For the first time EVER in my ministry, I have an entire month off of regular youth services.  Due to church activities and holiday cancellations, we will not have our midweek IMPACT service the entire month of December.  It's not the first time I've had a "break" like this in YM, but it's by far the longest one I've ever had.  

However, just because our regular services aren't happening doesn't mean I'm on vacation or that ministry has stopped.  In fact, I'm taking the opportunity to do several things, things I would encourage you to do as well anytime  you have a break from your normal routine:

- Get ahead.  So far I've already got an entire teaching series ("Exodus", a study of the book over 6 weeks, more on that later) mapped out for after the first of the year.  I also hope to have all the other service elements (games, music, videos, small groups) basically planned out for the first 6 weeks of 2012.  Along with that, over the next several weeks I hope to get our Sunday morning Bible Studies ready for January.

- Leader training/encouragement.  This break in services allows me the opportunity to spend time with our adult and student leaders and train them and encourage them.  We've already met once and planned out our activities for the first quarter of 2012, our summer mission trip, and spent time encouraging each other.  I hope to meet with them once more before Christmas to write cards to our students and do some more training on mentoring and counseling, and dream about the coming year.

- Assist/support other ministries.  Part of my "full-time" job status involves helping to lead worship.  I'm taking some of the extra time I have during the week that's not being spent on prepping for our midweek to work on a few things in the worship ministry, such as building up our instrumentalists, selecting new music, and updating some of our media resources.  I've also made myself available to our music minister as she works on the church's Christmas musical.  On top of that, I've been talking with our Children's Ministry Team to see what their needs are and I hope to plug some students in to helping out in those areas.

- Catch up on "side projects".  There are always a million little things on my to-do list that don't have a specific due date on them that consequently never seem to get done.  Some extra time means I can work through some of those and finally feel some accomplishment.  For example, I had several article/writing ideas on the backburner that I've had the chance to crank out over the last couple weeks, and hope to write some more in the weeks to come.

- Spend time with students.  A break from the routine means I'm almost forced into this one if I want to stay connected with our youth.  Luckily, they'll be on break soon and that means lots of hanging out, eating, and playing with students leading up to Christmas.  We all know that time spent with youth outside of church is almost always more valuable than structured program time, so I'm not mad about this at all!

- Time off.  Even though I said before that I'm not on vacation and ministry hasn't stopped, this "break" in YM is the perfect opportunity for me to burn through the remaining vacation days I have.  I have one day set aside already to play the copy of Batman: Arkham City that has been sitting unopened on my entertainment center for a couple weeks, I'm taking another day to spend with my son just sitting around the house in our PJs playing and doing dude things all day, and the last one I just tacked onto the end of our staff Christmas break so that I can stretch out our family's time together over the holidays by another day.

That's it!  There are a few other odds and ends I'm hoping to do over this break, including reading and studying for personal growth, and I'm excited to have this opportunity (even though I was honestly kind of annoyed with it at first).  


What about you?  How do you spend your time when you get little breaks from your usual routine?
 
This is an article I submitted to my friends over at YouthMinistry.com - click here to check out their awesome website!

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“Praise the Lord.  Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever.” - Ps. 106:1

“Just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in Him, rooted and built up in Him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness." - Col. 2:6-7

“Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” - 1 Thess. 5:18


It’s the time of year when many stop and take stock of all they have to be thankful for.  For us, as believers, an attitude of gratitude (yup, I went there!) is something we should pursue daily, not just once a year.

But why?  Why is it so important for us to pursue thankfulness as followers of Christ?

For every aspect of His own life-giving character that Jesus calls us to put on, He calls us AWAY from an aspect of our sinful nature that is destructive.  Another way to say this is that God calls us away from brokenness and towards wholeness in Himself.

So as we pursue giving thanks, which is “God’s will for us in Christ Jesus,” we move away from:

-Jealousy.  It’s hard to be jealous of what others have when giving thanks for what we’ve been given.

-Entitlement.  When I am grateful for what I have, I tend to stop thinking about what others, including God, owe me.

-Complaining.  Have you ever tried thanking God for something and complaining about it at the same time?  Try it.  It’s impossible!

-Bitterness.  We become bitter when we spend our time focused on what we DON’T have instead of being thankful for what we do.  It’s an easy hole to fall in to, but not an easy one to climb out of.

How does all of this apply to youth ministry?  Think about the list above.  Have you ever been jealous of someone else’s ministry?  I have.  Have you ever felt a sense of entitlement, that you DESERVE something that you aren’t being given, whether that’s praise, compensation, or whatever?  I have.  Have you ever complained about your youth ministry situation?  I have.  Have you ever wrestled with feelings of bitterness?  I have.

