This blog was originally published by CBF South Carolina on August 8, 2020. To see the original post, go to this link: https://cbfsc.org/2020/08/08/obyouth/
At the end of each calendar year, I always find it funny when people say “gosh, I am so ready for (insert the year that they are just finishing) to be over, and I can’t wait for (insert year they are about to enter) to begin. I’ll be honest, at the end of some years, I have found myself falling into that same mindset. However, comments like that strike me as odd, because we have no idea what the next year is going to hold. That has never been more true than it has been for 2020! The year started off with the death of Kobe Bryant, the famed NBA basketball star, and his daughter in a helicopter crash. And it wasn’t long after that, that we began hearing mumblings from a land far, far away that a novel Corona Virus was ravaging parts of the country. Before long, the virus began to spread, and we realized that it was a matter of time before it crept into our own communities. But even then, I don’t think we ever realized the impact that it would have on our everyday lives.
Being a minister in a congregational setting during the COVID-19 pandemic has had its challenges. In the middle of March, as schools were closing, businesses were sending employees to work from home or closing down all together, we had to cancel all in-person gatherings until further notice. We all thought that within a couple of weeks, we would be back in sanctuaries, just in time for the highly anticipated Easter celebration. And then things began getting worse, hospitals were filling up, people were dying, and fear gripped us all. “When is this ever going to end?” is the question that we all asked ourselves.
As a minister to students and teenagers, the reality of this thing really hit me when the summer activities began to be canceled. Our beloved PASSPORT camps that my students look forward to attending each summer was no longer an option. Our yearly mission trip that our high schoolers go on each year was no longer an opportunity. The times that we gather during the week was no longer accessible to us. And to add insult to injury, having been doing ministry through Zoom for the better part of three months caused us all to have Zoom fatigue!
You see, for student ministry, the summer is such an important part of our ministry year! The camps and the mission trips set up what happens in student ministry for the rest of the year. The memories and experiences of a summer trip gives a ministry momentum moving into the school year. Due to the disruption of our spring and summer, many ministries, including mine, are suffering because of it.
And now we find ourselves creeping up on the “back to school” season without a clear way forward. That has brought me, brought us all to the question of: “well what in the world do we do now?”
I’ll be honest, I have gotten really tired of the phrase that we have heard over and over again: “we just have to find our new normal.” But as I come out of a summer that has looked nothing like any other summer I have experienced, literally since I started in youth group as a 6th grader; I am convinced that a new normal is what we must move towards, and that is my goal as I plan programing for the fall. It is hard work, and it is uncertain work. It is work that will make us want to pull our hair out because we know very well that the reality that we find ourselves in today, will not be the reality of where we will find ourselves tomorrow, two weeks from now, or a month from now.
The uncertain times that we find ourselves in today and the time we have found ourselves in over the last almost 5 months has not changed my calling, nor has it changed the church’s mission. That is what is carrying me into the fall, because that is my calling; to care for the spiritual wellbeing of teenagers and their families. That is my calling regardless of what is happening in the world around me. Our church’s calling is to make disciples and then send us out into the world, despite what is happen in the world around us. The beauty of this is, the way forward has 100 different paths for us as the church to take, and all those paths lead towards the same end. So keep the faith, be flexible, and be obedient to the calling that God continues to beckon us towards, despite what is going on around us.
I’ve felt alone. I have felt isolated. I questioned the degree to which I am able to do my job. I didn’t think I was doing enough for my kids, and the things that I was doing I wondered if any of my kids even cared about it. And I felt all those things way before any kind of lockdown! In other words, I’ve been doing youth ministry during this quarantine. That part of the job hasn’t changed much for me, the doubting and the loneliness and the frustration and the questioning. It’s by no means all I feel, but I believe it comes with the territory when you ’re working with 6-12th graders.
I think the hardest part for me to cope with in this lockdown was understanding that I needed my kids- maybe even more than they needed me. My wife and I gave birth to a beautiful daughter two weeks ago, and I think it finally hit me when we were in the delivery room with nobody able to come and visit just how desperately I needed my community.
Yes, my community is my church, the congregation, and my coworkers. But my family, my inner circle within my community, is my youth group. I am an emotional guy and I lead with my emotions. I love my youth like my own kids. I started working at Trinity when I was a sophomore in college, so in many ways I’ve grown up alongside these kids. I wanted so badly for them to be able to come and meet my daughter, to hold her and celebrate with us. I wanted to be with them in person.
I think this is the hardest part that I didn ’t anticipate about the lockdown. I thought my kids would be missing me, missing what we do at church on Sunday’s and Wednesday ’s, missing their youth room. But really what we’ve all been missing is presence. It can’t be overstated what being together does for our mental health. I ’ll take a million days of self-doubt and frustration and wondering if my kids care about what we do together if it means we can actually BE together. I’ll never take that for granted again.
My wife and I decided to make a big change in our life … actually we decided to make several. Over the past few months, since we have been quarantined by COVID 19, we have: 1. Become pregnant with our first child 2. Moved to a new city 3. Both started new jobs 4. Sold and bought a home 5. And began at a new church still searching for a senior pastor. While we have enough change in our personal lives, there is plenty of change happening in my professional career too. We, as an incomplete church staff, have had to figure out how to work together and serve the church fully. Now as an associate pastor, I am in a position like I never have been before. I am witnessing a church asking to evolve in the midst of being shut down for the first time ever, a leadership team looking for new leadership, and no senior pastor to lead the way. I have had to adjust my perspective. I have had to learn to give myself permission to take risks, to be bold, and lead with humility and grace. I was in a position to lead the first staff meeting that I was present for. I have had to discern alongside church leadership what we stand for as a church congregation. I have had to give myself permission to live in the awkward first meetings with those sick in the church, to be their pastor if only for a moment. I have learned that we as pastors have to be bold today. To risk something big for something good. We must give ourselves permission to change the world. I pray that you will be bold as you lead your congregations to life beyond fear and uncertainty, and into a new world.
