Depth Finder

Posted: January 19, 2015 in Uncategorized

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It’s been a while since my last post, so I wanted to get something up and recently I had some experiences that pointed me to the perfect topic: depth.  Specifically, I had a series of conversations with youth workers about their ability to connect with their youth on an emotional level.  For one, they struggled to find relevant connection, being in a completely different stage of life and having had a very different background than the youth they were ministering to. Another was dealing with several teens that were dealing with extraordinarily heavy issues; one teen was struggling with identity and transexuality; another with thoughts of suicide; a third with the aftermath of having an abortion.  Both these ministers were dealing with connection and depth, and both were struggling.  So, this post is going to give you some thoughts and advice on this subject. Buckle up.

Relevance. Many a youth ministry career is born out of relevance.  I know that when I started as a so-fresh-out-of-college-I-still-owned-ramen, I was in touch with popular culture, movies, music and, in some ways, even ahead of the curve.  This won’t last forever, nor should it.  You are growing and maturing.  Your life, relationships, career and faith are ripening, you can’t get stuck in a college mentality.  So, fully knowing that you will become less and less relevant, my advice is to embrace it, but also to equip yourself.  Embrace the fact that you are growing as a person but equip yourself with the knowledge of what is happening around you.  You can check out resources like Relevant Magazine (the name is a bit one-the-nose, but the content is good), follow your students on instagram and twitter, and read blogs, articles and anything you can find about what is going on in the world of teens.  Most importantly, build in some time to simply listen to your youth chat with each other.  Much can be learned by listening to two teenage girls chat about their week.  Being in touch and knowledgeable about the world your teens are in will help you to connect with teens that are in a different stage of life than you and, in some cases, coming from a very different environment and social climate than you did when you were their age.

Know when to hand it off. Something many of us struggle with is knowing our limitations.  Few of us are trained pastors, licensed therapists, psychologists and youth counselors, let alone marketing specialist, musician, graphic artist and all the other hats try to wear.  It is important to know when you are able to help and when you should refer the case elsewhere.  Asking for help doesn’t mean you don’t care about the youth or the situation, quite the opposite – it means you care enough to swallow your pride and get the best people working on the problem.  If you have never worked with teens that cut, don’t expect you are the best possible resource for your teen you have just discovered is cutting.  You can be part of the treatment plan, an ally in accountability, a cheerleader, a hospital or home visitor, a nice card writer, even a Jimmy Johns sandwich delivery sender, but if you aren’t a trained (and in some cases, licensed) professional, get help.  You wouldn’t set your youth’s broken bone yourself or remove their burst appendix, so don’t outreach your abilities and training in counseling situations.

Learn and be aware.  What are the mandatory reporting laws in your area?  Does your church have a policy?  Your insurance company?  Know what you are expected to do in all situations.  If you aren’t sure where to find those resources, call your local high school and speak to a counselor there.  They are trained in those areas and should be able to provide you with everything you need to know.  If you get the chance, take a class on at-risk teens, cutters, suicide prevention, bullying…anything available to you.  Read books, articles, blogs, pamphlets, bathroom walls…anything on behavioral issues, teenagers and high-risk factors.  Be aware of your church’s and your denomination’s stances on social issues, but remember that you are called to be a force of love, not judgment.  If you hear a term or situation from your teens that is new or foreign to you, Google it and read all about it.

Parents are partners.  Some parents are there for your ministry, helping out and being visible.  They email you, see you on Sunday and are always there to smile and pass the peace.  Others you may not be able to pick out of a lineup.  In either case, you need to be in contact with parents about their teens when you have the opportunity.  Yes, you are a confidant for your teens, yes they tell you things in confidence.  Understand I am not saying record your conversations about who the teen likes that week and send it their parents.  But, if the teen is dealing with dark thoughts, self harm, experimenting with drugs or is in identity crisis, be in contact with parents.  Some of these things are mandatory reporting anyway.  Parents are not the enemy here, they want to help, too.  They often have the same problems doing so that you do – lack of training, an overabundance of concern and the panic when you combine the two.