All of these attitudes can lead to self-destruction in ministry, but pursuing thankfulness can not only help us become closer to Christ and stronger in our walk with Him, but help us create healthier youth ministry environments in which we can lead young people away from these destructive attitudes in their lives and towards wholeness in Jesus.

So go ahead - take stock.  What can you be thankful for today?

 

This is a letter I wrote and posted on Facebook after a young man in our community who many of our students knew took his own life.

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Suicide.

It’s not something we like to think about, and when we are faced with the reality of it, as many of you have been over the last week, it causes us to ask many questions.

“WHY did this happen?”

“Could I have done or said anything to prevent this?”

“Is this my fault?”

“Is my friend in Hell because they committed suicide?”

“IS suicide an option when it seems like there is no other way out?”

When dealing with the suicide of a friend or someone you know, it’s normal to grieve and to ask questions like the ones above.  There is never anything wrong with asking questions and putting words to the emotions you are feeling inside.  You NEED to work through those and talk to someone who you can trust and be open with.

Let me encourage you with a few thoughts.

#1 - You will never have all the answers.  The “why” question is often the most difficult one to deal with, because suicide, by its very nature, leaves many questions unanswered.  They say that hindsight is 20/20, and you may in fact look back and see many warning signs in your friend’s life, but know that when a person reaches the point of taking his or her own life, there is a lot more going on than what you or I see on the surface.  There are so many layers of doubt, depression, loneliness, hopelessness, etc., and often even psychological or physiological issues at play, and we will never know in this life all the reasons “why”.  As hard as it is, we have to bit-by-bit let go of our desire to completely understand what happened.

#2 - It’s not your fault.  Like asking “why”, looking back and thinking of all the things you did or didn’t do that might have saved your friend is ultimately a futile exercise.  All the “what if’s” in the world won’t bring him or her back, and they often lead instead to feelings of guilt or blame, both of which are unhealthy.  If you must ask “what if”, do it with a group of friends, or a youth group/church group and don’t focus on what you COULD have done but what you WILL do for others in the future.

#3 - Suicide doesn’t send a person straight to Hell.  Some religions teach this, but the Bible - which I believe is God’s truth - does not say ANYWHERE that suicide is an unforgivable sin.  I believe that there are Christians who have taken their own lives who will, by God’s grace and mercy, be in Heaven.  Ultimately, the issue isn’t how your friend’s life ended, but whether or not they put their faith in Jesus as Savior.  Never forget that we are not a people of despair, but of hope!

#4 - God has a purpose for all of us.  If you have ever had suicidal thoughts, or you see that your friend has “escaped” the troubles of this life and you wonder if it really is a way out, I want you to always remember one thing:  You are here for a reason!  God has a plan for each and every one of us, and the first part of that plan is that we would find our faith, our strength, and our hope in relationship with Him through His Son Jesus.  I hope you know what I’m talking about because YOU have that relationship, but if you don’t, let me ask you - what do you stand on when everything in this life falls apart?  What is your foundation, your solid ground?  We all need something - SOMEONE - greater than ourselves to hold us up when the brokenness of this life pushes us down.  Do you have that?  Do you know that kind of strength, that kind of hope?  If you don’t, I encourage you to talk to someone you know who is a Christian or even pick up a Bible and start reading the book of John.  If you are a Christian and still struggle with thoughts of depression or even suicide, find someone to talk to and remember God’s promise in Jeremiah 29:11 - “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Suicide.

It’s a terrible, awful thing, and a reminder to me of how broken this world that we live in is.  I grieve for the loss of life and also the loss of potential - of all that those who choose to take their own life could have done to escape the darkness and then reach out to those still trapped in it with the hope of a better tomorrow.  My heart breaks for those left behind who have to struggle with all the unanswered questions. 

But more than any of that, I still remain hopeful, because there is One who is bigger than loneliness, bigger than hopelessness, bigger than depression, or doubt, or darkness, or death, and my life is in His hands.

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If you are having thoughts of suicide or need someone to talk to, you can message me by clicking the "Contact" tab above, or e-mail me at timisbatman@gmail.com.  Don't go through this alone!
 
This is a post I did last year, I hope it benefits you today!

Do you, as a youth minister, desire to have influence among the young people in your church and community?  If you’re like me, being able to influence students with the life-changing message of the Gospel is the goal you’re aiming for, but it is also one that can often seem difficult if not impossible to reach.

