Inner City Youth Ministry

Broadway Diner

It was a cold day in January when I received a call from Pastor Carlos. A six foot tall American/Cuban with a heart of gold. He asked me if I could meet up with him some time just to hang out and talk. I agreed and we met a couple of days later at the Broadway Diner in Bayonne, New Jersey. “supposedly the worlds best pancakes”. I ordered walnut pancakes, sizzling hot sausage and a huge glass of chocolate milk (low on the chocalate syrup). I forgot what Carlos ate, I was too busy thinking about the reason for our meeting as we shot the breeze and beat around the bush.

Finally, as we finished up “the worlds best pancakes”, he told me he felt we had a good connection and he thought we would work well together. He then proceeded to draw his plan on a diner napkin with a 99 cent bick pen. He outlined the five major districts of the city, and what it would look like if we had a physical presence in each.

Then the question came. The reason for fattening up the lamb. “Can you help us? Would you and your wife pastor our first underground insurgent cell in the Elmora district?” I didn’t answer right away. I felt I needed to go home and talk to my wife first. At the time I was working an insane amount of hours at my job, my wife was going to school, we were both running a young adults bible study, and I really had no passion for youth. I mean kids were ok, but it wasn’t like I was chasing a job to reach out to them.

We talked, laughed a little more and the big cuban picked up the bill. I stuffed the napkin into my pocket and went home. There was really no fight from my wife. She is type A, strong leader, we can do anything together type of lady. I decided to accept the challenge, and go for it. Not because I loved kids, not because I longed for the title of Pastor, or yearned for the power the position seemed to offer. I went for it because a friend asked me for help. Thats the God’s honest truth.

Its been 7 years and I am coming to the end of my journey in the Elmora District. I have about 150 kids show up every friday night, and solid right hand man ready to take the helm of responsibility. God knows I did my very best. Through this series I hope to give you an honest look at our program. I really hope it is a great resource, and to be completely honest a book deal couldn’t hurt. The program could use the cash to hire more pastors. I could use it to finish painting my hallway. 🙂

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“Like Napoleon, I will divide and conquer”, Ace Ventura

O.Kay so back to the napkin. We took the city of Elizabeth and divided it into 5 districts. 1. Elmora, 2. Midtown, 3. Bayway, 4. North Elizabeth, and 5. The Port. The plan was to have a youth group in each district. Why? At the time our communities only youth group was located in the Midtown district. It was doing extremely well.  Pastor Carlos and his team were loving the kids and pointing them towards Jesus like never before. The kids from the church were growing, the kids from the neighborhood were being reached, but the “whole” city weighed very heavy on our communities heart.  What about the other 4 districts. The fact of the matter was that the other districts were not being reached. It was too far of a walk for the kids even if they knew about the program. We found that a majority of our kids actually walked to youth group. So if we couldn’t bring them to the program, we would bring the program to them. Wala! The 5 districts, the napkin, the bic pen, the diner, and Me.

Me and my wife started the first week of April. We brought with us one guy leader and one girl leader from Midtowns youth group. A Presbyterian church in the district rented out their basement to us for food stamps. Just joking, but they really hooked us up.  Our first night we threw a mini (I mean mini) local concert in the basement. We had about 8 kids. All from our church that lived in the district and decided to come with us. We grew to a steady 35 kids until June of the following year. Thats when the Presbyterian church gave us the news that they were closing up shop and selling the building. The new church that bought the building gave our program a big thumbs down.  We had to be out by July 1. “You’r doing what? But?… God what’s happening? We were just starting to sink our roots into the neighborhood. I did not want to find another building and start all over again. As a team we decided to trust God and pray.

This is when it all changed.  We found out through the grape vine that we could rent the grammar schools gym for peanuts if we made the event open to the neighborhood. What an awesome opportunity. A public school is an established center for learning in the community. It’s universal, non threatening, and a place where parents and students can feel comfortable. Elmora School number 12 was were God decided we should park our rear ends. The school was located in the heart of the district. The gym was huge. All of the kids in the neighborhood could walk there.

Opening night in september blew our minds. We opened the doors to the gym at 7 p.m. and God literally opened the doors to the neighborhood to us. We steadily began to grow and are still growing as we seek God, and refine our program. Since then “The Port district”, “North Elizabeth 1”, “North Elizabeth 2”, and “Elmora” are currently meeting in public schools. As God raises up leaders within our program we have plans to continue the vision in opening up the program to the “Bayway district”, and boroughs outside the city. Midtown still meets in the churches lobby. (although I have arguments to move it to a school, the rent is free and I am not the boss 🙂

What demographic area has God given your community a heart for? Is it a city? Is it a town? Is it a borough? I believe if you split your city up into the natural districts already established, somehow find out if you can rent the schools, raise up leaders and open the schools doors, God just might open up the neighborhoods to you.

A very good little problem

About 1 year after we were in Elmora School 12 we started getting an influx of kids 5-11 years old. They were sneaking in, begging to come in, lying about their age to get in and being turned away. Up to that point our program was designed for 12-18 year olds. So because of our focus we turned the little ones away. But the funny things is, little kids are persistent. They kept coming. We came to find out that the North Elizabeth District was having the same problem. Pastor Carlos being the visionary that he is 🙂 Said you know what, I won’t turn them away. We will re- arrange and refocus. Presto! Bridge Jr. was born. I followed suite.  So here we have it, at the beginning of year two we began reaching out to kids that just started walking  to 11yrs old the first hour (Bridge Jr.) and kids 12 -18 the second hour and a half (The Bridge). The beauty of these little buggers is that we never have to do much promotion (I hate flyers and door to door anyways) or worry about numbers because little kids love hanging with older kids(us). We run around with them and do our best to point them to God. We are building relationships with them very young, so by the time they enter “The older Bridge” they know the program, they know the leaders.  They know what they are doing on a friday night. Brilliant! God is letting us reach generation, after generation of the neighborhood.

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The Bridge Acronym and its mission

B- Building new friendships

R-Reaching the lost

I-Instructing the truth

D-Discovering your gifts

G-Growing in Christs likeness

E-Experiencing true worship

The Bridge. This is what we wanted the kids of our city to experience. The past seven years God has taken us through 3 basic structures to run the night. Each was fitting for the time and amount of kids we had. I would like to take you through them and bring you to the arena we are operating in now.

The first structure we started off with was a 4 week cycle structure. The first friday of the month was called “The Chill night”. The second friday was called “The Main Event”. The third was called “The Forum”, and the fourth was “The Encounter”. After “The Encounter” we would start the cycle over with a new theme.

The “Chill Night” was basically an open gym night. Just music, basketball, volleyball, board games, some announcements and a prayer. The night was designed to be non threatening. We wanted to create an atmosphere where the kids could invite their friends and just “Chill”. It was a great start for the leadership team to hang out with the kids and get to know them with no strings attached. This fulfilled the building new friendships and reaching the lost part of the acronym.

