I wanted to address something that is very important to me. Networking. Call it what you want, I call it survival. After many moons of student ministry, the things that I treasure most apart from my savior, my wife and kids, and my XBOX is my networking relationships with other Youth Pastors on the frontlines of student ministry.

There is a funny illustration that one of my good friends used while he was talking to one of my former students. I am sure he ripped off the story, but it went something like this. “A reporter was at a small paper and wanted to impress his friend by telling him that he had gotten an interview with the town mayor. His friend Bob was happy for him and said, “hey, when you see the mayor, tell him Bob said Hi.” The reporter was obviously disheartened when he found out that his friend already knew the mayor. Sometime later, after the reporter had moved up in the world of reporting…got an interview with the president. He phoned his friend Bob and let him know what he was up to. Bob was excited for his friend and said, “hey, when you see the President, tell him Bob said Hi.” The reporter was disheartened once again. Finally the reporter reached the zenith of his career and landed an interview with the Pope. He quickly dialed his friend Bob to let him know what he was doing in the hopes of impressing Bob. Bob was very excited for him. When the reporter got to the Vatican there was a large crowd gathered as the Pope was coming out to greet the people. The reporter was floored when he looked up and saw Bob coming out with the Pope. He looked at the guy next to him and asked, “hey, who is that guy with the Pope?” The man replied, “I don’t know who the pope is, but that guy next to the guy with the funny hat is Bob!” A funny story. My friend was telling my former student that I was Bob…referring to the fact that he thought I “knew” everybody. I was flattered, but I would like to think that it is because I genuinely try to connect with those that I have blessed to run into during this fun ride called life.

Networking with others is essential in this thing we do called student ministry. We cannot think that we have it all figured out. We don’t. We don’t always have the best ideas. The moment I realized that I can learn much from colleagues, mentors, and friends…that is when I began to figure it out. Here are some tips for expanding your network and by default, expanding your influence and the influence others have on your life and ministry.

· Be humble. Be the first to pick up the flag of another individual with great talents and ideas and wave it high. This is the same if they are youth pastors in other towns or even in your own community. If they feel you are genuinely interested in them and their success, it makes it easier to work together and squashes any “turf” issues from the beginning.

· Stay connected. Don’t let the only time you call/text/message that person to be when you are “pimping” your own stuff or events. Get to know their families, let them know that you are accessible and available to swap ideas.

· Pray for them and their ministry. Rejoice in their victories and encourage them in their “bumps” in ministry. I know I appreciate it when a friend that really “gets” what I am doing shows his/her support. Sometimes this is a thankless job and to know that others have an idea what we are going through really helps.

· Be Real. At the end of the day, we have all had a tenth grader we have invested in for months or years decide to just check out and try their hand at the world, throwing to the wind everything you feel they have learned in your ministry. It is a tough job. So be transparent in your dealings with others and they will feel more comfortable networking with you.

· Be sensitive for God’s timing. I can’t tell you how many times I have met a fellow youth pastor and it has been just what we both needed at the time. God has a way of bringing the right people together to swap ideas and encourage one another to further His kingdom. So keep your eyes open for “resources” that He puts in our paths.

· Don’t be discouraged if you don’t “click” right away. Sometimes the closest friends in ministry may start rocky. My best friend in ministry, Scott Quimby, told me that he didn’t like me very much when we first met.  I am not sure why, maybe it was because he is an only child, but our differences have helped our friendship strengthen over time.  Sometimes youth pastors are  hesitant to engage with other ministries. Maybe you or the other have been “burned” by some 6 month flame-out and they are licking their wounds.

· Pick up the phone. Call around and see who is working with students in your area. Have lunch and share passions for students. Don’t worry if they are in a different denomination. The majority of us have the common ground of Jesus Christ. So start there first. Find out why they do what they do and then see the first recommendation above. Don’t wait for others to call you. Make that first step out in faith and see what God has planned.

· Use these connections to share your concerns and/or “vent.” We often have to be careful sometimes in ministry by being perceived as “complaining” by members of our own churches. I get advice and bounce ideas about situations with my colleagues without getting into a gossip session. It helps a ton and I am a better youth pastor because of it.

· Share resources. I have many friends that are in churches that may not have the budget that I have. We have all been there, trying to stretch a budget. So give freely when you are blessed. Loan books, share props, large ticket items, and resources. Don’t be afraid to ask either. Take interest in their ministries and I have found they will take interest in yours. Recently, I have had several conversations with guys/gals that have struggled with tragedies in their ministries. This is a great time to share resources, experiences, and wisdom that battle scars from years of ministry leave us with. It is a blessing in the end, it doesn’t seem like it when you are going through a church split, firing, or the wisdom we gain from laboring through the loss of a student’s life in your community and ministry. We all have “I will never do that again” moments and if that wisdom helps someone else from making the same mistake, then that is a win-win situation.