The problem that many youth ministers/ministries face when trying to gain influence among the young people of their churches and communities is that they try to gain that influence based solely on a strong desire or assumed “right” to speak in to students’ lives.  Without laying down some essential “stepping stones”, you will never be able to have the impact you hope to have on teenagers and their families.  However, if you build a path toward influence by focusing on a few basic steps, you will see your influence increase and God begin to change lives and do something great in and through your ministry.

Instead of focusing on the end-goal, focus on each of these in progression to build the path to influence:

Intimacy
Before you are able to influence anyone, you need to be influenced by your Heavenly Father.  Spending consistent time with God in prayer and devotion is the well-spring from which all of the following steps toward influence flow.  Without being plugged in to the Source of the life-change you desire to see, how are you ever going to see your ministry become a catalyst for that life-change?

Inspiration
Spending time with God in worship, prayer, etc. will ultimately lead to inspiration.  If you are consistently and earnestly praying for God to move amongst the young people of your church and community, He will eventually answer that prayer by inspiring you to some sort of action or next step to take toward that goal.  He may speak to your creativity, your leadership, your passion, or your pastoral heart; and when He does, you will know!

Implementation
It’s important then to act on the inspiration that God has given you by implementing whatever changes, new strategies, creative programming, individual or group mentoring, leadership development, etc. you’ve been inspired to do.  So often we feel led in a fresh direction, get inspired to do something, and then fail on the follow-through.  This may be the hardest step on the path to influence because it often requires the most work or encounters the most resistance from our critics.  But remember to be faithful not just to your inspiration but to the One who inspired you in the first place!

Interest
If you’re lucky, whatever changes or new directions you’ve implemented in your ministry will begin to generate interest among the youth of your church or community.  It’s important that you construct your ministry so that what you’re doing captures the attention of students.  Lack of interest or boredom among the young people you engage can not only kill momentum in your ministry but can kill your passion as well.  Remember that patience is key – it may take months or even years to see the fruits of what God is doing, but staying true to what God has inspired you to do and working hard to implement that is one sure way to make sure that interest is generated and that those fires stay hot!

Involvement
Once students begin to take interest in what your ministry is all about, it’s time to get them involved.  Make sure you have a process in place that moves youth along the most basic path of involvement:  fringes --> committed --> core.  You should be taking those students that are interested in the message of your ministry, helping them to own it for themselves, and then equipping them to be leaders.

Influence
Once you have generated enough interest, and students begin to become involved in owning their own faith and growing in to leaders, congratulations – you’ve gained influence!  You will be amazed at how deeply you’ll be able to impact the lives of those young people God in His grace has seen fit to send to you.  And remember – it all started because you relied on God and your relationship with Him to be the source of this influence, so remember to give credit where credit is due.

This may not be a sure-fire way to grow a giant-sized youth ministry, but it is a practical approach to gaining the ability to make a difference in the next generation of students for God’s Kingdom.  Good luck in your adventures in YM!  I’d love to hear what you’re up to. Comment this post or drop me a message using the “Contact” box at the top of this screen.

 
Last week I was in Seattle with family visiting my wife's brother Travis.  We spent one day in Mt. Rainier National Park, surrounded by some of the most beautiful scenery I've ever seen.

We must've stopped a dozen times to take pictures, and we hiked down several short trails.  About halfway up the mountain we hiked down a trail overlooking a beautiful waterfall.  We got there at just the right time so that the sun was hitting the waterfall and causing a rainbow to appear in front of it.  Again, B-E-A-UTIFUL!

As stunning as the view from the overlook was, Travis and I decided that we wanted to BE down there, at the base of the waterfall, so we proceeded to take a (for me) crazy hike down the ravine and across the river, moving from boulder to boulder to get across it.

I don't usually do stuff like this, and it was a challenge, especially the river crossing.  But what a thrill!  And I can promise you, when we finally reached the base of the waterfall, it was AMAZING, and so worth the effort it took to get there.

It made me think - when was the last time I've really challenged myself?  Not just physically, but when it comes to life in general, and even in youth ministry.  So often we avoid challenges because of fear, but if we never face the challenge we'll never reap the rewards.  We could have stayed at the overlook, but we would never have reached the base of the waterfall, and enjoyed the view and the feeling of success.

What are some challenges you're facing in YM that, for whatever reason, you're avoiding?  What would happen if you met them head on and saw what God wanted to do in and through you as you overcame them?

The view just might be worth it.
 