The “Main Event” was a night filled with organized games. We would split the kids up into teams and do everything and anything to engage them. We played steal the bacon, bobbing for dollar bills in ice cold water. We set up folding chairs and had a “how many can you jump” contest. Tournaments, guys vs girls, double dare, fear factor, you name it we did it. We totally exhausted youth specialties books on group games. (big up to egadideas.com for the free resources). This night built on the chill nights building new friendships and reaching the lost, but it also moved into the discovering your gifts part of the acronym. If you can jump 7 folding chairs, pick up marbles with your toes in ice water, and eat a block of cheese you are on your way to discovering your gifts.

The “Forum” was where we added the instructing the truth part of the acronym. After the announcements and prayer we would split the kids up into groups and do a small cell group type of teaching on the theme. We tried to design a setting where the kids were free to ask questions about God and get honest simple answers that they could incorporate into there life.

The “Encounter” in theory was the night that we set up for the kids to encounter God. Announcements, prayer, teaching, worship, altar call, Jesus moves, heals, frees, and rescues. In this way we believed the kids could fulfill the finale letter of the acronym and experience true worship.

This cycle worked great until we started to get around 50 kids and most of them from the district and unchurched. Most of them not knowing anything about God. Big old man it the sky, “check”. invisible to me, “check”. Silent and angry, “check”. The kids from the district loved the chill night. They loved coming and playing basketball, but as the cycle continued we continued to dwindle in numbers. The chill night rope in about 50 kids. The main event around 35. The forum brought in about 30 and the encounter was a little lower than that. I would have kids come up to me before the night started and say, “Pastor what are we doing tonight”? I would reply ” tonight is the teaching, or the discussions, or games”. They would literally walk away. I would experience nights where after hanging with them for about a half an hour I would start announcements and witness a bunch of them getting up to leave because they thought the whole night was a chill night. Kids are great and I have learned a couple of things in dealing with them. They don’t like surprises,  They want to know what they are getting themselves into. Although they hate authority  and routine, it is a place where they thrive, feel safe and secure. So although the cycle was great for the few church kids and small numbers. The kids from the district never really got the cycle down. It started to become very chaotic to try to organize that many kids into groups, and have them pay attention.  We decided to change the strucure.

The new structure

After five years of the cycle structure Pastor Carlos decided to move away from the cycles and make each night the same. We would “chill” with the kids for the first 45 minutes, do announcements, prayer and a short 10 minute “electrifying” teaching. After the teaching we would close in prayer and continue to chill with the kids for the last half of an hour. I have to admit this structure worked great for me. Teaching for ten minutes was a lot of fun and came easy. The kids knew exactly what to expect each week (no surprises). The leaders just had to show up and build friendships with the kids which was great because if my leaders are anything like yours they lead very busy lives. We were receiving record numbers of kids pouring in. The last two years of working withing this structure my district has grown from an average 40 youth to an average 120 on a given night. We were doing a great job building new freindships and reaching the lost. But the rest of the acronym was missing. I personally chalked it up as a loss, because in my brain to successfully do the rest of the acronym we would have to run small groups during the week. We did not have the manpower or the time to make it happen. None the less the whole vision nagged at my big cuban friend. This year we started a new structure.

The new new structure

This is really easy. Who says small groups have to be run during the week? We are now “chilling” with the kids for the first 45 minutes, doing announcements, prayer and a short 10 minute “electrifying” teaching. After the teaching we close in prayer and split up into cell groups in the gym. In these cell groups we are working on discovering our gifts, growing in Christs likeness, and hopefully experiencing true worship. I give my leaders full authority and freedom to tailor the discussion to their groups dynamics. I encourage them to work on Douge Fields 5-3-1 relationships (big ups to “My first two years in youth ministry”) and in doing so becoming a huge part of the kids lives. It is working. I believe one of the reasons it is so effective is because we have committed adult volunteers, and  it is the same routine every friday night (no surprises). The only surprises they get are when we actually show up to their football game, or go to their part time job and treat them to lunch. The kids know exactly what to expect when they come through the doors or when they bring a friend. I have no idea how long this structure is going to last but the important thing is to be open to Gods spirit and your boss 🙂

A sample breakdown of our friday night

Bridge Jr.

6:45 – 7:00: Set up (J.R., Alex and Pastor Kevin) and Pray for Bridge Jr (Romulo leads with rest of Leaders).
7:00 Sign-in and hand out ice pops to the kids (Jen, JR & Alex)
7:00 – 7:30: Hang out and play with the kids
7:35 Welcome back
7:40 – 7:55 Divide kids into teams and send them to their leader.

In the groups leaders will:
1. Introduce themselves and play a quick name game.
2. Go over the Rules of the Bridge and lead small discussion
3. End by saying a prayer for the kids as they go home
4. IMPORTANT: Walk all the kids out and wait for their parents to get them or send them off if they walk home.
The Bridge
8:05 – 8:10: Set up and Pray for Bridge (Romulo leads with rest of the leaders)
8:10 – 8:50: Sign in, hang out and play with kids
8:50 – 9:05: Welcome and Teaching. (P. Kevin)
9:05 – 9:30: Cell groups
9:30 – End: Security (Chris and Romulo) Breakdown (J.R., Alex and Jen F.)

Social network tips and tricks

Every Wednesday night I post the breakdown, assignments, and discussions on Facebook.com. I set up a Bridge Elmora page and the only people I accept as friends are my adult volunteer leaders. All questions, prayer requests, announcements and concerns are funneled to me through this page. It’s quick, its easy and you too can set up your  page with a couple of easy steps.

I have found that most kids are hooked on myspace. It couldn’t hurt you to make a myspace page. You get a real sence of your kids hearts by looking at their pages. It is a great place to drop little notes to them telling them you are praying for them. Word to the wise though. If you are married make it a joint page of you and your wife. If you are single guy only befriend the young men and vise versa. Let your adult leaders of the other sex handle the other sex.

With that said I want to encourage you to still handwrite notes of encouragment, handle discipline in person and practice the lost art of taking a kid out for a slice of pizza and a ball game.

Oceans 11

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Rusty: You’d need at least a dozen guys doing a combination of cons.
Danny: Like what, do you think?
Rusty: Off the top of my head, I’d say you’re looking at a Boeski, a Jim Brown, a Miss Daisy, two Jethros and a Leon Spinks, not to mention the biggest Ella Fitzgerald ever.
Reuben: You guys are pros. The best. I’m sure you can make it out of the casino. Of course, lest we forget, once you’re out the front door, you’re still in the middle of the desert!

