Archives For Open Letter

Dear Fellow Comrades,

I write these words to you to encourage and strengthen you in the work that you are doing.  Of all the letters I have written this one, more than any other, is the most burdensome on my heart.  In the Old Testament when a prophet shared an oracle (See Hab. 1:1) another possible translation for oracle was “burden.”  While I am not “a prophet nor the son of a prophet” I still have a burden to share that weighs heavy on my heart for this is the vocation I labor and strive for everyday.  Forgive me for the long discourse but there are a few things I want to share.

First of all, you are not Jesus Christ so the saving of souls is not your responsibility.  I shared this in a video with the GO! campaign Brad Montague was doing but I learned it somewhere in my reading.  Early on in my ministry I felt like I needed to solve each and every problem a teenager encountered and it wasn’t long before their problems became my problems and I nearly burned out.  There is a fine line where helping a teenager with their problems actually hurts them even more with their problems.  Any parent would tell you that you have to let children work their problems out otherwise they will not be able to stand on their own.  There was only one Savior who died on the cross and his name was Jesus of Nazareth not you.  

Secondly, saturate your ministry in Scripture and prayer.  You are going to have to endure many hardships and these can be dealt with only by way of the Holy Spirit.  Scripture was given to us as the rule of faith (regula fidei) and no other document can provide the proper guidance you need in ministry than Scripture.  Prayer is your life-line to the Lord Almighty.  You’re going to need it.  You are going to pray when five or six students get baptized at once thank God for all he has done and you are going to pray on the frantic trip to the hospital when one of your students has been in a car accident.  Like Paul, you will pray without ceasing knowing that there are certain things that can only be dealt with by prayer.

Thirdly, recruit volunteers to do the things God has not gifted you with.  We all go through phases where we do the bulletin, clean the bus, write the bible class, send the e-mails, create PowerPoints (spending hours on just the right image and background and font), conduct nursing home services and then do the office stuff.  You cannot do everything on your own so equip parents, volunteers and even students to do the things you can’t or event shouldn’t.  But that leads me to a little rant about PowerPoints, fonts, etc.

Fourthly, quit wasting time on things that do not matter.  Technology is the craze right now and that will not change but too many youth ministers spend unacceptable amounts of time creating the best video, PowerPoints, flyers, blogs  and everything else when they could be doing more valuable stuff.  I am not saying videos have no place (could you delegate that or do you have to do it?) but there are ways to do stuff smarter and faster.  The problem with videos is that teenagers look at them and say, “WOW!  What’s next?”  They could care less that you spent five hours on it because they are always going to ask, “What’s next?”  Poor time management will kill you if you consistently cannot get a hold of it.  Unexpected things will pop up and if you do not take control then you are toast.  Blogs (of which I am guilty) are time killers because you are always checking on who commented on your post who said this and who said that.  Get out among your kids and talk with them and quit blogging so much.  The internet world will be OK without you.      

Fifth, quit comparing.  Have you ever walked on a swinging bridge and looked to the side while walking?  It’s never a good thing as usually you start to go crooked and even a little fear develops.  When you compare your ministry or church with another usually you do not compare but you contrast.  You start to look at what you don’t have and what you are not doing.  Then you get a little jealousy in you and so instead of celebrating another youth minister or ministry you start becoming embittered against them as if ministry was a competition.  God did not call you to THEIR church but he called you right where you are at.  No you don’t have 150 kids in your youth group but God has blessed you with 20 wonderful souls.  Bigger is not necessarily better.

Sixth, drop the ego.  It’s not about you.  Too many youth ministers have inner idolatry in their hearts where they believe that if they left the church context they were in then the church would cease to exist.  That’s hogwash!  you want to know why?  God!  Our God kept the church going through some of the most tumultuous times in history and you are just another person in his creation.  We are replaceable and that is ok.  Maybe the church will do better without us which we should be happy about anyways!  Should we ever be upset if a church thrives without us?  In the words of Paul, “May it never be!”

