I got straight A’s in every year…and a lot of that was because of Mr. Keeney and this model.

When it comes to the church, we tend to do really well with the first step. In most cases our students hear all about Jesus and the Bible. In some cases, the second step is carried out as well, especially over the last decade or so as service opportunities, social justice and mission trips have gained more and more importance. But when it comes to the third step, in my experience most faith communities drop the ball. When it comes to evangelism, by putting so much of an emphasis on “bring a friend,” I think we take a huge part of the faith learning journey away from our students. Our students don’t know how to share their faith because we rarely let them have the opportunity to do so.

3) Students don’t get to experience the joy of being used by God.

Lastly, I think the church has done a cruel thing to our students because we steal the joy of sharing Jesus with other people. We as pastors get to celebrate with our staff and volunteers how many kids responded to the Gospel. We send out e-mail reports to our Sr. Pastor’s or boards with those numbers. We go home to our spouses excited about what God has done through our talks. Our students should get to celebrate this joy rather than just being happy that they brought that friend to church that Sunday. They should get to experience the satisfaction, the growth and the deeper purpose of doing God’s work.

Instead of focusing on getting students to bring a friend to church, let’s instead focus on getting our students to bring Jesus to their friends. Rather than trying to entertain students to come to an event so we can share Jesus with their friends, let’s create ways to allow our students to share Jesus with their friends wherever they are. Let’s challenge our students not to stay in our churches or programs but get them to go out into the world and be the church that God is calling them to be.

June 4, 2010

Book Release: Answering the Tough Questions About Sexuality

I just finished my first book…well, booklet. It’s a short book that goes through the main questions that teens and parents ask about sexuality. It’s purposefully short and to the point so it’s a quick read. It is also written so that either teens or parents can read, possibly even together…

You can pick up a copy by clicking on the following link:



Here is what people are saying about it:

“Jake Kircher has written a wonderful booklet on sexuality giving the honest, straight scoop on healthy sexuality. He knows the key questions kids and parents are asking and he answers them with short, yet profound answers. This is a booklet I will pass along to everyone I can. Parents get this booklet and give it to your kids. They will read it. Youth Workers buy this booklet for your entire youth group and go over each question and answer. It’s great stuff. “

Jim Burns, PhD
President, HomeWord
Author of Teaching Your Children Healthy Sexuality and The Purity Code

“Answering the Tough Questions About Sexuality doesn’t talk down to teens or candy-coat the real issues teens face daily. Instead, it presents solid, biblical advice in a direct and realistic style. Jake Kircher uniquely blends credible research, theology and adolescent sexuality in a format that promotes parent-teen discussions on vital issues.”

Timothy Smith
Author of The Danger of Raising Nice Kids and founder of www.ParentsCoach.org

“Our over-sexualized world is giving kids lots of guidance and direction on how to live out the wonderful gift of their sexuality. Sadly, most of that direction is anything but helpful, good, or Godly. Jake Kircher’s little book is a great springboard into thoughtful discussion of sex and sexuality, offering parents and teens answers and advice that can launch them into a deeper understanding of God’s best for this area of their lives.”

Walt Mueller
President, Center for Parent/Youth Understanding

“At a time when our young people struggle deeply to understand their sexuality and parents and youth leaders search for ways to clearly and effectively communicate the basic truths about this critical topic, along comes Answering the Tough Questions About Sexuality. Jake Kircher packs a lot of solid information and, more importantly, Godly wisdom into this concise and straight forward little booklet that will serve as an excellent resource for parents, youth workers, and the young people they love care about.”

Mark Orr
New England Regional Coordinator, National Network of Youth Ministries and Executive Director, REACH Youth New England, Inc.

April 21, 2010

He Said What?!

For the past month or so I have been really touched and challenged with Luke 7:11-17.

Jesus, as He is traveling to the village of Nain with His disciples, is met by a funeral procession that is coming out of the village gate. Verse 12 gives us the extra details that the “young man who had died was a widow’s only son.”