Be smart, cover yourself.  Every time a teen comes to talk to me – for any reason, at any time – I record it in a log.  My office door has a window in it.  I never allow myself to be in a one-on-one situation with a teen without another adult close at hand.  I know it will be hard to always be diligent every time always, but you need to protect yourself.  Accusations are as harmful as convictions.  Whether you did something or not, it can end your career.  Document what you talk about to teens and when you talk to them, make others aware of who you are meeting with, if you can, do so in a public place. Meeting with a teen at a local coffee shop can still provide a one-on-one conversation while also protecting you from the implications of meeting behind closed doors.  Be smart, be careful and protect yourself.  You cant help anyone if you get fired and aren’t able to minister anymore.

Finding yourself out of your depth or disconnected is a fast track to burnout, so be careful.  Find time to decompress, reflect and pray.  Be mindful of finding time where you can be outside your duties as minister and to feed yourself.  If you are good about this, you will help your teens far more than taking on too much, working too hard and burning out.

Looking For A Guest Blogger?

Posted: October 29, 2014 in Uncategorized

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Youth Ministry is a group sport.  Too often we think of ourselves as on our own teams, coaching and recruiting a winning lineup to, what, compete against other ministries?  It seems silly when you put it like that, but in a lot of ways, that’s EXACTLY what we do.  We stack numbers against each other’s groups, we boast the biggest events, the most active teens, the best logos…

Instead, we at Handy Dandy want to help connect one another.  We are more powerful together than pitted against one another, and we all have the same goal: to inspire teens into a life worthy of the calling of Jesus Christ.  That is the purpose of this blog, in the way that we try to encourage, educate and equip youth directors with some new, fun, exciting or enlightening materials.  But, if we are truly trying to further the kingdom, our reach has become only as limited as this blog and it’s (few) followers.  That is not enough!  So, we are reaching out, calling all youth bloggers!  We at Handy Dandy are looking to partner with other youth blogs and provide guest content as a way of connecting into a web of Christian-Youth-Worker-Blog-Helping-Infoness…we’ll work on a better term later.

If you are interested in having Handy Dandy Youth Ministry do a guest post, or have our content creator Kellen Roggenbuck create content for your blog, let us know!  We can’t promise we can accommodate every request, but we sure will try!  Our only request is that you link back to us here so that all of our free and helpful content can reach as many people as possible.  We will hopefully also be adding a page that will link to all of our guest posts on different blogs, so that we can – again – create that web of Christian-Youth-Worker…stuff.  Comment or contact us directly.  Thanks!

To Brand or Not To Brand…

Posted: October 7, 2014 in Uncategorized

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There are plenty of thoughts out there about youth group branding, and as someone who has done a fair amount of branding, I wanted to share some thoughts on both sides of this issue.  I am obviously biased toward branding, so I bet you can guess what I will conclude with, but I will do my best to discuss some thoughts on both sides of the issue.  And then I will end biasedly.

Brand recognition.  Creating a brand can be a good way of promoting your youth ministry quickly and easily by slapping your logo on everything you do.  The first time I tried branding, the first thing I did was order t-shirts for the youth to wear to school.  I saw an immediate response in the amount of guests wanting to come to youth group simply by becoming aware of their friends’ affiliation.  So when I put posters out in the community, advertise on Facebook or create shirts and other takeaways, the logo is always displayed.  But, this can have the opposite effect as well; if only one group of friends display their shirts, it can appear that the group is only for them; if members of the group wear it while breaking rules, swearing loudly or selling black market organs, your brand is now associated with the wrong sort of message.

Unity. Another reason I first tread the way of branding with my first youth group was that we were a group divided between two rival school districts.  Each group of teens identified with their school over their church and there was tension in the group.  By adding and promoting a unified group through a name and brand, I was able to move past the rivalry and create new bonds.  A possible problem with this that a youth subculture may develop and you can see a silo effect with your ministry from the wider church which is something you need to avoid at all costs.