Seven, do not major in the minors.  There is a fine-line here as well but too often I see churches and youth ministries who become “issue-oriented” churches.  They are all about this issue, that issue and it becomes a little bit like theological sparring.  Issues are important to understand but teaching a generation about all the things we don’t do will send mixed messages about THE MANY things we can and should do.  But on the flip side…

Eighth, set a high standard for what you teach and preach.  I don’t know about you but I am tired of hearing the same “easy” lessons that come from the same stories we always here.  I am tired of the incessant allegoricalness that plagues or lessons like “Facing your giants,” “Avoiding your Bathshebas” and “Life in the belly of the fish.”  Allegory has its place but not everything in Scripture is neat and has three points to it.  Do some study and wrestle with the text and just admit that not everything can be studied in 12 weeks, 6 weeks or even in 6 days of camp.  That also means you need to write some of your own curriculum.  You will get better with time but just don’t go out and buy something from GROUP or Zondervan just because it looks cool.

Nine, guard your heart.  If you have been in ministry long enough then you have heard of ministers who have cheated on their wives and some have even cheated with youth group kids.  As unbelievable as this sounds it happens easier than you might think.  Not setting boundaries, letting your mind wander, having a messiah-complex (see #1 above) and even not attending your wife sexually all can contribute to inappropriate behavior.  Of all people, you need to guard your heart and if it wanders seek help immediately.

Finally, have fun. There are many difficult aspects of youth ministry but if you can’t have fun with this job then you probably need to quit.  It is fun!  Late nights at Waffle House, skit nights at the youth house, singing in the fellowship room, that time the wheel fell off the bus, that time you did this or that.  It should be fun and when teenagers see you having fun they realize a relationship with God can be exciting and fellowship with Christians is exhilarating.

I love you youth ministers and I pray that God continues to bless you and make your ministries thrive.  I am impressed to see what God does and how he leads you to baptize dozens and lead parents in their training of children.  Continue to do the good work.

Deo gratias.



Dear Spouses and Families,

It is with an emotional heart that I write this post for now I am speaking not only to the families of youth ministers abroad but I am also speaking to my own.  I want to start off by saying a big “thank you” for your sacrifice.  I know there are times when you must be at wit’s end because we have not been at home to help with the dishes, laundry and giving the kids their bath.  I know there are times in the summer when all you get is a kiss on the cheek each morning and you don’t see our face for another week.  I know there are times when we bring our emotional baggage from the ministry home (and we swore we wouldn’t do that) and our first target is our wives and our children.  I know our fuses are short and the demands placed on us by so many different individuals keeps us on edge.  I know that this is not what you signed up for when you agreed to marry us.  I also know, children, that you did not have a choice in any of this either.  I also know that there are times when it appears we invest more physically, emotionally and spiritually into the lives of teenagers instead of the lives of our own families.

For all of this and more that is sure to come we ask that you, our wives, husbands and children please, in the name of Lord, forgive us.  We apologize for doing that which we know we should not do and not doing that which we know we should do (Romans 7 of course).  I could make excuses (it even looks like it above) and give you a sob story at how tough youth ministry is but there are no excuses for not doing what is right.  We have three things to offer you for our unacceptable behavior: 1) Confession – We admit we have sinned; 2) Request for forgiveness and 3) a request for your help to alter our mindset to avoid future mistakes.

If I were to say something by way of a request that would be, first of all,  to help us.  Please become our partners in ministry and help alleviate some of the demands by working alongside of us.  No you do not get paid for this but perhaps I can talk to the elders and work that out and we can work together for the long haul.  That also means our children will have to grow up serving in the ministry in some capacity but I believe this is partly what the Shema in Deuteronomy 6:4-6 asks us to do.  So please become our partners in this ministry.     

Secondly, I ask that you communicate with us if we are doing too much and the family is starting to suffer.  Of course, we should be slowing down anyways and listening to our families but some of us are addicted to ministry (more on that in the next post) and it has become an idol so we need you to, like a minor prophet, confront us of our calamity and pronounce judgment on us.  If ministry is tearing apart our family then we need you to communicate that to us and if you cannot be a “minister’s wife” then we will do something else.  God has brought us this far and I can guarantee you he will not fail us if we do the right thing.  Please just communicate to us.