Think about the description of this event. This would have been a tragedy to encounter for a couple of reasons:

1) The boy would have been dead for a numbers of hours now. The boy may have been sick for some time before as well. Jewish culture required a quick burial but the process wouldn’t have been carried out until it was certain. Once it was certain, the body was wrapped in burial cloth and anointed so as to preserve the body. Then the body would be carried out of the city to be buried. When Jesus comes onto the scene, there has been a lot of mourning, preparation and certainty that this boy was dead.

2) The woman is described as a widow and the son she lost is described as her only son. This woman culturally would have been absolutely hopeless. Within the masculine culture, she would have had no family to take care of her, no standing in society and basically homeless and poor. With the death of her only son, this widow had nothing left in the world!

It is at this point that Jesus enters the picture. He see’s the woman, quickly realizes the pain and hopelessness that this woman must be feeling and he approaches her with compassion. Then Jesus then tells the woman that everything will be ok and He will raise her son from the dead and save the day….right? Wrong. Jesus simply says, “Don’t cry.”

Don’t cry? Are you kidding me? Out of all the things Jesus could have said this should have been the last. It seems so cold and distant. Anyone who has ever tried to comfort someone who is mourning the loss of a loved one can tell you that simply telling a person to not cry 1) doesn’t work and 2) will probably make the person cry more because of your insensitivity. But nonetheless, Jesus said, “Don’t cry.”

Why?

In the verses that follow Jesus goes on to raise the young man from the dead and gives the boy back to his mother. Jesus’ proclamation of, “don’t cry,” wasn’t insensitive but it was because Jesus knew what was about to happen. He knew that He was going to raise the boy from the dead and hand the boy back to his mother.

This made me think about difficult situations in my own life. Sometimes life is hard and things just don’t go the way we want. We get frustrated, stressed out and at times angry with God. We ask how He could allow certain things and wave our fist in the air as if it’s actually going to change something. We seek God for wisdom and direction asking Him what to do next. How does God respond to these questions?

Sometimes He is specific, but in my life, more often than not its with things like, “trust me,” “I got your back,” or “everything will be ok.” Don’t cry?! It makes me want to just tell God that it is easier said than done and demand answers.

What is so important out of this text though, and what is challenging me, is that when Jesus tells us these things it’s not because He doesn’t get our pain or because He doesn’t care. It’s because He is about to do something.

Our God is a Redeemer. He is a God who doesn’t want to leave things where they are but instead to draw them closer to Himself…and that includes our lives.

March 19, 2010

Partnering with Parents

In his nationwide study on religion and this current generation of teens, Notre Dame researcher Christian Smith offered the following thoughts about parents and their role in helping their kids in their walk with Christ:

“A parent is the most important pastor a teenager will ever have.”

Think about this quote for a second…not only does other research from groups like Barna back this up, just consider the break down of hours we, as youth workers, spend with kids compared to parents. In the best scenarios, I maybe get about 30 hours a month with a kid if they are on my student leader team. Other kids maybe only come in around 15-20. Compare that to a parent who averages about 180 hours a month. Now obviously that number will flex based on schedules, jobs, extra curricular activities and more but even if a parent does only half that time, it still triples the max amount of time we get with a kid!

Bottom line: The parents will spend more time influencing, teaching and guiding their kids than we will!

Thinking about this has really challenged my thoughts about how we can partner with parents in youth ministry.

Over the past year, I have had a couple of parents that I have been frustrated with due to their lack of prioritizing youth ministry into their kids lives. It seemed like every weekend they were off doing something and those things always seemed to be scheduled at the same time as our High School program. It made me want to scream! These are highly influential kids, leaders with their peers AND these are Christian families…so why do their parents not care. Why are they teaching their kids that all these other things are more important than God.