We already talked about how a typical night should run, but getting it executed well is another story. I love the movie “Oceans Eleven”. Not only is the acting suburb and the story line pretty dope but the way Danny Ocean executes the Casino theft of the Bellagio is electrifying.  Every member on Oceans team has an expertise. From Con artists, to bomb makers. From Contortunests to professional pic pockets. They are all experts in their field. Danny Leads them as they improvise, adapt and overcome to pull off the biggest theft Las Vegas has ever seen. The lesson I took from Danny Ocean was that every leader has a gift and its important to not only plug them into challenges that challenge their gifts, but it’s equally important to lead them as they improvise, adapt and overcome to actually pull off a succesful night of ministry.

So who are the key players on a typical friday night? You have the Leader, the administrator, the teacher, the sound technician, and the Can Do Guy. I will briefly describe each roll and explain how each should be operating the night of your youth group.

The Leader

This is typically the Pastor or Director. At the end of the night the buck stops with him/her. This person is in charge of planning the events for the night. Generally, this person is delegating the responsibilities and making sure he/she  gives enough room and support for objectives to be executed.  So lets say I was a pastor on a friday night. Wednesday night I would log onto my facebook ministry page and post a breakdown of responsibilities. As the Leader it is my job to put the right leader in the right role. For so long I was ministering under the assumption I had to make well rounded leaders. I was creating a ticking time bomb. My leaders were getting burnt out, I was getting burnt out. It just really sucked. So I read a little about leadership and learned a whole lot. Dan Webster once said people in life are unhappy in their jobs because they are trying to give the world what they do not have. Markus Buckingham has written countless books on finding a leaders strength and the benefits of concentrating on that streangth. So long story short, I am not concerned about their weaknesses unless they are character issue. I persue their streangth, and once I understand it, I place them in that position. Once the leader is in their gifted position they will be like a wild horse on the open plain. And as a captain once told me, “If the horse wants to run, you got to ride them”.

The Bridge
8:05 – 8:10: Set up Sound and Pray for Bridge (Sound Tech and Can Do Guy)
8:10 – 8:50: Sign in, hang out and play with kids (Administrator, and rest of Leaders)
8:50 – 9:05: Welcome and Teaching. (Pastor/Director and Teacher)
9:05 – 9:30: Cell groups (All Leaders)
9:30 – End: Breakdown sound and  Outside Security (Sound Tech , Can Do Guy and rest of leaders)

After I post the breakdown my job is to pray and handle manpower issues should a Leader not be able to make it. Once friday night comes I am the main parent liason. If parents show, I make sure to go out of my way to introduce myself and make them feel just as welcome as the kids. Throughout the night I am watching that these rolls are being executed. I am taking mental notes on what can be improved on and what is being done well.  I am also involved in  hanging with the kids and the cell groups. Once the night is over and the kids are home safe I sit with all of my leaders and debrief the night. Most times this takes about 15 minutes. I open the floor for them to vent,  offer suggestions, and good moments that happened. I then take the time to speak briefly what we can improve on as a team and encourage success where I saw it.

The Administrator

This person is in charge of the kids names, numbers, addresses, allergies and i.d. badges. This person is in charge of the kids signing into and out of the night should they want to leave early. When I need a head count report for my boss, this person has it. When I need a cell phone number this person has it. When I need to be reminded of birthdays, graduations and missing kids, this person has it.

This position is crucial. It not only adds a level of professionalism to your program it helps tie up loose ends. I once had a mother come up to me frantic one friday night looking for her son who was supposed to be at the program. I was in a world of crap if I didn’t come up with her son or a reason for not having him with me. I went straight to my administrator. She looked at the books and the womans son signed out of the program a half of an hour early. There it was. The time, her sons initials, and my reputation for being a responsable Leader saved.

Side note: I know many Pastors would disagree with me but I don’t force any of my kids to stay. They are free to get up and leave at any moment.They just have to place the time they left and the initials of their name. I figure, Jesus never forced anyone to follow him and neither will I.

The Teacher

This person is typically the pastor or director. But if it is not your gift as a Pastor to engage the kids for 10 minutes and prepare a group discussion, find a leader who thrives in this area. To help you a bit here is a basic outline I use to engage my students. Bait the hook, cast, let them bite, reel them in.

Bait the hook – Share a story from your life. Kids like stories, but make it quick, make it impact their hearts

Cast – Share a bible story that connects with your life story in layman’s terms

Let them bite – Connect them to your story

Reel them in – Pray for them and challenge them to live their story for God

Below is an example of a message I would write, memorize and deliver for my kids.

Bait the hook
My mom is a beautiful lady.

She would take me and my little brothers to “Jesus” book stores to buy “Jesus” comic books. She would take us to Sunday schools ran by a bunch of puppets. She would take us to concerts thrown by weird trumpet players and rappers, all to bring us closer to Jesus.

She would wake us up in the morning and say, “Hurry up, get dressed. You’r not going to school.”
We’d end up at the circus, with our faces painted by clowns, wielding cheap light swords.
My mom is a beautiful lady.

She prayed for us, read us bible stories and sang us songs. Speaking of songs probably one of my favorite songs was, “I want a hug and a kiss from my boys.” It started right after our bath, right before we went to bed. Boom, chicka, Bop, boom chick. Boom, chicka, Bop, boom chick. Me and my little brothers 6, 4, and 3. Hair slicked back from our bath. Fresh white t shirts tucked into our underwear. Boom, chicka, Bop, boom chick. Boom, chicka, Bop, boom chick.  We would shake our white buts to the rhythm like a bunch of freaky little Indians. Boom, chicka, Bop, boom chick. Boom, chicka, Bop, boom chick. Us on one side of the room, my mother on the other side. Big empty space in between. Boom, chicka, Bop, boom chick. Boom, chicka, Bop, boom chick. She would sing… “I want a hug and a kiss from my boys, chicka, Bop, boom chick a hug and a kiss from my boys, chicka, Bop, boom chick. I want a hug, I want a kiss, I want a hug and a kiss from my boys! Ohhhhhhhhhh, Yeahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh! The “oh yeah” was our cue to run at her like a bunch of maniacs and smother her with sloppy wet kisses and hugs bigger than life before we went to bed. My mother is a beautiful lady. Moments like that were filled with life, love, laughter, smiles, and the presence of God.  In the beginning God created Kevin PERIOD
I was in the Secaucus home for boys. What an idiot. When my older brothers left home, I felt I had to be the older brother and being the older brother meant you were tough. It meant you had a reputation, that your little brothers can go anywhere on the street and no one would touch them. God knows who put that thought in my brain. I ran after the reputation thing, and I hurt so many people along the way. I went from bad, to worse, to a walking nightmare. And honestly, I think it was weed that made the transformation so smooth.  The first time I ever smoked was a weird experience for me. I was at my friend Peter’s house with a couple other friends. Note: Peter always smoked, his eyes were always red, and his mother was always… never home. Peter was like a Phillies blunt surgeon. He was able to dissect this huge cigar, swap the tobacco with a nickel bag, and stitch up with his spit in a matter of 120 seconds. Pretty amazing.  So I am at his house, and they ask me if I wanted to try it. Damn, what do you do now? You’re 14 you’re not all that smart, you’re chasing this reputation thing and you cant hear the people in your life yelling they love ya, screaming you don’t have to prove anything. I say, “Sure,” and ask to use his bathroom.  As soon as I shut the bathroom door, I knew it was wrong. It was as if my heart went on fire. It was as if God was shouting, “Get out of there kiddo, run as fast as you can!” God was in that bathroom with me. I looked into my eyes in the tiny medicine cabinet mirror, I told Him that I was sorry; I told him I wouldn’t inhale. I told him I needed friends. I felt sad, or maybe I felt He was sad. I don’t know what it was, but I do know when I left the bathroom, I left Him, when I shut its cheap wooden door, I shut the door on Him. It wasn’t long after that when I was arrested for breaking and entering by a bunch of cops that looked like they were from the beasty boys “sabotage” video. That arrest landed me in the Secaucus home for boys. The details of my run in with “Pork chop”, and being stripped but naked will have to be saved for another story.
Note: (Maybe one detail) When the guards came around at night to hand out little chocolate chip cookies with ice cold pints of milk, I refused. I didn’t want anyone to take them from me, so I didn’t take them at all.