Deo gratias

This post is dedicated to my wife Heather Mackenzie who is absolutely amazing in every sense of the word.  Let me tell you about her.  She birthed four beautiful kids in five years.  In that time she watches four other kids every day to supplement our income.  She brings our kids to all of the MAJOR activities in the youth group.  She volunteers occasionally for my son’s school.

She teaches class at Sunday School.  She cleans the house, does the laundry and all of this while putting up with me for a husband.  The fact of all of this is that she doesthis without complaining.  A lot of people whine about how hard their lives are and how busy they are and how they do not have time to even relax yet Heather does all of this without complaining.  Some people who say they “married-up” are just trying to be nice but when I say I married-up you have no idea how true that statement is.  You will not find a person who exemplifies Proverbs 31:29 better than Heather.

Dear Students,

I want you to know that my heart is dedicated to serving and helping your parents rear you to engage the world and the Word by way of discipleship.  I also want you to know that I am going to go the “extra mile” for you in ways that you will love and in ways sometime you will hate.  I want you to know that I have spent nights praying for you, attending your games, instructing you in class, discussing with you late at night, encouraging you with letters, laughing with you, crying for you, and rejoicing with you all because I actually love you.  I am not going to come alongside of you just to be your friend, pal or acquaintance but I am going to come alongside of you to laugh, learn and love.

I also want to be perfectly honest with you in that you need to put forth the effort if you want the most out of your years in the youth group.  I am sorry that we do not go climb Mt. Kilimanjaro for a youth group activity nor do we go to exotic places for mission trips.  To be blunt with you, there is a reason why we do not do those things and you would do well to know the reason.  If you want the youth group to be about roller-coasters, $1000 summer trips, $3000 mission trips (kind of ironic when you could do it for free in your backyard), highly-emotional yet low-discipleship-oriented events, then you can find that group anywhere.  Go there and I will give you my blessings.  Yet, if you want to strive for authenticity, seek justice, study the Word, learn to pray, be in community with senior-citizens, learn how to serve the poor, engage in class, and wrestle with spiritual darkness while struggling to do all of those then join us.  Quit whining though that the youth is so boring because you are not doing anything to help it either.

Be careful what you say.  Words have an interesting way of coming back to bite you.  I remember students telling me, “I will never be like ___________ and go out and do _________.”  Only to find out that they have gone out and did exactly what they were condemning.  Be careful what you say.

Pay attention to your parents.  They don’t know everything and they are just as liable to mess-up like you so when they do and you offer your Neener-neener-neener argument make sure you look in the mirror.  It is tough being a parent and you have no idea what it’s like to feel the pressure of the bills looming around you like an ominous storm cloud ready to unleash at a moment’s fury.  Have a little sympathy for mom and dad and spend some time with them.

Read Scripture.  I am amazed at how many teenagers do not bring their bibles (the ones on their phone too) with them to religious functions.  Pick the Word up  and read it.  If you don’t understand it don’t put it down and say, “I am through!”  What if your mechanic was frustrated with your vehicle and said, “I’m through” then returned the vehicle to you?  Not a good mechanic.  If he researches and struggles he might find a solution though…and so can you.

Quit bashing the church.  I have said this in a number of posts but I hear it everywhere I go in that people like to treat the church as if it is a piñata.  The problem I have is that on one hand the institution of the church will never be perfect but (NEWS FLASH) never will your assessment of institutions be perfect either.  What makes you right and the church wrong?  That does not mean we do not need voices to call into question glaring hypocrisies that are prevalent.  It does mean we look at the church at what it is…a broken institution filled with broken people trying to put the pieces back together.  The question is whether you want to help or not?

Wherever you invest your time, money and your thoughts is what you worship.  I wish someone would have told me this years ago but it is true in that if all your money and time is spent with sports then you worship sports.  If all your time and money and thoughts are focused on a boyfriend or a girlfriend then that is who you worship.  Don’t believe me?  Am I being too harsh?  Write down how much time, money and thoughts you spent with God (thoughts, prayer, relationship) and then how much, money and thoughts you spent with your signficant other, sport or whatever.  So, who do you worship?