· One final thought for now. Go to conventions and conferences. Even ones you may not necessarily want to. These are great places to network with like-minded people. The network of youth pastors that I have now have been my shoulders to lean on during my ministry time. Some of them have grown into wonderful mentors that can speak wisdom into my life and ministry. Give them the freedom to do just that, have a few people that you can rely on to speak the truth into your life…even if it hurts sometimes. We all need our card pulled sometimes and it is much easier coming from someone that you have a close relationship with and not just someone taking pop-shots at you from the peanut gallery. Networks of friends help you make it through the peanut gallery days.

Me and 4500 other bloggers are writing about water today.

The majority of us in the United States have clean, cheap tap water running out of a fixture somewhere in our homes.  Some of us have just a normal, run of the mill faucets…others have fancy waterfalls that run into bowls that seemingly have no outlet for the drain…yet, the water goes somewhere.  I am thinking it indeed does go somewhere, but that is just a hunch.

I look in my cabinets and I can find at least 15 containers that my family uses to carry water, kool-aid, chocolate milk, or the solid chunks of smelly stuff that appears when you leave that container of said chocolate milk hidden behind a car seat in the car for a few weeks.  I can also buy a crazy amount of neatly packaged bottled water at any store or quick-stop I go into.

Here’s the thing.  When I need water. I get it. I don’t have to walk far for it. I get it.  I don’t have to wait in line. I get it.  I don’t know the first thing about what it is like to go with out.  Yet, often I think, pray, wonder about those precious men, women, and children around the world that have to struggle to get something that seems so simple, clean drinking water.Continue reading

For the past several weeks I have had the opportunity to be shadowed by some new friends from Germany.  Jens and Steffi attend a Bible College in Germany that requires them to serve a 7 week internship each year.  Tobias, a great friend from Germany, knew Jens and Steffi and contacted me about hosting them at our church.  Good idea.  If all of Germany’s Youth Ministry oriented people are as quality as Jens and Steffi, then they have a very bright future!

I wanted to share a few thoughts in regard to Mentoring that I have been reminded of at this point.

  • Know why you do what you do.  Jens asks questions…actually that is an understatement.  He asks a lot of questions.  So there are many things that I do during the normal day-to-day routine that I just take for granted.  Having him around has helped me to evaluate everything I do on a step-by-step basis.  It has helped me to streamline my normal routine.
  • Learning and applying things to your life is only part of the process.  Evangelism has not taken place until discipleship has taken place.  The same goes for mentoring.  All the knowledge from peers/reading/studying/observing does not mature in value until you share that with others.  There is no such thing as “turf” in ministry.
  • Be transparent. Share the mistakes with the wins!  Revisiting past failures has been helpful to me and Jens as well. No one is perfect, don’t try to be.
  • Network!  I don’t know all the answers, I don’t even try to pretend.  But I have some great friends in ministry that have some answers as well and a world of knowledge to share.  So while you are mentoring, use your resources.  I have scheduled many meets with peers to allow them to see ministry on many different levels: from University Professors to Youth Pastors working in other churches, both large and small.  It is great for them to see servants at work and at play.
  • Evaluate.  Know what you both want to accomplish.  From the beginning there needs to be a game-plan for what needs to be accomplished.  7 weeks goes by fast…as does any length of time for mentoring.  Don’t get caught trying to fit it all in the last week.  Both of you will end up not liking ministry or each other very much.
  • Realize that it takes a lot of time.  So be patient and calm.  Don’t get overwhelmed with the feeling that someone is just following you around.
  • Have fun.  Life is too short not to.  Enjoy the time you have together.  Realize we are serving with the kingdom in mind.

I will be having Jens write about his stay and what he learned while in the States.  Pray for him and Steffi as they endeavor to serve in Germany.

Hey friends…don’t miss an opportunity to be at this back to school conference on 8.28.2010.  It is well planned, cheap, great personalities, and local!  Here is the info.  Several tracks that I know you would like to have your adults and students plug into.  We all look for quality events to strengthen our local ministry and this is one of them!  Check it out for only $20.   DVS

You are a student leader for a reason. Maybe you chose to be, maybe someone else chose it for you—no matter how you got here, God has a plan to use you in ministry.

You and your youth worker know that you’re new at this thing. You have leadership abilities, but you’re still a student—so how do you do it?Continue reading

Even though it is just June… the wickedly cool Youth Specialties Blog has come up with a list of the top Youth Ministry Blogs out there in cyberspace.  There are more and more YMBlogs out there now and I would consider us all friends…even though most of us have never met.  Several of them are new to me and I wanted to pass the list along to those of you that may not have YS Blog on your “things to read” list.

*side note on tracking info about your blog:  I love looking at the data from my blog. I use Google Analytics and it gives a ton of stuff that I use and a whole bunch of stuff that I have to get my friend David Summers to explain…but my favorite is the humbling “Map Overview”.

The “Map Overview” gives me a peek at the locations of those that click on my Blog.  It kind of brings to light exactly how small the world really has become.  Other quick looks at unique visitors and what content is drawing the most interest is the bomb.  You may want to check it out if you are looking for ways to track your info.