Cast

Genesis 1:1,2
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was [a] formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth PERIOD. Now the earth was empty and dark? I often wonder what happened in the “period” after “the earth” and before “Now”. How do you go from being created by the hands of God to empty darkness? I don’t know. I am not sure what happened in the period of Genesis. But I do know this. “In the beginning God created You”.

Let them bite
Do you see yourself in the verses? If you could write about your period what words would you use to describe it? Are you in a Period right now? What did your period look like? Do you feel dark and empty today? There is so much hope. The bible says that the Spirit of the Lord was hovering over the empty, dark waters. Maybe one more detail. That night in the boys’ home, I laid my skinny white body on the metal box of a bed and whispered.

“The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures he leads me beside still waters, he restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his namesake. Yeah though I walk through the valley of death, I will fear no evil for you are with me. Your rod and your staff it comforts me. You prepared a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil, my cup runs over. Surely goodness and love will chase after me all the days of my life. I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” I breathed. Super nervous, afraid, ashamed. I breathed. Boom, chicka, Bop, boom chick. Boom, chicka, Bop, boom chick. Me, 15. Hair slicked back from the ice cold shower (courtesy of the guards). A huge pajama shirt tucked into tiny red shorts (courtesy of the guards) . Boom, chicka, Bop, boom chick. Boom, chicka, Bop, boom chick. Inside my heart was shaking to the rhythm like a freaky little Indian. Boom, chicka, Bop, boom chick. Boom, chicka, Bop, boom chick. Me on one side of the room, the Spirit of the Lord on the other side. Big empty space in between. Boom, chicka, Bop, boom chick. Boom, chicka, Bop, boom chick. God sang…“I want a hug and a kiss from my boy, chicka, Bop, boom chick. a hug and a kiss from my boy, chicka, Bop, boom chick. I want a hug, I want a kiss, I want a hug and a kiss from my boy! Ohhhhhhhhhh, Yeahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!
My soul ran like a maniac to smother Jesus with sloppy wet kisses and hugs bigger than life before I went to bed that night. Note: His peace wrapped around me like a sleeping bag. I slept well.

Reel them in

Do you know that God is hovering over you? He feels your period. He sees into your darkness. He longs to fill your emptiness. Maybe it’s a prayer you need to whisper, a song you need to sing, a memory that needs remembering. Do you ever wonder what happened to you? How do you go from being created by the hands of God to empty darkness?  I don’t know. I am not sure what happened in your beginning. But I do know this.  “In the beginning God created you.”
Moments filled with life, love, laughter, smiles, and the presence of God.

The Sound Technition

This is a really simple term for a really complicated position. In the beginning, this is the person who plays music throughout the night and gets the microphone ready when you need it. As your program developes and your budget expands this will probably be the person in charge of projectors, and videos. The person in charge of the iPod and iPhone that plays Pandora.com  (look it up its free, and really good in a pinch). This is the person who comes early to set up the speakers, the sound board, and the technical extras. This is the person who stays late to coil up everything neatly and arrange it back into there  right boxes. But at its basic,  you really only need this person to have an i pod loaded with music and the know how to hook  it up to some speakers. I rarely use a mic when talking to students but if you feel the need,  have the sound person find a way to make this happen for you. Any thing else is extra but not essential for the night.

The Can Do Guy/Gal

You need me to run and get you batteries pastor? I got you! You need me to pick you up early cause your beat up old Honda broke down? I got you! The sound tech called in sick and you need help setting up? I got you! The Can do guy/gal is someone who is new to the program. They don’t really teach well, adminstration is a bit overwhelming, and real responsibility is a frightening word. This is a great position and a needed one. These people are trying to be servants to the core and will enjoy doing different things and jobs.  I usually make new leaders the go to people until I find out their true gifting. It’s a great way to see what they are made of and help them understand the program.

In Closing

I fully understand that key leaders will be busy with certain aspects of the night at certain times, but I expect them to fully engage the students as well. For instance, once the sound is set up I expect my sound tech to be hanging with the kids.  Once the teaching is over I expect him/her to be leading a cell group. I do not want to see him/her  hiding behind the sound board all night playing with  his/her iPod. They are not leaders if they have no kids following them. If this is the case you might have to come along side of them and train them until they feel comfortable stepping out of their comfort zone.

Oh yea, the discussion groups

The way we run discussion groups is as follows:

1. Open in prayer

2. Ice breaker

3. Series of questions that go along with teaching

4. Pray for the kids

Sample discussion group detailed outline

1. Dear Heavenly Father we thank you for tonight. We pray that you would open our hearts and help us understand what you are trying to tell us. Amen

2. Play the telephone game. Explain how our lives are like the sentence being passed around. It starts off one way and by the end of the line its totally changed around and messed up.

3. Share Genesis 1:1,2. What did you dream about being, doing, going when you were really little? Do you believe God put that in you to do with him? Do you feel like your on the road to seeing the dream fullfilled? Why or why not? What is stopping you from sharing your life with God? If you could ask God to come into your life and rescue you from the things stopping you from walking with him, Would you? Do you mind if we pray and ask God to rescue us tonight?

