For when they come to you about suicide…

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So this isn’t a fun topic to talk about and everyone wants to avoid it.  But then you have just one kid come up and confide in you and you’ll wish you’d talked about it over and over.  And don’t stick your head in the sand.  In the last three years here in Dyersburg, I’ve been a part of six different suicide crises.  It’s a very real problem.

The thing is too, when it comes up, our minds immediately go into panic mode.  It’s difficult to think and respond when you’re internally freaking out.  So to help keep that from happening, do research.  Lots of research.  Listen to people’s stories.  Read articles.  Listen to podcasts.  Immerse yourself now so you won’t regret the lack of preparation later.

To get the ball rolling, Here’s a couple videos.  The first is of a guy who battled suicide in his teens.  His story is interesting, but it gives some insight into the mindset of someone battling suicide.  The next two videos are by a secular mental health group.  You may not agree with some of their other videos about things like homosexuality and whatever, but don’t let that blind you to the wisdom of these videos.  The one is for people who know others who are contemplating suicide.  The other is for people who are themselves considering it.  The former gives some good advice on how to react.  The latter gives more good perspectives into what goes on in the minds of hurting people.  They both also list alot of further research and resources.  Use it!  Equip yourself!  Chances are you’ll come across it in some way when you work with teens.  Be prepared.  Ministry is a dirty, ugly business because we’re confronting hell on earth.  Don’t go into battle unequipped.

So check these out.  We’re also lucky to have Leigh Ann as a volunteer in the ministry and she works as a mental health professional.  If you have questions or know someone who is struggling, feel free to reach out to the both of us.  We’d be honored to help ready you!

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Loving through crisis: Divorce

Family conflict

You know what would be great?  If we never had to worry about divorce.  But guess what: we do.

Nationally, divorce happens in the homes of over half of kids under the age of 18.  That’s alot of brokenness.  Places like our own little Dburg are worse than the national average.  We’ve come a little ways, as we’re no longer the divorce capital of the country, but that’s hardly anything to brag about.

The sad truth is that you, being a youth volunteer, either mentor students whose parents have been divorced or at some point will.  And at some time, a student will come to you for help.  They’ll tell you they’re sad.  They’ll tell you they’re confused.  Your heart will break.

But what do you do?

Below are some things to keep in mind, as well as some do’s and don’ts (donts, don’t’s dont’s, donts’, donuts?) to help you help them through it.

They’ll be confused.  Even if the warning signs were there.  Even if they say it’s for the best.  Even if they appear to have it all together.  Because it’s a confusing time.  How did it go bad?  Do all relationships end?  What part did I play in it?  What happens now?  Where will I live?  What’s life going to look like?  These and so many other questions will be running through their minds.  Do reassure them that you’ll be there for them through it.  Hold them while they cry and contact them often.  Let your words and actions show them that they have someone to walk beside them.  Don’t make promises or speak on behalf of the parents.  Make sure you only speak for yourself.

They’ll blame themselves.  It’s much harder to admit that someone you loved has hurt you or done wrong than to carry the burden yourself.  They’ll put themselves under a microscope and analyze every action and conversation.  This blame can lead to anger and sometimes even turn them into a doormat.  They may find themselves doing every little thing they can to try to make amends for their imaginary wrongs.  Do remind them the decision wasn’t theirs.  Help them see that maintaining a relationship is the responsibility of the two individuals and no one else.  Don’t assign blame to one party (unless an incredibly outrageous grievance was committed and is already known).  It’s not your place to turn any child against any parent.  Your job is to love them through a difficult time, not be a judge and jury.  Besides, there’s always more to a story than we could possibly know.  Be as biased as possible while showing them that the fault is not their own.