Grow up.  There is a reason why you graduate from high-school.  It is so you quit acting like a high-schooler.  I have heard people in their mid 20s who still act and talk like high-schoolers.  Grow up and put on your big-boy clothes, move out of your co-dependent relationship with mom and dad (and move out of their house), get a job and follow God.  It’s time for you to grow up.  That also goes for you high-schoolers who cry to mom and dad because the youth minister told you to not put that picture on Facebook or to not where those clothes or to not act like a jerk to a waitress.  Mom and dad may “bail” you out of trouble for now but you acting like a baby will eventually get you fired, broken-up with and the worst of all, alone.  Grow up.

Deo gratias

I love my teenagers so much at Main Street and this post is dedicated to the faithful disciples of 2005-2011 who still love God and are stoked about what he can do.  You guys continually show me that in a generation of people who say “we can’t” you are saying triumphantly “we can!”  I love you more than you know.

Dear Parents,

Without you ministry is impossible.  I would like to thank many of you who have chaperoned activities, volunteered at various functions, cooked at retreats, taught bible classes, counseled young teens and sat in with me as we cast vision for the future.  Solomon said, “a cord of three strands is not easily broken” (Ecc. 4:12) and our team has remained in tact not because of anything we as youth ministers have done but because you agreed to work together with other parents and with us.  Thank you also for entrusting your children (your whole world) to us allowing us to get to know them, teach them and mentor them as an aide in what you are doing at the home.  I do believe it takes a village to raise a child and thank you for allowing us to be in your “village.”  We have shared many memories and have done many good things in the name of the kingdom of God and someday (although it is already happening in part) we will experience the New Heavens and New Earth together as we feast with Christ forever.

But, I want to be honest with you and take this letter not as a rant, complaint or bitter diatribe but as a genuine request to help the team known as our youth ministry.

First of all, we are not mind-readers.  As surprising as that may sound the gift of mind-reading was not bestowed to us in a youth ministry class or by the Holy Spirit.  If you expect us to do things for your teenager or if you expect us to not do things for your teenager then you need to tell us.  Unvoiced expectations are always going to be unvoiced expectations.  That sounded so good I want to repeat it.  Unvoiced expectations are always going to be unvoiced expectations.  Some of you parents give us information on your children like schedules, do’s and dont’s, birthdays and other information while some of you give us nothing then you get mad because we missed a birthday or a sporting event and your child was upset.  If you expect us to do something for your child, tell us.

Secondly, we need your help.  Youth ministry is tough because we have to wear so many different hats.  We have to make schedules, reserve retreat facilities, collect money, follow-up on elder’s meetings, meet unvoiced expectations (see above), study for bible classes, study for devotionals, mentor students, attend games, attend recitals, attend graduations and on top of that some of us have four children five and under.  We can’t do it all so we need your help.  We need you to come and pray with us or offer to host a devotional or even teach a class.  We need some of you to chaperon an activity.  I know you don’t want to because they may think you are a nerd but the truth is that you are a nerd because God made you that way and everyone older than 22 is a nerd anyways so love and appreciate that roll.  Please, please help us.

Thirdly, we are not babysitters and activity directors.  I despise the term “Youth Director” (might just be my own issues) because it implies we are simply organizers of a program that keeps kids busy.  The truth is that we are trying to disciple students (as an aide to what already occurs at home) to engage the Word and the world in a mission of God to battle the powers of darkness.  That’s not directing that is ministering.  Also, please do not just simply “drop-off” your child without ever engaging the youth ministry.  We need your participation and when you drop your child off you are saying, or implying, “you spiritually direct my child because I do not want to.”  You might not be saying that but that is what you are implying.

Fourth, like Amos (7:14), we are not prophets nor the son of prophets but do not be surprised if your son or daughter leaves the church if you are not spiritually rearing them.  I would also add to this that if they do leave the church (this is blunt but the truth) there might be a lot of factors for their departure but you might want to start by looking in the mirror (again, this is not always the case as some leave the faith even with excellent rearing).  When you invest hours and hours and hours and hours and hours into football, baseball, tennis, gymnastics, softball, chorus, and every other extra-curriculum activity yet do not even cross the threshold of the church building then the teenager is going to place his or her focus exactly where you do…on the field.  Another caveat to this discussion may be your own issues of trying to live vicariously through your children giving them opportunities you “never had” in hopes that they will make it big in the pros even though 99% do not.  I am not against sports at all (see What do you do with athletes in your group?) as some parents attend a lot of sports but STILL spiritually lead their children.  Sporting events, to them, are opportunities to evangelize and fellowship instead of obligatory moments of training to “make it big.”