4. Pray for your kids and escort them out of the gym quietly.
Rusty: Why do this?
Danny: Why not do it?
[Rusty shakes his head]
Danny: Cause yesterday I walked out of the joint after losing four years of my life.
[pause]
Danny: Cause the house always wins. Play long enough, you never change the stakes. The house takes you. Unless, when that perfect hand comes along, you bet and you bet big, then you take the house.
[another pause]
Rusty: Been practicing this speech, haven’t you?
Danny: Little bit. Did I rush it? Felt I rushed it.
Rusty: No, it was good, I liked it.

IMG_4933

Outside of your daily grind of  youth ministry you are going to want to introduce the youth to God, their community, and the world outside of the city at a deeper level. I think it is vitally important to take kids on a yearly journey outside of themselves and the “me centered” society we find ourselves in. You can  accomplish this by having a spiritual retreat, a local missions trip, and a fundraising talent show.

The Spiritual Retreat

We start planning this event around January and actually pull it off the 3rd weekend in March. So that gives us about two and a half months to plan, organize and execute the event. The Spiritual Retreat is a moment in the kids lives where we try our very hardest to connect them with God on a deep level. We leave on a friday night after school and return sunday afternoon. We usually book the retreat at a conference center about one hour away from the city. It is usually a place in the woods with quiet, rivers, lakes, tree’s and no technology. YMCA, and Salvation Army camps do the trick.

After the check in, and final payments the kids and their luggage is loaded onto the bus. They enjoy a granola bar and video complementary of the Tech Team. The video is made up of you tube videos, christian video’s, video’s our leadership team makes. It’s a lot of fun and its a chance for the kids to unwind a bit. Once we arrive at the retreat center we have a team offload the luggage into the respective cabins. Guys usually stay on one side, and girls on the other.  The kids are then herded into the main meeting room where they come face to face with a room set up with the theme of the weekend in mind. There is music playing, lights flashing, tons of visual stimulation and the cheapest dinner we can conjure up.  Hot dogs, PB and J, Pizza, Fried Chicken, you get the idea. We welcome them and play a rules video that is fun and creative. One year we had Fandango paper bags explaining the rules, the next year we had Jay Leno celebrity faces with moving lips. For a couple of years we had super hero’s called enforcers . This was a set of videos displaying leaders wearing cheep Halloween masks beating the crap out of kids who broke the rules. It was a riot. Keep the rules fun, simple and to the point. After the video we hand out the schedule for the weekend that are the size of concert badges. Schedual on one side, and the rules on the other. These are to be worn at all times during the retreat by the youth. We sit them down and bring in some guest entertainment ranging from christian rappers, to dave the horn guy. Something different to entertain them for a bit. As soon as the entertainment is over we split them into teams and do organized team games until about midnight. This is when we send them of to their rooms to wash up, bed down and get some sleep for the next day. Realistically they horse around, talk about who is hot, and joke with each other until about 4 in the morning.

We get them up around 7 so they can shower and get dressed at which point each room does a morning devotion with the kids on the weekends theme. Eight thirty is breakfast. Ten oclock is our first session. The session usually lasts about two hours. The standard worship, teaching and altar call for change. You will want to deploy your best gifted teachers during these sessions. Because if your kids are anything like mine, they have a ten minute attention span and are extremely new to the idea of church. Twelve thirty is lunch. Two oclock is the second session. Again your standard worship, teaching and altar call for change. The kids then enjoy free time until dinner at six. We usually try to hook up a list of organized games and set up a little prayer room for kids to enjoy. Eight oclock is our final session. This is the homerun session. You want your best worship set, best teacher, best creative altar call to be deployed. Most of the  time this session lasts until about eleven oclock because of the prayers and the way God shows up. At around eleven thirty we have the kids do a talent show. This is really cool way to wind down the night and let the kids show off a bit. Once the talent show is over we head back to the rooms for some much needed sleep. Realistically this is where the kids start talking about how God met them, and how for the first time they feel at peace. This lasts till about four in the morning. Have you figured out that you are not getting any sleep this weekend?

Sunday morning we wake around seven again and do room devotions. Eight thirty is breakfast and ten oclock is our final session. We usually sing a couple of songs and have the kids come up and share how they met God. The stories are unique, real, and are very touching. Twelve thirty we pack up, clean our rooms, eat another very cheap meal and load the buses. The end.

I shared briefly how we run our retreat, but it doesn’t really matter how you run it, as long as your run it. You know what your kids will connect with more than I do. I just wanted to encourage you to get them out of their enviroment and into a place that is quiet and distraction free. A place where they have a chance to choose God for themselves.

The mission trip

We struggled for years because we wanted to give our youth a oppurtunity to give back and serve. The experience a mission trip offers is life changing. The unfortunate thing is these life changing experiences often cost a lot of doe. We were faced with a challenge. How do we get these kids on a mission trip for less than one hundred and fifty dollars? My big Cuban friend came to the rescue once again. He suggested we stay right in the city and do the trip. There was a local Marriot that we could stay at and plenty of poor unfortunate souls to help out. (Big ups to the little mermaid). E-town mission was born. We took about twenty youth, ten leaders and booked the Marriot for a week. Parks and city blocks were cleaned, adult day care centers were visited, vacation bible schools were enhanced, homeless were fed, random people were prayed for, served, and filled with joy. Most important the kids lives were changed as they entered the mission field of their own neighborhood.  As we did this I found how easy it is to go somewhere far away and be a christian. You have nothing to lose. It’s another thing to be a christian in your own backyard with people you see everyday. I feel you have to be a far braver person. The kids are.

So how did we break it down. It was four days of work one day of Dorney Park/ Wildwater Kingdom. Lets tackle the work days and then you can tailor it to your city. We had two full day saturday meetings for the team before the trip started. We went over songs to be sung for vacation bible school and the adult day care centers. We taught them how to safely handle dirty condoms and hypodermic needles they would find on the street and in the park. We practiced simple prayers to say with people and what Jesus meant by laying your life down. The trip started on a monday. As soon as the kids arrive they place their bags in their rooms and meet in the lobby for crew assignments and weekly schedule. The day was split up like this.

7:00 – 8:00 Get up, Pray, Breakfast (The hotel supplied breakfast)

9:00 – 12:00 Morning Work shift (Teams were either Cleaning Parks or city streets, Visiting kids or old people, Feeding the homeless etc)

12:00 – 1:00 Lunch (You have to budget and plan for the daily lunches. PB&J, Hot Dogs, Sandwiches, Pizza)

1:00 – 4:00 Afternoon Work shift (Teams were either Cleaning Parks or city streets, Visiting kids or old people, Feeding the homeless etc)

4:00 – 5:00 Return to the Hotel, Shower and Clean up

5:00 – 7:00 Dinner (Find a family in the church to host a dinner for each day of the week)

7:00 – 9:00 Activity (Find cheap activities for the kids like bowling, kickball at the park, mini golf, dollar theatre, a pool etc.)