The divorce can stunt their development.  Research shows that between 75 and 80% of the time, children from divorced parents eventually recover and become mature, responsible adults with no long term affect.  That’s the good news. The bad news is that in the moment and in the short term, it will almost definitely affect them.  Maturity is the process of a child becoming internally equipped and empowered to leave the safety of their parents and their home.  They learn who they are apart from them and learn who they want to become.  That process of slowly pulling away is hindered when they perceive a parent to be the one pulling away from them.  The process is almost reversed.  During a divorce, parents often become a little self-absorbed, while they’re figuring out how to make things work financially, dealing with the wounds they experienced, etc and that leads to spending less time with the kids.  The result is often children feeling insecure, or even anxious, about their relationships with their parents.  Do encourage them to have open and honest conversations with both parents.  Maybe even offer to be in the room with them for support, if you’ve prayerfully decided that would help.  Do everything you can to build that relationship.  Do continue to have high expectations for them.  If their attitude, grades, etc slip, call them on it.  Don’t make excuses for them because they’re going through a difficult time.  Let them know that being hurt isn’t a good reason to hurt others or damage their future.

They’ll be forced to grow up more quickly.  One home turning into two means less financial stability.  The cost of another home could keep them from being able to pursue extra-curriculurs or keep them from having certain privileges.  An extra home means more responsibilities.  More chores, less parental oversight, you see where this is going.  Sometimes a parent will even use their kid as a confidant and pull them into the drama more than they ever needed to be.  All this can cause them to become frustrated, angry and even calloused.  Do give them space to air their frustrations.  Let them know it’s safe to be honest.  Also give them a place to be a kid, free of responsibility.  They need to be goofy sometimes.  Don’t put more pressure on them to perform.  Telling them to take care of mom or dad isn’t fair.  And just saying it will most likely cost you your voice in their life.

On and on we could go.  If you want more info, I can provide that for you.  Overall, remember that your focus is them.  You offer support, encouragement, love, a safe space, and a judge free zone.  If you feel you’re in over your head, reach out to a trusted pastor or counselor.  Even if you don’t feel over your head, it’s good to reach out to someone to get new perspectives.  If you feel like they need to talk to a professional, seek out a good Christian counselor.  Don’t wait.  Don’t question your gut.  Help them make it happen.

And don’t ever feel like you have to have all the answers.  Walk it with them.  Be loving and be real.  Keep an eye out for alarming behavior, but keep in mind that it will get easier as time goes by.  Typically the first two years are the hardest.

Stick with them.  They need your constant love.

Heads-Up Living

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I’m sorry, but that’s a good little cartoon.  Stupid, with an undertone of simple truth.

Not many things in life feel as bad as a missed opportunity.  When you seize up with fear and watch it go by.  When you recognize it only as it passes.  If you’re anything like me, you’ll beat yourself up a bit.  You’ll call yourself a dummy. You’ll say you’ll never miss one again, until the next day when it starts all over.

On the other hand, nothing in the world feels as good as knowing you’re right smack in the middle of God’s will.  Have you ever felt that?  The peace and power that comes over you when you know you’re exactly where God wants you, when He wants you to be there, doing just what He wants you to do.  It’s an indescribable feeling!

But so often, those moments are missed.

I remember one time I was working at Barnes & Noble.  I was going to go out for my lunch break, but for some reason I ended up getting something in the cafe and going to the break room. And there in the break room was a coworker I really enjoyed.  She and I didn’t get to hang out much, as we were in different areas of the store, so this was an unexpected surprise.  It’s worth mentioning that she was also atheist.  Not angry atheist, just a doubting atheist.  She was reading the newspaper and some recent tragedy was on the front page.  We got to talking about it, but I don’t even remember what exactly it was we talked about.  But I felt God pressing me toward having a little deeper conversation.  And in the process of the conversation, we shared our views on people and on God.  And it seemed almost out of nowhere, she just started weeping.  She went on to explain that she always viewed religion as a crutch for the weak.  But in that conversation, she saw what genuine love looks like.  And she just sat and cried a moment and told me that the faith I described was the most beautiful thing she’s ever heard before.

In that moment, I knew I was where I was supposed to be, when I was supposed to be there, doing what I was supposed to be doing.

It was awesome!  And God put words in my mouth that had never come to mind before.  I could feel myself being used by God, like a guitar in the hands of a musician.