Group Spirit.  By giving my youth a brand and the means to display and promote that brand, I have seen on each occasion a team/school/hometown sort of spirit arise within the group.  On two separate occasions, I have had the group organize specific days they all wear their shirts to school or out into the community.  I have had teens treat Sunday morning like a homecoming week football game through their enthusiasm and creativity.  A group can rally behind a brand and identity if the situation is right.  But, as I stated with the last bullet point, making the identity of the group too important or too central to your energy, and you can see a divide from the identity of the church itself.  A few great ways to safe guard against that are making sure the name of the group includes the church identity as well and to include the wider church in the activities and events you are using to showcasing your brand.  For example, once a month have your teens wear their brand t-shirts to Sunday morning worship.  After a few months, have the congregation get in on it by encouraging them to wear the color of the shirts, too.  It promotes a feeling of church wide unity, not just teen wide or group wide.

Creative or trendy.  Brands, when done well, can help bring a bit of creativity and trend to your youth ministry.  Like most things, a little flash can bring the excitement of an event or meeting to the next level.  But, when done less than well, branding can make a group seem dated or non-relevant.  We are not all graphic designers or marketing majors.  A bad logo can do as much damage as a cool, fresh logo can do wonders.  So, if this is your skill set, use it.  If it isn’t, there are a few options for you.  First, look around your congregation for a designer.  If that’s not doable, you can check out services like fiverr and get a $5 logo (check it out here).  Either way, if you are good at that sort of thing, do it, if not…get help.  So in the trendy/graphic designy/creativity arena, know thy self.

Those are a few reasons branding is used, and a few reasons why we should be careful and use branding correctly.  I say the risk is worth it, but I have had great success in all of my branding endeavors.  The moral is that branding, when done well, has the potential to take things up to a new level, but when done poorly can hinder the success of any ministry.

Rarely Asked Questions

Posted: August 10, 2014 in Uncategorized

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It seems like every website I visit has a “FAQ” tab or page exploring the Frequently Asked Questions.  These are helpful, because they identify the questions most people ask and provide an answer proactively.  But, that’s usually all that is provided, and there is a fundamental breakdown in that logic, so today I am taking a bit of my own medicine and exploring the questions that people should be asking, but rarely do in today’s post titled “RAQ”, or Rarely Asked Questions.

Why are we doing this? Too often, the first question we ask when planning an event or activity is “How do we do this?”, but the reality is that in youth ministry, the first question should always be Why.  Is this something we are doing because we have always done it before?  What is the motivation?  This question is so important, because there are plenty of times we do things in ministry for bad reasons.  Doing something because we did it last year, doing something because another church is doing it, even doing something because it will get more people to come…these motives can take away from your ministry and may be why you are experiencing different results than you would like.  Start with a vision, and have that vision be the health of your ministry.  Find a way to make everything about the faith and love of your teens, and you will find God in all your ministry does.

Who is this about? Why did you get into youth ministry?  Was it for the long hours, or the steady diet of pizza and soda?  Probably not, but there are lots of reasons people do get into the ministry other than feeling a calling to serve and teach youth.  A question we all should be asking with our programming is “who is this all about?”  Is this something that is first and foremost about glorifying God?  Is this about nurturing and loving our teens in a way that prepares them to be disciples in the world?  Or, is this about being their friend?  Is this about being up front performing to the group?  Are you killing time till you are out of seminary?  Is this about being the cool guy or girl long past high school?  Is this about being the best at dodge ball, and keeping a career in which that is a useful skill?  Is it about us, the leader, or God and the students?  If you aspire to be a singer, then go and sing.  If you aspire to be a comedian, then go and try stand up.  If you aspire to be hippest person in the room, go out and make more friends.  But if you aspire to youth ministry, glorify God and teach youth to do the same.  