I know that I am not the only Youth Pastor to have these thoughts. We’re all under a lot of pressure to produce numbers (see my last blog entitled The Numbers Game) and programs and its frustrating when it seems like a parent isn’t behind you. As I began to think about these families though I began to realize I was completely wrong in the way I was thinking and really was looking at their kids as just a number, or means to a bigger number, instead of really partnering with them to encourage and equip their families.

One of the families isn’t around much because they ski a lot and so they don’t have time to get back in time for youth group. What I eventually found out though was that this Mom would actually print out the manuscripts of our youth group talks and read them to her kids during the ride and then they would talk about them. How cool is that!!! What I have begun to realize is that time probably went so much farther for her kids spiritual growth than any amount of time showing up to youth group would have. Isn’t that something that I should be supporting and encouraging rather than getting frustrated because I can’t include her kids on our meeting roster!?!?! I think Jesus would say YES!

The other family is two guys and their Mom. This Mom is one of the most dedicated and hard-working Mom’s I think I have ever met. Watching her and how much she loves her kids and how hard she works to provide for them – both basic needs as well as fun stuff – is just awesome! They have missed youth group many times because of family time together. This too used to frustrate me but again, I took step back and realized that Sunday’s was some of the only time these guys got with their Mom all week. This again, is something I should be supporting and encouraging as a Youth Pastor. I can find other time to connect with those guys…who really cares if it is at our official program or if it’s over coffee during the week after school.

In the future, when I have another parent I get frustrated with because they aren’t prioritizing our youth programs, I really want to take a step back and ask what they are setting as a higher priority. Sometimes it warrants frustration because the answer is sports or something else but, what I am learning is that sometimes it’s actually things that should be placed at higher priority.

February 25, 2010

The Numbers Game


Over the years I have developed a love/hate relationship with numbers.

Back in high school, my favorite subject in school was math. I loved numbers, and problems and equations…and I was good at it too. It was one of the only subjects I got an A in every time (outside of gym, of course) and I even took a teachers aid class my junior year because I was thinking of being a math teacher myself.

When I began in ministry though, my love of numbers slowly began to change. For me, it drives me crazy when I see churches and pastors that have gotten swept up in the corporate America way of evaluating success, which tends to be solely based on numbers.

We’ve all been there before in ministry:
  • Your Senior Pastor or Elders Board regularly asks about your program numbers the previous week.
  • A parent who is new to the church wants to know how many kids come on a weekly basis.
  • You’re home for Christmas, and your aunt wants to know how big your youth group is.
  • When you’re at a ministry conference or retreat, you’re asked over and over again by other pastors how many kids are in your group and you yourself return the favor as we kind of size one another up.
Personally, I have grown really tired of this game that we play with numbers in ministry. It makes me sick. Now, I know that numbers are important but the question that I have been asking a lot is are we using them correctly? I think there is a big problem in the way we evaluate our ministry based on numbers because they can be very misleading about true success.

In my opinion, true success in ministry is about leading youth and their families to a deeper understanding of Christ. Period. This question is not answered by numbers alone. Sometimes the small church with 10 kids can actually make a much bigger impact when in comes to the Kingdom of God than the big church with 150 kids who show up to play games and see their friends. I think for some time we have begun to sacrifice depth and discipleship for the sake of looking good in our jobs.

So how do we use numbers the right way?

First, I think we need to not be afraid or worried if numbers in our youth groups start to drop. Sometimes this can just be something that God is doing to help drive our teens to a deeper place with God. I wrote a little bit about this in one of my previous blogs, It’s the Little Things That Matter.

Second, we have to learn to take pause when numbers change or drop and ask ourselves is this a symptom of the ministry as a whole and our effectiveness as ministers OR is this a sign that a particular program needs to change. This is something that I have been experiencing this year. Our High School ministry from a program standpoint has really struggled. We lost 23 seniors last year who really had carried the program for the last two years. Now, at first reaction someone could conclude that we are failing to reach high school students because of our program numbers. But when you actually evaluate the kids we are reaching in other avenues, we have actually increased this year.