The thing is, that conversation could have never happened.  It was so by chance and random that I could easily have overlooked it.  But I was aided by something I learned while being a manager at Barnes & Noble…

One of the coolest things about God is that He can redeem anything.  He first called me into ministry when I was in High School.  But, me being me, I ran from that calling for years and years.  While running, I found myself managing a book store.  And I learned an awesome life lesson there that fuels my ministry now.  One of the things they taught managers at B&N is this idea of heads-up tasking.  It’s a simple concept.  You have a task that you’re expected to do.  But while you’re doing it, always keep your head up for people who may need help in the store.  So for example, every week the bestseller display needed to be updated.  You would be assigned the job and expected to finish it.  But while you’re rotating books in and out of the order, every couple moments look up and around.  Do you see anyone who looks lost, confused, in need of help?  If so, approach them.  If not, carry on.

It’s that same approach to life that will put us in those places where we know we’re right smack in the middle of God’s plan for us.  Just like with me in the break room.  Those situations are what I like to call divine appointments.  God has me where he wants me, doing a job.  But He’s also going to run random someones across me in need of something.  Maybe a meal, a hug, a word.  But if I’m not working with my head up, I’ll miss the moment.

One of my favorite things to hear are those super crazy, random stories people have of God working through them in unexpected ways.  Know how that happened?  Heads-up tasking.  They were out doing their thing, but when God put an opportunity in front of them, they identified it and took action.

I think perhaps the best example of that I know is Pastor Randal.  The dude always has stories of random things happening.  He’s got stories of running into people at gas stations, while on the road, in the supermarket.  All over.  The guy has mastered the concept of always having his head up, looking for divine appointments.

When’s the last time you had a divine appointment?

We talk all the time about time management and prioritizing.  But how many times do we talk about having our heads up for those unexpected moments where God really wants to use us?

If it’s been a while since you’ve had a divine appointment, I encourage you to examine how you approach your tasks.  Are you too absorbed in what you’re doing?  Are you blind to the world around you while you’re set to a job?  Or are you open to those small moments that can so easily pass us by?

God wants to use each one of us, in all sorts of ways.  My challenge to you is the same as the challenge I make to myself: live life heads-up.  Be committed to the work you do, but be committed to recognizing God’s divine appointments in your life.  And watch as God uses you to bless the world.  Be blown away by the peace and joy you experience as the power and presence of God flows over you.

Work hard and keep your head on a swivel.  God’s sending people your way.

Curbside Coaching

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We all have that kid.  Or maybe it’s those couple kids.  The ones who in any setting, in any environment, at any time are going to be sure to disrupt and draw attention.  Most of the time, they know full well what they’re doing.  Other times they’re just not paying attention and don’t realize what they’re doing.  But to the leader sitting nearby, the sentiment is always the same…

“Dear God, please stop on your own so I don’t have to figure out what to do…”

So this week, we’re going to be super practical and answer the frequently asked question:  How do I approach the kid being disruptive?

While the human inside of you may think that a slap to the back of the head should suffice, I would encourage you to think a little deeper into how you can handle the situation.  Let me tell you something I learned being a retail manager.

There’s this concept called curbside coaching.  And it’s not only super practical, but in my experience, super effective too.  Lets check it out step by step:

  1. You witness a certain student being a turd.  Not wanting them to bring down the people around them, you acknowledge that their behavior needs to cease.
  2. You calmly approach the student.  Hopefully this is someone you’ve developed a relationship with.  That always helps, but obviously isn’t necessary.  There’s lots of kids.
  3. You invite them to have a conversation at a nearby place that isn’t heavily populated or high traffic.  Somewhere just to the side of the action.  Do your best not to cause a scene and be discreet.
  4. While you have the attention of that student and not the rest of the crowd, you address the issue.
  5. You explain to them how their behavior isn’t just disrespectful, but could keep a person from hearing something they really need to hear.  Remind them that they could keep someone from receiving what they came for and that they’re competing with the Holy Spirit in speaking to hearts.
  6. Help them see that they’re essentially a hurdle in their own race.  That God has a word for them too, but only if they’re open to receive it.