I am glad that YS spent some time stalking some of the best blogs out there and helped compile a list like this…it cuts my time down considerably when I can just add these blogs to my Google reader.  Top Drawer my friends.  I don’t think of it as a competition thing and I don’t even need the info broken into other categories…just the pooling of resources is great.  Good things happen when we challenge one another to do a better job at sharing our faith and living it out right in front of our students.  It can get overwhelming though, I even got cheesed recently when I read something on Jeremy Zach‘s blog, it made me mad and I was about to write a comment or send him a note on Facebook when I realized that I agreed with him…whew! Near miss there.  I realized that I needed to take a break and go kiss my kids.  Keep up the good work and keep spreading the good news around.  DVS

Launched in 2002 with the XBOX, XBOX Live (XL) made the incredible XBOX even better.  Many moons ago, I locked down my gamer tag…dustinsams.  It is no yellowdogzoom3000 or something like that…but it makes it easy for my students to find me.  Basically they can find me on twitter, skype, and even at dinner by just using my name…I think that is pretty accessible don’t you?  I didn’t do much with it, I never played one single game with online friends or anything like that.  As a youth pastor my life was busy enough as it is and we were fortunate to have a multiple XBOX gaming area at our church with consoles linked up.  So anytime I wanted to hang with students and play, that is where it was at.  In 2005, the Microsoft debuted the XBOX360.  XL has been updated and upgraded ever since.  Membership has blown up and as of February 2010 there were 23 million subscribers.

I give you a little taste of XL history just so you can impress your friends.  I wanted to give some of you some ideas for using XBOX Live to connect with some of your students.  This is not for everyone and some of you will see no reason to continue…but there are a few of you that may be liberated by knowing that you can actually do some good while playing Live.  To speed things up, I will be using CODMW3 as an example.  I was recently locked in virtual battle  online with 2 other youth pastors in my home state, 3 former students (1 in AZ and 2 in FL), and a student in my current ministry…crazy.  Talking to them while playing, as if they were sitting right next to me…so much fun.  I personally have developed relationships with and have been able to speak into the lives of students that normally wouldn’t have given me the time of day. Since I have the talking point of CODMW3, many defensive barriers are immediately taken down and a connection is made.

So if you have an XL account, here are a couple of tips.  If you are an avid gamer, you no doubt have discovered most of these already.  Let the connecting and noob-tubing begin.

(keep in mind XBOX Live is now available in some form or another on every game that is released, I would love to hear if you have had similar run-ins with students in a favorable way. Gaming is not for everyone and this was not an article to debate gaming violence or whether it leads to someone car-jacking the church van, simply another avenue to connect with students where they really are.)

  • Be aware of foul language.  A student sent me a message on XL the first time we met in a “party” and said, “Dustin, I just want to warn you, there are some that cuss a lot.”  I laughed and thanked him for thinking that I had never heard those words before.  This is a place where you and 23 million plus individuals hang out.  Quickly learn how to “mute” offensive players and encourage those that play a “clean” game.  I regularly thank those in the room for not spewing filth, whether we like it or not, there are many children that are playing the games that they are not even allowed to buy by themselves.  Also, take advantage of “rating” players.  You can mark another gamer with higher rankings (more of a possibility to be matched up in the future or on the flipside less likely for those ranked lower).  This isn’t VBS, you are in the real world where people cuss.  So be warned.
  • Send messages to those on your friends list.  This is easy to do and use it often to encourage, comment on their games, ask questions and join up in private matches where the conversation can wander freely.
  • You can search on XL for friends that play via Facebook and email addy’s.  I recently tried to add a Youth Pastor friend of mine and he was maxed out on the friends list…very nice.  I politely told him to bumb some seventh grader off his list so he can add me.  Cause that is how I roll.
  • Fill out your bio.  If you put on there some information, I have found that others do look at it.  I do, especially when in a room for any length of time.  I comment on there game play, where they are from, etc.
  • Don’t wear you feelings on your sleeve.  The first time I heard “dustinsams? that is a gay name” I could have pouted about why my mom named me that and how come I didn’t have some cool name like “Gunner”, but it didn’t happen that way.  People that don’t know Christ act like people that don’t know Christ. Period.
  • Don’t Team Kill.  If you are on a team, don’t kill your teammates.  This just burns me, so I thought I would throw that in.
  • Apologize if you accidentally Team Kill.  Names don’t always pop up fast enough before you fire…”my bad.”
  • Use moments to chat with your students that have taken the time to invite you into their world.  I ask about grades, family life, girlfriends, what “class” they use…etc. Anything to generate connection.
  • Set up times to “meet”.  If you get enough friends to join up to play in some private matches or as a “clan” do it.  It is fun and the conversations are great.  I have visited with other Youth Pastors about their youth groups, adult leaders, families, and have been encouraged myself.
  • Make sure your wife knows what is up.  I tell her that I am playing video games with some students for a little while and she loves it.  Also keep in mind that when you talk to your wife that your voice is audible in the game.  I once made a cutesy comment about my wife and the whole room exploded with laughter…kind of embarrassing, but I played through the pain.
  • Don’t waste you life.  I play a few hours a week and stay current.  But the conversations with students during our mid-weeks services have been great.  Discussing new games content.  If they struggle with making friends or even how much time they spend in prayer or reading the Bible compared to how much time they spend shooting a virtual ACR.  That is a tough question to ask anyone.  Have fun and share Christ!