This leads me to my third point. We have to more away from a program based number to a ministry based number to evaluate our effectiveness. In my ministry I call this our “Reach Number.” What this includes is the number of our kids that our church is reaching through a relationship with myself, one of our other leaders, Sunday School and Sunday services. In my opinion, this is true discipleship! Walking through life with kids and being the light of Christ in their lives. I have kids who I have a friendship with who will not likely step foot into one of our programs or church on a Sunday morning for a number of reasons. But this doesn’t change the fact that I am teaching them about Christ and the Bible.

Isn’t this the number that should be more important? How many kids are going deeper in their relationship with Christ? How many kids are exploring and asking questions? How many kids do we have access to in a given week? By asking these questions and reevaluating how we look at our ministries and the numbers attached to them will have a huge impact on the future and the generation we are ministering to.

February 17, 2010

Rest is Good...Really!

So, it’s been a while since I’ve blogged. The holidays hit as my wife and I headed to her families in Maryland, then we had a big youth retreat in New York City and then…I went on vacation for a week in Orlando.

To be honest, I have been in ministry not for almost 8 1/2 years and this was the first time ever that I have taken a week off in the middle of the school year. In years past, my wife and I have always taken a vacation at the end of August, coinciding with a break to allow for final vacations and heading back to school. Beyond that, we’d take a long weekend here and there but never a full week. But man, did I need it.

In previous years I have come to the conclusion that just one week of vacation each year is not enough. Also, I have noticed that my workaholic tendencies have begun to run away with my life starting in January as I try to recover from the stress of holidays, prep for my upcoming Winter Retreats and then focus on our quickly approaching summer mission trips. It’s too soon to say whether this year is going to be different but I already feel in a different place having had some time to stop and breathe.

I think many in our profession struggle with taking a break. Ministry never stops…there are always kids to call, Facebook or text. Our phones are buzzing at all hours of the day with questions from parents about an upcoming trip. And who wants to live with the guilt of taking a week off from Youth Group and take the risk that a kid misses hearing about Jesus!?!? Ok…maybe a little extreme but I will admit I was there earlier in my career and I’m sure I’m not the only one.

As I’ve gotten older I have learned to set some firm boundaries in order to avoid burn out. Here are my thoughts about rest…some of which I do fairly well with, others of which I am still working on.

1) A Youth Pastor needs one day off a week and one flex day a week.

For me, Monday is my day off and I am pretty hardcore about it. I don’t check my work e-mail, I avoid the office and I even turn my cell phone off…all day! Call me on any Monday and you will hear my voice mail greeting telling you I take the day off from my phone and that I will get back to you on Tuesday. I also try my best to avoid doing errands or paying bills on this day too. Monday, as best as my wife and I can swing it, is our sabbath of resting and not doing any work. As a workaholic, if I am not firm about this, it won’t happen.

Saturday is my flex day. Two to three times a month, Saturdays are a day off from normal work but yet is usually reserved for errands, bill paying, etc. I also keep my phone on and check my e-mail or Facebook occasionally. The other Saturday’s a month are the occasional events or activities with kids.

2) After a weekend event or trip, a Youth Pastor needs two days off.

For me, I try to take Monday and Tuesday off just to recharge my batteries and get some rest. If you are a Youth Pastor and you have figured out how to get two full nights of sleep on a youth retreat without using duct tape, please let me know your secrete.

3) It is not necessary to have internet and e-mail on your cell phone.

I know this one might sound a bit anti-cultural but seriously, if there is something that is serious enough that needs your attention after work hours, they wouldn’t be communicating that in a e-mail. I realized this fact this past summer on our mission trip to Tijuana, Mexico. Having my e-mail on me at all times just prolonged my work day and prevented me from relaxing when I got home. Not to mention the constant vibration or dinging all evening didn’t help with spending time with my wife. When I got back from the trip I canceled internet and I have really loved it ever since. There have really only been once or twice that I can think of that I have actually missed it or been annoyed not having it since August.