Essentially you’re doing just a couple simple things:

You’re helping the student save face. Even if they enjoy being disruptive, they don’t enjoy being called on it.  Nor do they like their friends seeing them being addressed by someone with authority.  They want it to be discreet just as much as you do.  99% of the time, they’ll tuck tail and apologize.  Submission isn’t comfortable, especially with an audience.

You’re reminding them what’s at stake.  It’s not just for the sake of obedience, but lives may literally be on the line.  Their disruption could be the difference between a student following Christ or not.  It could be the difference between them acting out their faith or not.  When they’re reminded that God’s doing business on these nights, they typically don’t want to be a roadblock.

You’re telling them that you care for them.  It’s not just for other’s sake that you want the disruption to cease, but you also want them to hear what God’s speaking to them.  You want them to grow just as much as anyone else!

You’re taking care of the problem.  Simple enough.

Sometimes we’re in service and it isn’t possible to lead someone aside and speak to them. In order to get their attention and talk to them, you’d have to cause a scene.  It’s in these times that it’s typically best to grab their attention and as gently as you can be without losing effectiveness, ask them to stop what they’re doing.  Make sure though that once the opportunity arises, you do take them aside and speak to them.  Don’t let them leave that night without a conversation.  They’ll try, but you need to make the effort.  The conversation is important.  Otherwise, they’ll just assume you’re grumpy and they’re not as welcome as they thought.

It’s worth noting that loudly calling out their behavior in front of their friends seems like an effective way to go.  Reason would say they’d be embarrassed and would respond how you want them to.  But in reality, you’re typically picking a fight you don’t want to have.  When you put someone on the defensive, they’ll respond accordingly.  And with that, the battle of wills begins.  And that’s just not worth it.

So when you see that behavior and want to help keep an environment conducive to hearing from God, think of how you can pull that person out of the traffic and to the curb for a conversation outside the ears of others.

It’s also worth noting that this doesn’t just work with approaching difficult people.  It’s also a great tool to use with kids, sports teams, and alot of other areas.  The idea of offering guidance just out of earshot of peers works in an astonishing number of places.  Often in life, you have wisdom you can share with others.  It’s always best received when it’s done in a way that builds that person up!

 

Making Disciples out of Students

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So why do we do what we do?  Why are you and I involved in ministry in the local church?  Why do we strive to reach teenagers and build the Kingdom through the new generation?

To me it all comes down to two driving forces.  One internal and one external.  The internal side is me saying, “I’ve received this awesome free gift, now I want others to have it too.”  It’s the old adage about being a beggar telling other beggars where you found a hot meal.  Out of the joy of receiving, I now give away.  The external side is the same driving force that’s fueled the church for the last two thousand years:

Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth.  Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”     – Matthew 28:18-20

The Great Commission.  Jesus’ command to make students of others in the same way the disciples were made students of His.  Essentially, He’s telling them to partner with the Holy Spirit to reveal to others what’s been revealed to them.

But we make this so difficult.  What is it?  Who does it?  Isn’t it just enough to invite people to church or lead a class?

We’re going to look at discipleship for the next couple weeks.  But to start out, lets hear what others have to say about discipleship.  This was a series done by the youtube channel chaseGodtv.  If you don’t subscribe, get on there.  There’s some really good stuff.  But they did a short series asking influential personalities somewhere in the Christian ministry what discipleship means to them.  Check these out…

So what does that make you think about discipleship?  How has this challenged your views or inspired your actions?

Just last night, we had an amazing night with the students.  Lots of students made a decisions to follow Christ.  Some for the first, some for the thousandth.  And we celebrate that, because it’s awesome!  But if that’s the goal, we’re way off base.  The question then is “what role do each of us play in discipling the students God brings to us?”  People are God’s greatest resource.  And we must steward them well.  So which students are you discipling?  Which students do you feel God leading you to disciple?

Take some time to mull all this over and get ready for next week, where we turn super practical.  I love you guys!  Thanks for joining me on this ride!