9:00 – 10:00 Return to hotel and get hang out for a little bit.

10:00 – 12:00 Ministry Time (Most hotels have a little conference room to meet in. Ask if you could use it every night at this time. Chances are nobody will want it at this time. Use these meetings  to debrief the entire team. Have each team share moments where they saw God in their day. Have someone do a short 10 minute teaching and play a couple of worship songs on a boombox. Use this time to let the Holy Spirit lead you to pray for the kids and offer words of encouragement. These meetings will fill the kids souls after a day off pouring themselves out.

Thats it. that is our daily routine on the mission trip. The hardest part about it all is the planning and scheduling with the organizations you plan to serve. But once thats settled the week is a breeze. And about Dorny Park. That is what sells the trip to the kids. A chance to hit an amusement park all day. But by the end thats not really the day they remember.

The Fundraising Talent Show

We are constantly teaching the kids that God wants to use them to heal a broken world. No good teaching them if we don’t give them the opportunity to actually do it. As we sat and tried to figure out ways of raising money for world causes like water wheels in africa, tsunami victims in south east asia. Things like plays, coin jugs, mix tapes, and begging popped up, but they didn’t really sit right in our heart because it was very “us” focused. The one thing we all agreed on was a talent show. This show could pull in all sorts of acts and people from across the city. It would be a city wide event. One night were people could put their personal beliefs aside and really do some good in the world. Hitting the ground running we booked the local high schools auditorium and made some really dope t-shirts to sell. Local dance studios, museums, steppers, poets, bands, organizations, and businesses signed on. We really didn’t have to pay anyone or twist arms to get involved. Although we would always love a better turnout our goals of raising money and helping the kids heal a broken world are alway met. So where do the kids come in? They sell tickets and t-shirts, go door to door with local business to buy ads in the program. They sing, dance, and rap in the show. They usher, do back stage work, paint pictures for the silent auction and serve the artists performing. We get them involved in any way we can. It’s awesome to see them being part of something so much bigger than themselves.

We figured our show should be about an hour and a half  long and that each act should be about six minutes each with a twenty minute intermission. If we did the math considering a ten minute intro and outro that left us room for about ten acts with some buffer minutes in between.

Here is a simple show breakdown:

2:00 – 4:00 Set up sound and lights

4:00 – 6:00 Sound checks for artists (Decorate Theatre and set up Merchandise Tables)

6:00 – 6:30 Pray

6:30 – 7:00 Open Doors

7:15 – Introduction followed by first 5-6 acts with giveaways and candy being thrown to the audience in between

8:00 – Intermission

8:20 –  5-6 acts closed by the outroduction with giveaways and candy being thrown to the audience in between

8:45 Goodnight

I know this seems like a lot of work. But I guarantee, you can pull off these events with minimum manpower. The benefits of taking your team and kids through this kind of yearly journey will not only affect their souls , but your community and the world around them. I was in Jerusalem one year serving as an EMT on a team that brought medical aid to oppressed people in Palestine. It was awesome. The garden of Gethsemane was a major highlight for me. I remember looking out over the olive tree’s  when my pastor sat next to me. What he said was life changing. He said, “Kevin, you know what the most amazing thing is about this place? Jesus changed the world all within twenty five square miles”. It is not far fetched to think our kids can do the same. If we could only manage to introduce them to God, their community, and the world.

histeria-tabby-cat

If someone was to take me to Dunkin donuts, buy me a medium coffee with cream, and ask, “Kevin, I started up a youth group with plenty of adult help and kids. How do I develope them as leaders”? This is my honest answer. No fluff, no rainbows, no bubbles. Because let’s be real if you are a part-time youth worker you really do not have much time.

Lets start with the adult help. Your adults are probably college kids, or people with families, jobs, and plenty of responsibility as it is. I try to keep it really simple with them.  To my leaders directly under me, which is about ten people, I have an open door policy. That means they can call me anytime with a concern, a prayer request, a personal problem, or maybe they just want to get a cup of coffee and catch a movie.  I actually had a leader under me ask if I could come over his house and show him how to cook spaghetti and meatballs. I commit to them the time. Maybe not that exact day but I do not let two weeks go by without hooking up with them. I pray before I meet them and ask the Holy Spirit to use me in their life to help them grow. It’s in these real life moments that I see tangible change. You will find that the adults respect your time. I have found they won’t bombard you. I do is my best to make sure these ten directly under me accompany me to Youth Specialties. This is a conference for youth workers that blows my mind year after year. My leaders come back refreshed, refocused, filled, and challenged. It is evident that they stepped out of the daily grind and met with their savior. The conference will cost about four hundred dollars per leader when its all said and done, but it is worth it. If you are lucky enough to have the church sponsor the team, take them up on it. Other wise go to BJ’s, Costco, or Sams Club, pick up bulk candy, cheap water, and start selling it with a heavy markup throughout the year in your youth group as a fundraiser for your adult help. Oh! another helpful tool to invest in is a personality and spiritual gifts test. This helps you and the leader discover who they really are. Once that Pandora’s box is open your developement of them will be more focused. Markus Buckingham and Dan Webster have great material for this type of exam.

Now how about the kids. In the following chapter I will go over command structure which will back up what I am saying here. You as the Pastor/director, depending on the size of your youth group, will probably only get close to at max ten kids. It is pivotal that my adult help tries to do the following with me so the max amount of kids are reached. I develope them by asking them to help out in youth group. This could mean they help set up the speakers, or pray before our meeting. This could meen they help me or another leader lead the cell group during the night. I  begin to bring them along side in and outside of the program. Outside of youth group I challenge them and make my car available if they want to go to a youth service on sunday. If they like the youth service, I challenge them to teach, or pray for tithe, or join the youth band. The only other thing I do to develope them as leaders outside of the friday night program is take them with me when I go places. Me and my wife recently moved into our district and it has made this part of my job so much easier. Youth Ministry is not rocket science. Do things you love to do and take kids along. I love to hike and go to NYC for Wo Hop chinese food. I love to rock climb and go to the movies. I call, or facebook the ten kids I am close to and ask if they want to come with me. Out of the ten I usually get about three at a time. It’s not overwhelming, it’s a little out of my way, but the rewards of doing this are incredible. One night after youth group two boys came home with me and my wife so we could let the dog out before we went to the dinner for a late night snack. When we arrived home I stayed outside and called for my cat Tinkerbell, but she was nowhere to be found. I went to the backyard and called again. That is when I faintly heard a meow. By the sound of it I knew that something was wrong. I hopped two fences and found her little body bloody and paralyzed. I was heartbroken. The two boys were great. They decided they were gonna stay with us and help save the cats life. We ended up driving two hours away to a twenty four hour animal hospital that night. Tinkerbell was admitted and we didn’t get home till about three in the morning. Thank God for flexible inner city parents that I made them call before we left. Long story short Tinkerbell lived, the boys lived life with me, we all grew to trust God a little more. That’s grade A leadership developement in my book.