Can I handle this?  A colleague of mine recently started a new position and is already being bombarded with demands of events, activities, trips, etc.  Some advice I told him in a moment of unsolicited advice (much like this) was do a little well instead of a lot poorly.  The third question we as youth ministers need to ask when we approach our ministries is “Can we handle this?” Running a program or event when you are ill prepared can hurt your ministry and even put you or your youth in danger.  Don’t overextend yourself or your limitations.  That being said, just because you can’t handle something alone doesn’t mean you should drop it.  Ask for help. That’s sort of a bonus RAQ that we all need to be ready to use – asking for help.  We can’t do it all alone, nor should we.  Our programs should be bigger than us, and no one of us has all the gifts needed to fulfill all aspects of youth ministry.  So tag team it!  Find some helpful volunteers.  Empower older youth.  Use the people around you to help the ministry execute the things you can’t handle alone.  

There are so many questions we should be asking ourselves that we don’t, but I believe these three live at the heart of youth ministry’s bigger issues.  Use them more often than rarely and you will find that your ministries will thrive.

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Do you enjoy this blog?  Are you looking for a new, cool devotional to use yourself or with your teens?  Are you used to rhetorical questions like these, or should I list more?

Don’t Judge a Savior By His Sandals is a month-long devotional book designed for all ages but targeted to teens so that everyone can read, learn and grow together.  Each entry uses a story or experience as a parablesque metaphor for a more complex faith issue, so at the very least, you may find them mildly entertaining as well.  Currently the book is available in paperback from Blurb.com (link below) or as an eBook through Amazon (link below, too) and hopefully coming soon to Amazon in paperback (no link yet).

Paperback from Blurb.com

eBook from Amazon.com

This book if good for teens, adults, families, youth workers, zoo keepers, gypsies, lefties, righties, the ambidextrous, vikings and anyone named Carl, Marla or  Fernando.  Especially those named Fernando…

FREEBIES!

Posted: June 3, 2014 in Uncategorized
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Handy Dandy Youth Ministry now has freebie Bible Verse graphics for you guys to use in your ministry worships, presentations, lessons, websites, tattoos…whatever you want to use to amp up your ministry!

If you have a request for a specific verse, feel free to comment on this post and we will do our best to get it up for you!

Shaving Cream Balloons

Posted: May 29, 2014 in Uncategorized
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Okay, so we’ve discussed how to fill balloons with mud or paint or soup, which is a lot of fun and useful for tossing games, fights, etc., but there are some other applications that could use some other fun balloon fillings.  One such filling is shaving cream.  It’s messy and amazing.

The toughest part of these balloons is the filling process.  Place the balloon (I have the best luck with water balloons) on the nozzle.  Regular balloons’ opening is much bigger, so if you are using regular balloons, be sure to fold it over once it’s on the nozzle and hold on tight.  With either balloon type, hold the nozzle/balloon opening tightly, because the cream with follow the path of least resistance, and we want that path to be into the balloon.  Once you’ve filled the balloon to the desired size, carefully tie it off.  Now you have a balloon full of shaving cream.  Congratulations!

You can use the balloons for games in which you have to pop balloons on yourself of on others, because they explode and cover everyone within a very small radius with shaving cream.  You can even couple this activity with our game Puff Suits to create an amazing, messy game that will end with laughter, filthy teens and an unforgettable game.   

Skit Boxes

Posted: May 28, 2014 in Uncategorized
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There are a few things I have found to be very helpful to keep on hand for times when the weather doesn’t cooperate, the group size is drastically different than I prepared for, the power goes out or any other form of direction-shifting event occurs.  One such item is a set of skit boxes.  They are something I enjoy putting together, and we use for a myriad of different activities.

To construct a skit box, I like to go to 2 different places, the first being the thrift store.  Walk around looking for outrageous items you can use as props of costumes for a skit.  Some examples I’ve gotten are a set of diving flippers, a really old, huge video camera, boxing gloves, any old glasses, costume jewelry, old prom dresses, any hat my grandma probably owns, and a stethoscope.  Each of those items were found and purchased at a local thrift store for less than $2 a piece.  The other location I go to fill out a good skit box is my mom’s garage.  A garage or basement just screams skit box materials, because it’s usually housing stuff you don’t actually need, so dig out that old pair of binoculars or that powder blue leisure suit and drop it in a box.  