Pursuing the Right Things

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So most of you know that I went to college to pursue Business Administration, not any sort of Bible degree.  And it’s not because of any significant reason, other than I was more interested in being wealthy than Godly.  I eventually said yes to God and His direction, but not before learning a bunch of pretty interesting leadership stuff.  One of the principles we learned is one that Pastor Brian is a big proponent of.  And it’s one that our staff talks about constantly and I still try my best to apply and adhere to.  Because used correctly, this principle could literally change your life.

It all started with the dashing man shown above in the early 1900’s.  He was an economist, so he was big into nerd things.  And being big into nerd things, he realized one day that just 20% of his pea pods contained 80% of the peas.  Just a small portion of the overall yielded most of the harvest.  He later found that the same numbers appeared all over the place.  Most famously at the time, 20% of his fellow Italians owned 80% of the land in Italy.  And the more places he looked, the more he found this to be true.  It was true with wealth distribution (still is), it was true with productivity, it seemed to be true almost everywhere.  So here we are today with the Pareto Principle, most commonly known as the 80/20 rule.

The 80/20 rule simply states that 80% of the results come from 20% of the work.  A really smart fella’ named Dr. Joseph Juron explained it a couple decades later as “the vital few and the trivial many”.

These two men said in a really smart way what we all seem to suspect deep down inside: that most of the junk we do is just that.  We spin our wheels and spin our wheels, but not much is actually accomplished.  And the reason is pretty simple.  We’re focusing on the wrong stuff.  We’re not necessarily focusing on unimportant stuff, but we’re focusing on unimpactful stuff.  Is unimpactful a word?  Maybe ineffective is a more effective word here.

Need a visual?  I gotcha…

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This is a principle that seems to hold true in every situation.  For example, it’s been shown that:

  • 20% of laborers do 80% of the labor
  • 20% of salesmen do 80% of the sales
  • 20% of the customers buy 80% of the product.
  • 80% of the problems come from 20% of the causes
  • 80% of the software failures come from 20% of the bugs
  • 80% of the complaints come from 20% of the customers
  • 20% of the products account for 80% of the sales

I’m not telling you this so that we can better sell our Hunger Project t-shirts.  Nor do I keep a count of who excitedly talks about our events and gets people to sign up.  Though maybe I should.  Just kidding

…or am I?

I say this because we all want to be more effective people.  Whether at work or at home, we all want to be more impactful.  We want to spend our time doing the right things that get the results we want.  And by applying this principle, we can turn our goals and dreams into reality.

Let me show you what this looks like in an area we can all relate to: youth ministry!!!

My time can be taken up with 1,000 different things.  Email, phone calls, budgets, networking, event planning, dreaming, counseling students, training volunteers, supporting parents, service prep, writing teachings, going to sporting events, creating graphics, cleaning, improving the auditorium, decorating, prepping the next grade to come into youth, developing student leaders, designing t-shirts, planning mission trips, having lunch at the schools, calling first time visitors, calling students who’ve been MIA, hanging out with students, creating teaching series, creating a social media presence, communicating everything going on in the ministry, getting parents’ support, calendaring, marriage counseling, blogging, helping kids discover next steps, maintaining the environment, making videos, fundraising, hosting events, on and on and on I could go before ever even talking about all the general church stuff involved in working at a church.

So there’s lots of things to do.  And all those things need to be done.  But where do I spend the majority of my time?

When I first entered the ministry here, the youth group was about 15 kids from a church of about 300 people.  Right off the bat, I found that the most impactful things I could do were gain the trust of the parents and build relationships with the teens.  So my top 20% that produced 80% of the results was spending time with students, gaining support from parents, and developing good teachings.  To that end, I went to the schools and had lunch with them several times a week.  I was at a game or event of some sort nearly every night of the week.  I hung out with students nonstop and made them a part of my life.  I met with parents to talk about vision and how I want to partner with them in what they’re doing.  I read lots of books and devoted alot of time to develop my teaching abilities and tried to provide a Wednesday night service they’d want to invite their friends to.