Finally, if you have a problem with us, do the biblical thing and come to us.  I mentioned this in the “open letter to elders” post but I am compelled to mention it again.  There are two terms in Scripture that describe someone who talks behind your back to other parents, elders and church members: gossip and dissension.  When you talk about a youth minister (or anyone for that matter) behind their back about issues you disagree with him about you are sowing discord and eventually saying to other people that you can’t work your problems out like civilized human beings so you are just going to talk about them.  We are fallible individuals and at some point we are going to be wrong about something (remember Peter the apostle?) so the biblical thing to do is to sit down with us (prayerfully) and talk with us one on one.  I had a parent who did this with me and my ministry grew because of it.  I was wrong and I needed to know about it.  They did not sow discord but confronted me.  There are groups of people who talk about others yet never confront people about their issues.  You want to know who they are?  Middle schoolers.  This goes for youth ministers as well (I will post this later).

Once again, thank you parents for all that you do and I will argue (rightly of course ;)) that Main Street has the best parents and all of you should be jealous that I have such a good group.

Deo gratias

Dear Preachers,

First, I want you to know how much we appreciate your diligent study that takes place every single week as your prepare 2 lessons, 2 bible classes and various lessons in between.  On top of that you visit people all over the congregation in times of trouble, sickness, spiritual laxity and then there are the endless meetings with the elders, committees and other programs in the church and then somehow you are supposed to cast vision for the church and for yourself.  I want to say that your work does not go unnoticed and we, as youth ministers, want to express our gratittude for the work you do not in the 30 minutes you stand before the assembly but the 60+ hours you labor outside of the assembly.  In the words of Paul, “press on” (Philippians 3).

Secondly, I want to let you know that we need your help as a voice among the church but also among the leadership.  Right or wrong sometimes the youth minister’s voice does not hold much weight and sometimes we are pretty young in age so we are somewhat hesitant to speak to the leadership about certain issues.  We need you to be our voice to the leadership when we cannot speak otherwise.

Thirdly, we need your training and mentoring.  More than likely you have more experience in full-time church work than we do so we would love it if you sat down with us and talked about the work of a minister not necessarily in a formal way but in an ongoing discussion as we both labor side-by-side for the church.  “You should have known better” could be avoided if you would sit down with us and mentor us along the way.  Some of us need fine-tuning when it comes to public speaking, preparing messages and so forth so please help us with that.

Fourth, please have our backs.  I will defend you every time someone says your sermon was boring, or you spoke too long, or you spoke too fast, or you used too much Scripture or you didn’t use enough Scripture.  I will defend you when someone is talking about you and spreading rumors.  I will defend you when people say you didn’t spend enough time in the office or you spend too much time in the office.  However, I need you to do the same for me.  When parents talk about how inept, uneducated and ill-prepared I am for youth ministry I need you to have my back.  You know how much effort I put into the ministry and you have seen the work that I do so please do not buy into their gossip but, in all cases, defend me.  If I am wrong then confront me about it but do not buy into the gossip.

Fifth, attend youth functions.  Every once in a while offer to chaperon a youth event.  It serves two functions: 1) The kids learn that their preacher is more than the guy who speaks and 2) they see that the church staff works as a team and supports each other.  I believe Steven Covey would call that a Win-Win-Win because then the students maintain that mentality.

Again, I appreciate all of the work you do and it’s all about God so let’s work as a team and accomplish things for the Lord.

Deo Gratias

This blog post is dedicated to my favorite preacher, Joe Rushing who has labored here at Main Street 20 years come the first weekend in December.  You’re amazing Joe!

