Just a Youth Ministry Geek!

Conversations about modern youth ministry

The Lent Experiment February 3, 2009

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I’m not from a tradition that observes Ash Wednesday or the events that surround Lent.  In the next couple of weeks I hope to learn a little more about Lent and it’s history.

My goal during the 40 days of Lent is to completely give up video games and devote that time to reading, studying and being silent.  I have a stack of books that I plan to read, some ministry related, some soul related.

What started this?

I go through seasons where I get really into a video game, and then for almost no apparent reason become extremely bored with it and switch to reading.  I decided that I got more out of reading than playing a game.  While video games are primarily social for me (I play with 4 or 5 of my college friends and we talk to each other through headsets) I walk away from a book with a better sense of accomplishment and growth.

It is my hope to finish this stack of books and come out of this a new person.  Pray for me as I start this journey on February 25th.


Crisis Counseling part 3 January 8, 2009

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For the final installment of the Crisis Counseling series, I want to talk about the most common type of counseling that youth workers encounter.  We’ll call this Counseling in the Youth Room – the times when those students approach you after the lesson or while you’re in your office or just after church on Sunday.

When students approach you with an issue, or question concerning something they’re going through, first of all take the time to thank them for coming to you.  It takes a lot of guts for a teenager to approach an adult about an issue.  AND they choose you to talk to you about it.  So that shows they trust you.

Oftentimes, the questions they ask may be the symptoms of a much larger question that they are hesitant to talk about.  So ask questions to figure out what they really want.  Try to dig deeper.  For example, they may approach you about “What to do when you’re feeling depressed…” when really, they may be struggling with self-mutilation.  You could follow up their question of “Well, what do you do when you’re feeling depressed?”  This helps steer the conversation into deeper territories.

Help guide them to do their own thinking.  I’ve mentioned this before, but it is so critical that they do the majority of the talking.  Allow them to find the answers on their own.  They may ask you a direct question, but redirecting the question to them helps them search it out and discover the answer–which in the long run makes for much more effective learning and problem solving.

Use the Bible! Scripture is full of wonderful scriptures and examples of people who need help like we do.  Point to those examples and communicate it in a way that they can understand and how it relates to them.

Give them homework, some kind of assignment that helps work through the situation. For example, a student is struggling with anger towards another student at school.  A great assignment would be for your student to write out a prayer for that particular student every day for the next week and bring it back to you.  The purpose of this is 2 fold: 1) They are living out the command of Jesus to pray for our enemies and 2) they are following through with their issues to help get them resolved.  And then you have a measuring marker to see progress!

Finally, and probably most importantly: Follow up. Either set a date to meet or make a point to ask your student the next time you see them how they are doing.  Make sure you don’t just send your students off to the wolves after a talk.  We need to make sure we follow up with them to make sure they are still on track.


The Perfect Youth Pastor December 31, 2008

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Today I have the top 10 ways to be the “Perfect Youth Pastor”!

No.  I don’t.  In fact, if I was to make a top 10 list like that–it would more likely be “The Top 10 Things NOT to do”!  But I came across this great post this morning about the myth of the perfect youth pastor.  You have to give churches credit: They want to do their very best in reaching their young people.  But often times they get the wrong idea about who they want to hire for the position.

Well over at Random Thoughts from a Random Man, I came across this great entry about the myth of the perfect youth pastor.  Take some time and check it out.


Most Popular of 2008! December 30, 2008

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Here are the entries that made the top 5 for 2008 here at Just a Youth Ministry Geek:

#5. The Grass Is Always Greener…I wrote this post in the midst of overcoming youth group envy!  We’ve all felt it, that time when you saw that particular church or youth group and wished you were in similar circumstances.  Don’t!

#4.  Youth Ministry on a Tight Budget. Churches today are starting to cut budgets in the face of our economic problems.  So what do you do when your budget is cut and you need resources?  Here are some suggestions.

#3.  Book Review: Youth Ministry 3.0. Mark Oestricher’s book on where youth ministry has been and where it’s going (or needs to go).  If you haven’t read it, get on it!
#2.  What’s the Big Deal About Twilight? Lots of different people have lots of different opinions when it comes to the Twilight series.  It’s a series that we will continue to have parents come and ask questions about.

#1.  Reaching Gamers Part 1. The first installment of my unfinished series.  I still plan on finishing the series!  I promise!  Gamers are a large percentage within students today.  What’s interesting is that it is made of many different tribes.  Here I give an introduction to the whole subject.

That’s the top posts for 2008!

What would you like to see for 2009?


Crisis Counseling part 2 December 24, 2008

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In our continuation of conversations about crisis counseling (lots of C words in that phrase), we’re going to take a look today about things NOT to do in a counseling situation.