The result is what we see today.  I group that has grown tremendously in number and impact.*Full disclaimer: I do not claim to be the cause of God’s movement.  God is the one who moves and changes.  I merely claim to have done a halfway decent job stewarding the time and people He gave me.

However, I’ve recently had to take a step back and look again at what my top 20% is.  I can’t have lunch with every single student.  I can’t go to every single sporting event.  I can’t intimately know each student in our ministry.  I can’t counsel that many people.  Now to some extent, those top 20 are becoming the bottom 80.  Because life is like that.  It moves and sways.  Seasons come, only to be replaced by a new one.  That’s why we talk to our children differently as they grow.

So in an effort to better steward all the students we have, I’ve had to take a look at what’s effective in growing in this season.  And what I’ve found is that the best use of my time is training up leaders, empowering volunteers, and delegating/equipping others.  That doesn’t mean that I don’t meet with students anymore.  It just means that’s not my focus now.  Now my focus is developing others to do that.  I no longer rely on just me to build relationships with our teens, but prepare an army of 30 people to do the same.  I don’t focus on trying to run an entire Wednesday night service.  I focus on giving elements away to people who can do it better, so I can be more focused.

So hopefully you’ve got a clear picture of the 80/20 rule.  My question is: how can you apply this?

Maybe you’ve been thinking of work and all the things you want to complete.  Maybe you’re thinking of the youth group and ways you can be most effective.  Hopefully you’re thinking a little of your family and home life.  Because you’ve got dreams.  But dreams are sidetracked by all the little things that life throws at you.  We’ve all had that day where we plan on getting something super important done.  But emails come, people stop in, you’re asked to help with something, etc.  And at the end of the day, you’ve accomplished a whole lot of nothing.  The Pareto Principle begs you to find what’s truly important.  Then when the demands of the day sap away your time, you can identify the 20% of things that matter.  And when something on your agenda needs to be removed, you have the wisdom to say that it can’t be those things.  Don’t dodge the big, scary important task by completing all the easy, menial tasks.  In essence, it asks us to not just work smarter, but work smarter on the right things.

What are your right things?  I’d really encourage you to sit down and give this alot of thought.  If you’re married, talk about it with your spouse.  Pray on it.  Work through the WISDOM acronym Pastor Brian shared during this Why series.  What does leading your family look like?  What are you leading them to?  How are you getting there?  Are you building or just maintaining?  By facing these tough questions, you can change the direction and momentum of your life!  Do things that matter!

Investing in Kids (or teens, or tweens, or young adults, or…

Welcome to this week’s Sharpening!  Today we’re kicking off a month of coaching.  And the first area of coaching is where we left off last week, with building relationships with teens.  Because before we can truly invest in them and speak into students, we first have to earn the right.  And that right is earned by living life alongside them.

And this week’s sharpening is a little different than normal.  I’ve got the audio from a podcast that I listened to years ago that still sticks with me to this day and forms so much of how I interact with students.  And while it’s an hour long, it contains some pure gold that I pray you listen to and pick up.

The podcast is put on by a group called LEAD222, of which I’m a part.  And the purpose of LEAD222 is changing the culture of youth ministry to coach and mentor students.  Each month, they put out a podcast hosted by the President, Bo Boshers, and another member Andy Stephenson.  Each month they have an influential guest from the ministry world talk about different ways to build students through mentoring.  This specific podcast features Dan Webster.  Dan is an unbelievable guy who not only teaches mentoring, but is actually a mentor to Bo.  And in this podcast, Dan talks about speaking into students in ways that can lead to real change.

Two years after I listened to this, it still impacts me hearing it again.  So carve out an hour, grab a glass of your favorite beverage, maybe even get your spouse to listen (it’s got great stuff for parenting too!) and listen to this.  You’ll be so glad you did!

Click below to listen to the podcast on LEAD222’s website or click the link on the page to listen to it from iTunes.  This should generate some great conversation, so let me know what you think!

Leader Talk w/ Dan Webster | Oct. 2011