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A few years ago I sat down and did some math.  If a student in our youth ministry comes to every program/service we offer during a week (including "big church") from the time they start 6th grade to the time they graduate high school - that's roughly 4 hours a week for 6 years - we get about 1% of their time in middle and high school.

Whoa.

What are we doing with that 1%?
 
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Saw a great question online today from a YM friend.  She was asking about keeping track of hours in youth ministry.  I'm lucky in that I don't have to keep official time-sheets or anything like that in my job.

HOWEVER, there are two things I do that I consider healthy practices:

#1 - I always keep my pastor and my administrator informed of what I have going on.  Meetings, lunches, projects, etc.  Even communicating in a general sense what I'm up to helps them to know where I'm at and lets them avoid having to give an "I don't know" or other awkward answer to the question "what is the youth minister doing?"

#2 - I keep a flexible "time map".  This is a basic guide to what I'm doing during the week.  I break each day down in to three sections - morning (8-12), afternoon (1-5), and evening (5-9), and then assign each block the general tasks I seek to accomplish during that time.  If you're interested, here's what my time map looks like:

MONDAY
Morning - Staff meeting, administrative tasks.
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Afternoon - Office stuff, calendar review (long and short term), event/activity planning.
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Evening - Family time.

TUESDAY
Morning - Midweek program prep/set-up, office stuff, miscellaneous ministry "to-dos".
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Afternoon - Midweek program prep/set-up, relational time with students.
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Evening - Family time.

WEDNESDAY
Morning - Message prep, reading, writing, web stuff (from home).
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Afternoon - Midweek program "finishing touches", visioneering, "marketing" (newsletters, e-mails, FB stuff, etc.) (from home).
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Evening - Midweek youth program.

THURSDAY
Morning - Small group prep, volunteer connections (from home).
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Afternoon - Weekend worship/program prep, office stuff.
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Evening - Flex-time (sometimes family, sometimes relational time with students).

FRIDAY
Morning - Flex-time (finishing up anything left to do for the weekend, from home).
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Afternoon - Home/house stuff (cleaning, laundry, etc. - yeah, I do that stuff!).
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Evening - Family (date with my wife!).

SATURDAY
Sabbath/family time ALL DAY.

SUNDAY
Morning - Worship/program time.
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Afternoon - Flex-time (family, students, or meetings).
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Evening - Program time.

That's it!  What does your week look like?
 
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I had an article published on YouthMinistry.com and I'd love for you to check it out and leave me a comment with your thoughts!

The article is called "Swimming Upstream in YM" and you can check it out by clicking right here.

- Tim B.
 
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Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.

Good word for ANYONE in ministry today!

- Tim B.
 
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Every once in a while I'll pull an old post or article I've written and repost it.  I'd love any thoughts you may have!  This is from an article I wrote for YouthMinistry.com in January of 2010.  Enjoy!

One of my biggest struggles lately has been coming to terms with my inability to birth passion within the lives of students. Hard as I try, I just can’t seem to force passion on them.

Don't get me wrong. I believe that in youth ministry part of our calling is to foster passion within the lives of young people - passion for God's fame, His glory, His kingdom coming, and their story within that Kingdom. I think you could look at it as tending soil, if you're into agricultural metaphors.

The thing is though, you can water the ground all day long but if there's not a seed below the surface, nothing is going to grow there. In the same way, if there are no seeds of Godly passion within a young man or woman's soul, our efforts to inspire them for the sake of the Gospel are, ultimately, in vain.

Even though I know this in my head, I still get heart-frustrated when faced with the spiritual apathy of so many young people, especially the ones who have been in church their whole lives and think that the whole thing is one giant cliché.

At the core of this struggle, there’s a fundamental truth I have to grasp:

I am not God.

Shocking, right?

In John 6:44 Jesus says "…no one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him..." I just have to keep reminding myself that God is the One doing the real work in the lives of the students in our ministry. I am, in a very real way, just there to work the soil of their lives. And in the same way that gardening or farming takes time, patience, hard work, and a willingness to wait for the right season to see the harvest, God will, in His perfect timing, plant the seed and cause it to grow.

So here’s my encouragement to you. Let’s keep working. Let’s keep watering. Let’s keep tilling the soil and getting down deep into the lives of young people and praying for the opportunity to witness God-planted seeds of passion take root and break through to the surface of their lives.  And let's remember that when we are frustrated with the blank stares, the apathetic attitudes, and the compromising behavior, this simple truth: we are not God.

But He is.  And He can do anything.

- Tim B.