  1. Don’t sit behind your desk. I have a desk in my office and it faces the door.  I hate it.  Nothing says “I’m better than you” than having a desk between you and the other person.  Put a sofa or comfy chair adjacent to your chair so there are no barriers between you.  Think of a desk like a wall.
  2. Don’t take a ton of notes. If you remember from the previous post, we have to do a good job in listening.  If we are taking a ton of notes it communicates we’re not listening to every word.  Take some notes…but don’t spend all your time writing stuff down.
  3. Don’t look at your watch, computer, clock, cell phone, etc…when you check the time you’re communicating a number of things.  First, that you are bored.  Second, they are not worth your time and third, the schedule is more important than the conversation.  Obviously if you’re limited on time, make sure that is communicated before you start talking together.
  4. Don’t think you can do it all by yourself. If you have to get together more than 4 times, you may want to consider referring your student to a professional counseling service.  If you’re dealing with a teenage break up, you probably won’t need to refer.  But if your student is dealing with eating disorders or deep depression, don’t hesitate to refer.  It’s responsible and extremely appropriate.
  5. Don’t counsel a member of the opposite sex alone. If I have a girl in my office, I keep the blinds on my window open.  I let someone know that I’m going to have a girl in my office.  You have to let other people know what’s going on in case, heaven forbid, something is said.  Be prepared.
  6. Never counsel a member of the opposite sex more than 3 times. This is hard, but so important.  Inappropriate relationships are formed by situations between an adult and a teenager where a significant amount of emotion is being expelled.  You may have the best of intentions, but these things have been known to work on even the best of youth workers in a very negative and damaging way.

There are many other things NOT to do when in a counseling situation, but I wanted to leave of these things up for discussion.  What things have you learned to never do?


Crisis Counseling Part 1 December 23, 2008

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For the next couple of post I would like to take the time to look at some of the issues that teenagers and children are facing today and how to deal with them in a one on one basis.

For my first post, I just want to give a bit of an introduction and some small words of advice on counseling.  If you’re a youth worker, chances are you received limited training in the area of counseling/therapy.  I know I did, and most of what I have learned I’ve learned on the fly or by reading some really great books (more on those books later).

Adolescents today face so many issues that you are bound to have to deal with these at some point.  There are many that struggle with:

  • Suicide (attempted or suicidal thoughts)
  • Disruptive Families
  • Sexual abuse
  • Getting in trouble with the law
  • Eating disorders
  • Death of loved ones
  • Sexual Identity
  • Substance abuse
  • Relational problems
  • Violence
  • Many more…

We’ll look at some of those in depth in the upcoming posts.  But there are some key ingredients that you want to have whenever you’re talking to a young person about some of the above issues.

  1. Be Accepting. If they come to you to talk about something, that means they’re putting a LOT on the line with you.  For example, let’s say that Denise is struggling with her sexual identity.  She comes to you and pours all of this out to you and you instantly start to tell her she’s going to hell–then you’ve ruined your chance at making an impact. Allow teenagers like Denise to come to you and make them feel that no matter what-you love them!  We may not want them to continue suffering with their issues, but we’re going to love them regardless.
  2. Be Reassuring. Let them know that this isn’t the end of the world.  Things do get better.  Pains do heal over time.  They will eventually heal wounds.
  3. Listen. That’s a given!  But use those signs of active listening.  The “Hmm”s and the “uh huh”.  Ask questions to let them know you are listening intently.  Let them talk and refrain from dominating any of the conversation.  The best lessons are learned by self discovery.  You may have the answers-but they need to discover the answers themselves.  You are there to guide them-not to divulge all you know.
  4. Allow Time For Processing. You’re not going to solve everything in an hour’s time.  Let a week go by before you get together to talk about the issue again.  Also, don’t let silence be a bad thing.  Give them time to think things out.  If a long time of silence goes by, ask them what they’re thinking.  Putting it into words helps the processing.
  5. Focus on the Key Issue. Sometimes, key issues spill into other ‘symptoms’.  If Rick is having family problems, a symptom might be about being grounded for a month.  Don’t spend all your time dealing with the symptoms of the key issue.  Deal with the issue itself and often times the symptoms will disappear.
  6. Take Time To Plan.  This works when you have time before you’re going to talk to someone.  If you know Denise is coming in to talk about sexual identity, do some research.  See what others have been talking about with their students.  A little planning goes a long way.

Here’s a couple of books to pick up for further reading:

The Youth Worker’s Guide to Helping Teenagers in Crisis by Van Pelt and Hancock

Helping the Struggling Adolescent by Dr. Les Parrot

Josh McDowell’s Handbook on Counseling Youth


Creating Youth Group/Cell Phone Unity December 15, 2008

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Remember when cell phones were known as car phones and they were the size of a cinder block?  Those days are long gone and it seems like everyone has a cell phone these days.  We have kids as young as 10 at our church that have cell phones.

So why not try to add some kind of fun an unity with your youth group with having your own ring tone?

Phonezoo.com is a free website where you can 1) Find a whole bunch of free ring tones, pictures and animations for your cell phone but most importantly 2) make your own!

Heres a couple of easy applications:

  • Have an inside joke or phrase that is used in your youth group?  Turn it into a ring tone for your whole group.
  • Easily share phone pictures with the rest of your group.  You can send files to and from phonezoo with your phone.

There are lots of possibilities!  Not to mention it’s just a neat site to check out and see what’s available!