P9180072

I am a fulltime firefighter and we were recently dispatched to a warehouse fire. When we arrived on scene my engine company was directed to go to the left side of the building and knock down as much fire as we could. In the heat of the moment a reporter snapped a photograph of me straddling a five inch hose line. I thought it was a cool pic and posted it on my facebook page. A dear friend of mine living in california saw the picture and posted. “Like so many lives you and your wife encounter, keep up the good work.” She is right. We are on the front lines with these kids. Their lives are ablaze with challenges and temptations. Things sometimes seem crazy and out of control. Communication in the heat of the moment gets choppy. Accountability with them and our leaders becomes compromised. Freelancing your districts operation becomes easy and second nature just to survive. When these issues arise on the fireground between firefighters, cops, ems workers and whoever else God brings to the incident, the “Incident Commander” implements the Incident Command System. This system relies heavily on what is called, “Span of Control”.

“To limit the number of responsibilities and resources being managed by any individual, the ICS requires that any single person’s span of control should be between three and seven individuals, with five being ideal. In other words, one manager should have no more than seven people working under them at any given time. If more than 7 resources are being managed by an individual, then they are being overloaded and the command structure needs to be expanded by delegating responsibilities (e.g. by defining new sections, divisions, or task forces). If fewer than three, then the position’s authority can probably be absorbed by the next highest rung in the chain of command.”

Taken from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Incident_command

When you begin to expand and grow as a ministry it is important to have your own “Incident Command.” So what should our incident command look like?

“One Youth Group Operation”

In this structure the Pastor is in charge of those directly under him. Thats it. So the Pastor of District one is responsable for 7 youth, the teacher, the administrator, the sound tech, the can do guy and girl. The youth under his leaders are the sole concern of the leaders.

Pastor District 1

7 youth Teacher Administrator Sound Tech Can Do Guy Can Do Girl

7 youth 7 youth 7 youth 7 youth 7 youth

“Two Youth Group Operation”

In this structure the Pastor of District 1 gets the Pastor of district 2 on his roster. But everyone under the Pastor of district 2 is the responsibility of District 2’s Pastor. The youth of District 2 outside of the ones directly under the pastor are the responsibility of district 2’s leaders. I hope I didn’t lose you yet.

Pastor District 1

7 youth Teacher Administrator Sound Tech Go to Guy Go to Girl Pastor District 2

7 youth 7 youth 7 youth 7 youth 7 youth 7 youth

Teacher – 7 youth

Admin – 7 youth

S. Tech – 7 youth

G2. Guy – 7 youth

G2. Girl – 7 youth

“Three to Seven Youth Group Structure”

Once you expand to three youth groups it is vital that the Section Pastor Position is created and implemented. In our care we are going through this transition now. Our District 1 Pastor is transitioning into a Section Pastor while a leader under him is assuming District 1 Command. Once the Section Pastor is in place all District Pastors up to 7 spots fall under the care and Leadership of the Section Pastor.

Section Pastor (New Position that oversees districts)

District 1 Pastor District 2 Pastor District 3 Pastor District 4 Pastor District 5 Pastor

7 youth 7 youth 7 youth 7 youth 7 youth

Teacher – 7 y. Teacher – 7y. Teacher – 7y. Teacher- 7y. Teacher- 7y.

Admin – 7y. Admin – 7y. Admin- 7y. Admin – 7y. Admin- 7y.

S.Tech- 7y. S.Tech- 7y. S.Tech- 7y. S.Tech- 7y. S.Tech- 7y.

G2Guy- 7y. G2Guy- 7y. G2Guy- 7y. G2Guy- 7y. G2Guy- 7y.

G2Gal- 7y. G2Gal- 7y. G2Gal- 7y. G2Gal- 7y. G2Gal- 7y.

“The Seven to Forty Nine Youth Group Structure ”

Ok. we are really getting crazy now. But this should cover you enough to conquer the city. Once you move into your eight youth group you must start creating the Senior Pastor Position. This Senior Pastor Position will directly care for and lead up to seven Section Pastors. It is crazy to think that you could have forty nine youth groups operating every friday night, but this structure ensures success should you have Gods favor and manpower.

Senior Pastor (New Position that oversee’s Sections)

Section 1 Pastor Section 2 Pastor Section 3 Pastor Section 4 Pastor Section 5 Pastor

D1 Pastor- (tascy) D8 Pastor-(tascy) D15 Pastor-(tascy) D22 Pastor-(tascy) D29 Pastor-(tascy)

D2 Pastor-(tascy) D9 Pastor-(tascy) D16 Pastor-(tascy) D23 Pastor-(tascy) D30 Pastor-(tascy)

D3 Pastor-(tascy) D10 Pastor-(tascy) D17 Pastor-(tascy) D24 Pastor-(tascy) D31 Pastor-(tascy)

D4 Pastor-(tascy) D11 Pastor-(tascy) D18 Pastor-(tascy) D25 Pastor-(tascy) D32 Pastor-(tascy)

D5 Pastor-(tascy) D12 Pastor-(tascy) D19 Pastor-(tascy) D27 Pastor-(tascy) D33 Pastor-(tascy)

D6 Pastor-(tascy) D13 Pastor-(tascy) D14 Pastor-(tascy) D28 Pastor-(tascy) D34 Pastor-(tascy)

D7 Pastor-(tascy) D14 Pastor-(tascy) D15 Pastor-(tascy) D29 Pastor-(tascy) D35 Pastor-(tascy)

TASCY= Teacher, Administrator, Sound Technion, Can do guy, Can do girl, and the youth under them and you.