4) A Youth Pastor needs at least three weeks vacation.

I have come to learn that I need a week in the summer and a week in the winter in order to stay sane and avoid working myself into a hole. This also helps my relationship with my wife have some very important quality time and allow myself to pause and de-stress. The other week of vacation is for time with family around the holidays, graduations or other special occasions but in most cases those times are not without a bit of stress and shouldn’t take the place of important, de-stressing vacations.

5) On average, a Youth Pastor shouldn’t work more than 50-55 hours a week.

We all know in ministry you have weeks that are well above that and overs that compensate for those weeks by going under. On average though, I don’t think it is healthy to go beyond that on a consistent basis. Seriously, the world only needs one savior and they already have Him…and just to be clear, you’re not him (or her)!

January 16, 2010

An All Nighter With Jesus

A while back now, I purchased this book to use for study as I was preparing messages for group. I lied the idea of being able to look at the events in the chronological order of which they happened and what new insights would arise because of it. Lately, I have been reading through the Gospels in it and it has helped see some of the stories in different ways. More than just being in chronological order I also like this Bible because it doesn’t have verse numbers within the text so it reads more like a story.

I was really struck by John 1:25-51.

Within this passage, it tells the story of two of John the Baptist’s disciples spending all night (from 4:00pm until sunrise which marked the next day) with Jesus after John declares Him the “Lamb of God.” Now think about that for a second…consider spending an entire night with Jesus. Think about what you would see and experience. Think about the things that Jesus would talk about and how you would want to hang on every single word that came out. Think about the embrace you would receive at the end of your entire day together. One would imagine that an entire night with Jesus would simply be surreal; one that we can only hope for when we get to Heaven.

Now, after you have spent that time with Jesus, what do you think your response would be the next day?

What surprises and challenges me is that after these two men spend the day with Jesus, they have two different responses. In verse 40, it tells us that one of the two men was Andrew and that the “first thing” Andrew did was to go and find his brother Peter and tell him about his great day and the great man he spent it with. There was excitement and energy, joy and love. Later on when Jesus formally asks Peter and Andrew to follow him (Matthew 4:18-22) the two men simply up and leave their father sitting in the boat as they run off for a life together with Jesus.

This is the response that I want to have. The one that I would hope most of you would want to have after spending a day with Jesus.

Yet, there is another side to the story that I have often overlooked in previous readings: What happened to the second man? Remember, it wasn’t just Andrew who spent the day with Jesus, there was a second man. (Now there is a possibility that the second man was Philip who is brought up in verse 43 but it in inconclusive. I also find it weird that John would go out of the way to mention that one of the men was Andrew but yet not mention that if in fact the second was Philip. Also, there are some commentators who think the other man was John, the author, but there isn’t really any proof to back that up – as far as I know at this point anyways)

In all appearances, the other man simply went home after his day with Jesus. He didn’t tell anyone that we know of. There was no excitement or love. And by all appearances he didn’t come back again to find Jesus and spend more time with Him. The man spent an entire day with the Creator of the Universe and appears to have simply gone home and went, “Ehhh.” What?!?!?!?

What I began to ask myself though is which response do I tend to model? Am I more often Andrew or am I more often this other guy?

I wish I could sit here and tell you that my response is always that of Andrew – excitement, love, energy…but the truth is, I am probably more often the unknown man. I spend time with Jesus, I check off my list of things to do today and pat myself on the back and go on with my life as normal.

Just like in any relationship, there will always be “Ehhh” days, even with Jesus, but yet what I have realized in my own relationships are that those “Ehhh” days are more my choice of how to interpret them and live them than they are a reflection of who I am spending my time with.

My prayer though is that I would more and more act like Andrew. That I would make the effort to tell other people about what Jesus is teaching me (one of my ways will be this blog). That I would make the effort to bring others to Him. I want to start asking this question regularly:

How will I respond to my day with Jesus today?