This January, at Oasis, I had the chance to offer a talk on social media, message, and why it all matters for our youth ministries. As I write this, many of us are working from home, trying to find ways to reach and engage our youth despite the important social distancing. So, I wanted to recap some of what I shared in hopes that it might help you think about how you’re reaching out to your youth.
As ministers, we’ve got to reclaim the “m” word. Marketing. Marketing, at its core, is about telling who I am (or we are) and what I (or we) might have that can improve your life. Jesus was the chief marketer – he was, in fact, so good at getting folks to buy in that they killed him for it. This isn’t to say that our messaging is of Christ-like proportion. Instead, I want to encourage you to reclaim various tools for communicating with your youth, their parents, grandparents, or guardians, and your church body as a whole. We have the freedom to because Jesus was already better at it than we’ll ever be.
Sharing the message of our youth ministries is really about relationships. We’re skilled at building interpersonal trust but we’ve got to also build confidence in our communications. This happens through consistency. Just like showing up regularly for our youth and their families, reliability in communication builds trust. Folks will always know what’s going on and where to look to find out more information if they are, when they will be, confused. Here’s a quick look at my plan.
Each week, my parents know they’ll receive a snapshot of what’s ahead early on and more details about the longer plan at the end. For my youth, I have routine social media posts and texts that change based on a given week’s circumstances. These show up regularly, a couple of days before an event to entice and remind.
Then, develop consistency in where you’re showing up. Our communications have to meet those we serve where they are, so developing a strategy for communicating key details in multiple methods is important. Just like people learn in different styles, people receive information uniquely, too. It’s our job to get that message to them. Find the right balance of what needs more depth like an email, more instancy like a text, and shareability like a social media post. Commit to a plan, and see it through.
A final piece of consistency is style. Try to keep a consistent look and feel in your communications. It’s especially important on social media. Marketing experts would call this developing a brand, but that feels icky for youth ministry. We’ll call it a feel. Make sure your posts have the same feel. When a youth or their parent sees a post, they immediately associate it with your incredible youth family.
All of this probably sounds like a lot, and it is. Thankfully, there are many tools aimed at helping us message better. These tools can be a saving grace to keep up your consistency. Ever had that one unscheduled interruption that will put us behind on our best laid plans – like that phone call, or that office visitor? As you begin to think of your own plan for improving your outgoing messages, consider different apps and features that will help you be more consistent.
Here are three that I use: Gmail has a delayed send feature that I use daily, timing my messages as needed. Later allows me to schedule when my social media posts will go live on Facebook and Instagram. Canva gives me control of the feel of all we do. It provides useful templates and photo grids to speed up the process of creating the visual aids that help carry the message to our youth and beyond. Try a bunch. Find what works for you. Let those tools make sharing your message easier.
So, I hope you’ll consider, or re-consider, the ways you’re sharing that life-changing, important message of love and grace that comes from God. Do a little marketing. Be consistent in person and in communications. Then, see how that will benefit all you do to be God’s hands and feet in the lives of young people and their families.
Be where your feet are.
Do not be attached to outcomes.
We are all in this together.
There has never been a better time to be the church.
Greater works will you have.
Oasis 2020 was held the last week of January. There were almost 70 youth ministers and CBF Global and State Representatives gathered at Montreat Conference Center in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains for a week of learning, sharing, networking, and deep belly laughs.
The five phrases you see at the top are the five phrases that guest preacher Rev. Amy Jacks Dean, Co-Pastor of Park Road Baptist Church in Charlotte, NC, shared with us. Amy lead us in five worship services that provided encouragement and fresh insight to often weary youth ministers. Her ability to provide a word of hope with depth and thoughtful creativity was refreshing.
Beyond worship, we spent the week in small groups, Youth Ministry Talks (think Ted Talks), chair massages, a drum circle and fellowshipping. It is the one conference I attend that I look forward to the most. Oasis refreshes my soul and provides me the chance to meet new folks and gather with old friends who are on this same youth ministry journey. We talk about best practices, what is working and not working in our ministries, and share resources with one another. It is a gift that I do not take for granted to be able to attend.
On the opening night of Oasis, we had a special guest, Paul Baxley the Executive Coordinator for CBF Global. We have never had the Executive Coordinator join us for our event, and I can say, we all felt honored that Paul made the time in his busy schedule to be with us for a day. Paul shared his hopes and visions and how youth ministry fits in to those plans, and then took questions and answered in an authentic manner. I am so thankful for his willingness to join us.
We, the CBFYMN are so grateful to Passport, Inc. who produces and sponsors Oasis along with other event sponsors, Gardner-Webb Divinity School, CBF Global, CBFVA, CBFTN, CBFNC, CBFSC, CBFAL, CBFGA along with Fellowship Southwest who provided scholarship money for a student to attend.
Mark your calendars now for Oasis 2022 – February 8-11. See you there!
Member of the 2020 Oasis Planning Team
CBFYMN Board President