Dear Elders,

First I want to say thank you for providing so many youth ministers with opportunities to grow and learn in their ministries.  You have stuck with many in the trenches and many of you are the reasons why youth ministers are still thriving.  You show up at their activities, skits and you even take them out for lunch letting them know how much you appreciate them.  I want to thank you for the great ministry of shepherding you have done and for that we owe you our love and support.  However, if I you were to ask me some advice for elders based on a youth minister’s perspective I would give you the following.  Please do not micro-manage us and actually trust us.  I understand you come from an atmosphere where the “bottom-line” is the point of conversation but the truth is that youth ministry is messy.  I can give you financial statements, expenditures, number of visits, phone calls, hours in the office, gas mileage, class reports, individual growth reports for teens, parent meeting reports, future planning, vision and anything else you want but that would mean I would never see my family and the truth is that youth ministry is never, ever, ever neat.  Some of you get that and trust us tremendously but many of you could care less about what we do and all you want to know is that we are a) not losing kids, b) not losing money and c) keeping parents happy.  So please do not micro-manage us but actually trust us to do the job that you hired us to do.

Secondly, I wish you would go to bat for us when a parent comes to you with a “problem” instead of coming down hard on us every time a parent whines and complains.  Let’s be honest elders, some parents are 40 year old kindergarteners.  Some of them get mad because we “made” them put their children’s phone up in bible class.  Some of them get jealous because they think we love other kids more than theirs.  Some of them get mad because we encouraged their daughter to put some modest clothes on and then encouraged mom to do the same.  I wish you would tell parents to first talk with us before they come to you.  You guys are not the principal’s office or the NCAA rules violations committee you are our shepherds.  If they have not come to us first then that is biblically wrong (Matthew 18, et al).  We need your support and if you keep defending parents all the time then, like a defenseless deer, we are going to run.

Thirdly, please pray with us and our families.  I have discussions all the time about youth ministers who are exhausted and I ask if their elders have sat down and prayed with them and the answer is invariably no.  We need to feed but we also need to be fed.  Coming into our office with no agenda but only to pray is food for our spiritual soul.

Fourth, discipline us.  WHAT?  I know that sounds crazy but just like youth ministers need not to be micro-managed we also need evaluation, constructive criticism and discipline.  If we think we are always doing the right thing and nobody tells us otherwise then we assume we are always doing the right thing.  That’s not right.  Sit down with us yearly to talk about our successes but talk about where we need improvement.

Finally, cast vision and differentiate.  There are elders in churches who are too scared to do and say what they need to because they are afraid of brother or sister so-and-so.  If it is not a matter of doctrine and it is for the betterment of the sheep then do it.  Fear paralyzes churches and the result is that we will not grow.  I was talking with Dale Jenkins one time and I said, “I don’t think we need to change for change sake.”  His response was appropriate and made me think, “Well why not change for change sake?”  I wish elders had 1, 3, 5 and even 10 year visions for what they want the church to do and be.

I love elders and Main Street has some of the best but these are my thoughts I wish every elder would listen to from youth ministers, for youth ministers.

Deo gratias.

I am starting a series of posts where I write letters to different areas of people from the perspective of youth ministers.  The goal of these letters are two-fold: 1) To provide a window into how some youth ministers may think or feel and 2) allow that knowledge for you to maybe give the youth minister the benefit of the doubt next time.  At times, I may come across as somewhat forthright in my language and I say these things because I have seen so many youth ministers who are physically, spiritually and mentally exhausted from “the work.”  I am, by no means, an expert either and these letters are not infallible treatises or even perfect images of real life.  The letters are simply a collection of thoughts I have for a wide range of people inside and outside of the church.  These are not thoughts (again with a disclaimer) where I am whining and complaining or even thoughts where I have someone specific in mind (although I might).  Below is an outline of who I will address in the “Open Letter” series (comment below if I should add any to this list):

  1. Part 2 – An Open Letter to Elders
  2. Part 3 – An Open Letter to Preachers
  3. Part 4 – An Open Letter to Parents
  4. Part 5 – An Open Letter to Students
  5. Part 6 – An Open Letter to Spouses and Families
  6. Part 7 – An Open Letter to Youth Ministers
Tomorrow I will start with an open letter to elders.  Pray for this series!