I like to have at least 2 skit boxes put together, and they are cheap rubber containers I bought at Target.  Try to divide up the contents equally, so that there is a good mix of costumes, props and goofiness in each.  I have used the boxes for a few different things, like hosting a skit night, in which we divide up into random groups and they write then perform skits on the fly.  This is a great way to fill an evening and foster creativity and acting silly, which are equally important.  Another way I like to utilize the boxes is a “Parable Project” evening, in which I assign the groups a parable and they have to rewrite them into a modern-day skit using the boxes.  Then, I usually video them acting out their skits for the larger group.  Occasionally, they do such a great/fun/goofy/crazy job, I use the video later as an illustration when teaching that parable.  It forces the youth to recreate the bible passage, spurs conversation about the meaning and gives the opportunity to talk with the wider group about the parable.

So in your storage closet or behind a couch or even in some dark, creepy catacomb, your group should have a set of skit boxes, because they are easy to use and great for both planned and unplanned events.

Newbie Headlines

Posted: May 17, 2014 in Uncategorized
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This game is a great game for getting to know you, first-time group meetings.  I like to use it when confirmation classes first join the Sr. High ministry or when a small group first starts up.  It takes a little prep, but is an easy, fun game.

Have everyone write 2 things that are unknown to the rest of the group on slips of paper.  Tell them that the more unique, the better.  Collect the slips and put them into a hat/bucket/hollowed out book/peg leg.  Then, add a few additional slips of your own creation, things that are odd but believable.  I’ve listed a few examples at the bottom.  Then, one by one, pick a slip and read it allowed.  The group then has to guess who’s it is, or if it’s no one’s.  The person who wrote it’s goal is to not be picked; the goal of everyone else is to guess correctly; your goal is to get the group to guess the goofy ones for one of the youth.

Depending on the flow, you can use each of these slips as a mini-conversation starter, talking briefly about each, hopefully creating connections between the youth present and getting people talking.

 

Possible Decoy Slips Examples:

I was born with a tail.

I only eat the green M&M’s, and only 2 at a time.

My favorite toy growing up was an old sock with lips drawn on it.

I have an acute allergy to the glue on Post-it notes.

My first nickname was “Glue Face”.

 

 

*The decoy slips should be silly/goofy, but not something that’d be offensive if someone were to guess it about another teen.*

 

 

Noodle Hockey

Posted: May 13, 2014 in Uncategorized
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Working with a youth group, you can find that there are all levels of athleticism, skill and experience when it comes to games and activities.  In an effort to keep teens on the same playing field (pun maybe intended?) I try to use games that are different or strange, so as to limit the transferable skills and boost group participation.  This is one such example.  It’s great indoors or out, and has been something the kids enjoy playing as much as the more classic Ultimate Frisbee or Soccer.

Noodle hockey is just about what it sounds like – instead of sticks, everyone uses noodles.  Instead of a puck, we use a beach ball or balloon (always beach ball if we are outside, grass will pop a balloon).  I find this works well with teams of 5-8 in a smaller area, so if your group is very large, you can set up multiple “rinks” or play a tournament-style rotation.  Indoors, we have no out-of-bounds, but outdoors, the team to last touch the ball before it goes out of bounce forfeits control to the other team, like Soccer.  For goals, I have played two ways: first, you can have an end-zone and no goalie, and the team simply has to have the ball cross the line for a point.  Or, you can designate a goal and have a goalie, though I like to have the goalie have to stand on a chair and reach down with the noodle to block shots to keep it interesting.

As with all sport-based games, this can get intense.  Make sure it’s intense in a good way and that everyone is still having fun, because that’s what the game is all about.  The youth already have a performance-based style of athletics in their life called gym class.  This game should be about having fun, goofing off, working together and being active.  Don’t let it become anything else, and you’ll love noodle hockey!