I was watching the History Channel the other day and they mentioned that one of the reasons that Hitler lost the war was because he was a micro manager. Every decision his top generals made had to be okayed by him first. He had his leaders on a tight leash. While on the other had, the American and British Generals were free to make decisions as they saw fit. As long as character wasn’t compromised and the vision was being advanced our government had their back. If you are a micro manager you will never conquer your city effectively. You have to be willing to give authority away and let your generals in the field make decisions. If you want to frustrate your pastors, and those they lead make them pass every decision by you. But honestly if their character is not being compromised and the mission and vision of your ministry is being advanced, cut the leash and give them the confidence they need by you having their back. Don’t worry, you can let go. This structure provides a safety net for clear communication, personal accountability, and powerful teamwork. You are gonna need all the help you can get if you plan on taking the city.

martinlutherking

“Duel Vocation”

Now that we have covered the program, its purposes and structure, we have to find the manpower. In order to conquer our city we need at least six youth pastors, thirty five to sixty adult leaders, and a set of brass fixtures. Where do they come from? In the beginning they will most likely come from your church community. As you progress you will be raising new leaders up through your program. It blows my mind to think that kids I reached out to in my first year are now stepping into key leadership rolls. None of them or us are full time pastors. Every pastor has a full time job. Let’s see. We have a fireman, a councilman, a paramedic, two store managers, and a teacher. The only full time Pastor on staff is my Big Cuban friend. The rest of us pastors are paid about fifty bucks a week. Our adult leaders are strictly volunteers. “Duel Vocation”, the ability to practically advance Gods Kingdom and pour into the next generation at the same time. So many times we are taught that you are only doing Gods’ will when you are doing church activities. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. The church is a part of Gods kingdom not the entire thing. We believe that God wants to influence all things. That means education, media, business, politics, and family. What if church was a place not where we find God, but train our people to find God out there. I think its important to be trained by the church and train those under us in the church. I think it is equally important to send people out into the area’s God is calling them to. Our entire leadership team is doing this. The kids we are trying to reach see us doing this and it encourages them not only to reach for God, but to bring God into their world.

Because of the flexibility of the program and our incident command, the job of pastor/leader can definitely be done on top of your full time job. When the job was first pitched to me seven years ago I was told I would be making one hundred and fifty dollars a week. I thought this was great. I went right away planning on the new car I was going to buy, and exotic vacations I wanted to take. It was exiting. It was exiting until three months went by with no pay check. I called my boss to ask if he had my address correct. He laughed and said,” Kevin there is a little problem. You are going to receive the back pay, but it is not the one fifty I thought. The misunderstood the Senior Pastor. You are only going to get fifty bucks a week”. I said no problem and hung up the phone. I was infuriated. I felt like I was getting played. I had bad thoughts about my Cuban friend and the senior pastor. Why would they do this to me? Get my hopes up about cars and exotic vacations to have them all come crashing down. I felt like this until one Saturday morning in June. I was taking a shower when I felt as though God spoke to me. “Kevin, would you do the job I presented you with for free”? I bowed my head thought for a couple of seconds and said, “Yes I would”. “Than be happy with the fifty bucks”. I learned a valuable lesson that day. I was happier doing Gods’ will for free than getting paid to do my will. You will know you have the right man/woman for the pastor/leader job when getting fifty bucks is an added bonus. You know you have the right person when they would step up to the plate for free. Test them.

To this day I pray for more manpower. It is a constant struggle, but it is encouraging to think we don’t have to hire six full time pastors. At forty grand a year that would be two hundred and forty thousand dollars a year. Our church would be broke. The art of dual vocation is enabling us to conquer the city for sixty thousand dollars a year (One full time pastor and five part timers). This keeps the mission moving forward and the budget committee very happy.

relay race

“Relay Race”

In the beginning of my sixth year of ministry I began to feel extremely ansi. I am not sure what was going on in my heart. I did not know if it was because I had mastered my skill and needed to move on. I didn’t know if it was because I was starting a new season with my family. I didn’t know if I was just getting sick of kids. I didn’t know if I was slipping and letting my evil side get the best of me. I didn’t know why I felt caged. I didn’t know why I was searching for a way out. I didn’t know why I lost the passion for the job. The truth of the matter is this. I needed a sabbatical. I needed time off. Scientists are now exploring the benefits of sabbaticals to the heart and mind of a person. (Big ups to TED.com) The bible has been demanding sabbaticals for more than four thousand years. But I was not listening. My John Wayne, Rambo attitude was kicking in. I could handle it. I am strong enough. I don’t need a break. I am not weak. I am not a wusie. This was all going on until I had a major disagreement with my boss. (I have since apologized and we are best friends again). After the disagreement I was miserable. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t eat. My marriage became a little strained. My relationship with God felt distant. One Sunday I was at the firehouse and my wife was at church. The pastor asked people to come forward if they wanted to pray for a family member. My wife went forward and prayed that God would speak to me and give me his peace. Me, not knowing any of this , went to sleep Sunday night at the firehouse. I awoke at 1 a.m. in the morning with severe heart burn. I went to the kitchen and drank a glass of milk. As I laid on my back I felt a rush of peace over my heart, mind, and soul. After a week of chaos and hell in my brain this was as refreshing as pool on a hot summer day. Laying in this peace, I felt as though God said, “Kevin I am bringing you into a season of education and foundation.” Education for personal goals, and foundations for me and my family. It was as if God was letting me know he was leading me into a sabbatical of education and foundations. He was giving me his peace to convince me that it was ok to step away from the hustle of youth ministry. I have no idea what kind of fruit this season is going to yield but I am looking forward to it. Now that I knew God’s direction for the next season how on earth was I supposed to transition out? The first thing I did was meat with my boss and my boss’s boss to explain what I felt God was doing in my life. The second thing me and my boss did was put together a plan for my transition out.

The transition plan consisted of finding the right person to lead my district and training them carry it farther than I could ever dream. When ever we look for a pastor or leader we are more concerned about their character than their gifts and abilities. Gifts and abilities are nice but they are flawed and crack under pressure. Character on the other hand is worth more than gold and is stronger than steel. So we looked, and prayed. We tossed a couple names around. Scheduled a meeting with one young man that stood out, and wala. God provided. The transition will take me about seven months to complete. Our calendar year for the program follows the schools calendar in our district. The kids are in school from September until June. So the goal was for me to be top dog in September, and the new guy top dog by June. This is the game plan.

From September to December- Alternate the Leadership responsibilities with new guy every other week with me present every week. All meetings are led by me and him.

From December to March – Transfer Leadership responsibilities of every week to new guy with me present every other week. All meetings are led by him with me present.

From March 1-31 – Show up to help with the retreat sign ups and responsibilities.

From April to June – Transfer total responsibility to new guy. I am gone

If you are a pastor or a leader and you believe God is leading you into a sabbatical or a new direction I recommend you sit down and talk to your leadership first. Afterwards be part of a plan to transition the new guy into your role. By transitioning in this way you are taking care of the kids, and the leaders under you. I believe you can exit with your head held high, and have the respect of God and your boss. The truth of the matter is, you never know, maybe after your sabbatical God may lead you back into youth ministry.

One of my favorite things to do in grammar school was relay races. I loved being part of a team. I enjoyed the thrill of doing my part. One of the most exciting moments in the relay race was transferring the baton. The guy finishing his portion of the track is giving it his all. The guy about to grab the baton starts running at your pace to grab what you’re giving. Once the transfer is made the new guy takes off with everything in him. You slow down, catch your breath, and watch your boy give it his all. This is how the transfer of power should look. If you know it is your time to go. Do it with class. Do it the right way. It is ok.

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