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.

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!

Decide how many teams would best serve your ministry. From two to eight teams, I have tried them all. The best results have clearly been when there are four teams…but it depends on how many adults you have involved in the beginning. Don’t throw some adult leaders under the bus and place them in charge if they are clearly not wanting to be or not ready to be. I recommend a minimum of four adults per team. We are currently in our third year of LIFE in my current location and I have 10-15 adults per team. Pre-select “colors” that your teams will use. Try to pick colors that are impartial to local school colors. Primary colors like Red, Blue, Yellow, and Green work well.

Since ’94, I have tried various ways to divide the students for the initial team selection. Here are some examples:

• Take your “core” group of students and divide them evenly between the teams yourself. This works great for smaller youth groups and gives you the ability to divide your “stronger” students for the greatest impact in your community.

• * My favorite: Select adult team leaders and give them a list of students in your ministry. I use Youth Assistant Software, so I just print detailed reports complete with pictures to make it easier for adults to identify students they know to be extroverts/introverts, hard workers, class clowns, boyfriend/girlfriends, and so on. The great thing about this is the ability to tailor the event to connect with all types of students. It is not just a popularity contest by any means. Once you have a list and given the adults a few weeks to prep, you get them together for a “Draft.” I love this model because I like fantasy football. I set it up the same way. Draw straws for first draft and complete the first round. (for clarity, we will use the example of four teams) Team 1 gets first pick and eighth pick. Team 2 gets second and seventh. Team 3 gets third and sixth pick. Team 4 gets fourth and fifth pick. Continue the draft until all of your core students are drafted. You may or may not want to place your Student Leaders on each of the teams to get them started and to make sure that each team has some very reliable students to get started with.

• Randomly distribute students between the teams: Draw from a hat, number off 1, 2, 3, 4, etc. It is ok to play Jr. Holy spirit in this case, after all you are the leader and you should be able to make whatever decisions you need to in order to have a successful event. Go crazy with it.

Once the teams are selected you let those students know in advance so they can prepare for it. This will include collecting clothing that represents their team color, coming up with a theme with their adults, decorating their “wall”, or beginning to invite students that were not pre-selected to be on a team. This is where the fun begins.

In some upcoming posts, I will be going into detail some of the facets of the event: Points, Games, Strategy, and Follow-up.

You don’t have to call it LIFE; you can call it macaroni salad. Grab a title that you and your students can identify with. The first year we called it LIFE, the second year was “Come back to LIFE.” “Dive into LIFE” and “Surge into LIFE” followed, so just be creative. We will refer to it as LIFE so as not to confuse you…unless you already are, then just pick up the phone and call me.

LIFE is a team based outreach that basically rewards students and their respective teams with points for doing things they should already be doing. The main thing they are rewarded for is inviting their friends to our weekly Student Ministry event. I have only implemented it on Wednesday nights…but feel free to try it anytime.

To begin, select adult team leaders for each of the teams. It seems to work better with a team “leader.” This can be a married couple that you have working with your students or single adult. I have seen great success with both styles of team leaders. Once you have team leaders committed, you begin to surround them with other adults that will compliment those leaders. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses, so play to their strengths. You most likely need to have team leaders that are organized and efficient. You can then have the designated “fun” adults that will help these adults motivate the students. When I began working with this event, I was single and in my 20’s…so I was the energy guy. I got the students motivated for the games, helped them learn chants for team spirit, and was just a strange college-age adult that connected with students. I was teamed with an adult couple that was approaching their sixties and we rocked! This is a great time to give some adults an opportunity to “try out” their involvement. It is great because it has a beginning and an end. It is not an open-ended commitment with no way out. We all like to know what we are getting into, so you can’t spend enough time explaining what tasks they will have. This is very important especially for the first year of LIFE. Once you have done it before, people will know what to expect and word of mouth is the best publicity.

I have seen this event double the size of my youth group. We have had retention of visitors as high as 60% and many students saved. The smaller the youth group, the larger the return initially. Even when my youth groups have been large to begin with, I have still seen some great results. Dream big and see what God can do.

Continued in Pt 3. 🙂

 

Eight crazy weeks and Jesus…

 One of the most effective events we incorporate into our yearly planning is based on an early 80’s Outreach program called “L.I.F.E.” by Bill Wilson and ………… Hold on…don’t tune me out yet, hang with me. I love change…in fact, I like change too much. Every few months I go through a fit of restlessness, I have to fight the urge to put my home up for sale and move. We moved a lot when I was a kid, either we had to pay the rent or move. I was just very thankful that mom would take me with her when we moved. I usually end up re-arranging my office to placate the urge to change venues. It works well for me and keeps my wife and kids happy. So think of this as “L.I.F.E.” Re-Mixed.

So when I reference the model of “L.I.F.E.”, I reference it loosely. If you are lucky enough to have a vintage copy of the handbook for it, complete with 120+ overhead transparencies, then great! Otherwise, you will have to take my word for it. One of the codes of creativity is forgetting who you stole the idea from. I am paying homage to Bill and the very detailed 300 page handbook for reaching out and connecting the Gospel with students in the early 80’s…and I do it with the utmost respect for him and his ministries. I have found that it is just as effective, if not more so now in current ministry situations. So with that said, here we go.

“L.I.F.E.” stands for “Life Is For Everyone.” True enough statement. I was introduced to it in the early ‘90s while hanging out with my mentor Jack McCarty. He is still in student ministry and has had untold influence in a crazy number of students and college interns. That influence is continuing each time I see a student give their life to Christ. Hopefully, you will see many lives changed and your student ministry grow in numbers and spiritual depth.

Continued in pt 2. 🙂

I will turn 37 in a few days…some would see that as a bummer.  Not me.  I have had a wonderful life.  No regrets…well, i guess there is one thing that still haunts me.  The state quarterfinal game versus ACH back in 1990 still bums me out a little bit, but that is another story.  Other than that, God has seen me through a lot of stuff.  Stuff that has allowed me to become a better person and an even better husband, father, and Youth Pastor.  Here in Stuttgart, we have seen some great things happen in 2009.  Many lives come to know Christ, new friendships made with Youth Pastors and Youth workers all over the place, my son drop his first cuss word, and many other show stopping moments that I am fondly looking back on.  I hope you and your ministry have seen some highs as well.  The start of this blog/site has been a high point for me for sure.  I have revitalized a friendship with a former student and learned much about social networking and the infinite possibilities that the web holds for doing great things for the kingdom.

We have had visitors to this site from 22 different countries: USA, Canada, Germany, UK, Austrailia, Russia, Philippines, Israel, Mexico, Guatemala, Bangladesh, Spain, Austria, Denmark, India, Egypt, Finland, United Arab Emirates, Brazil, Slovakia, New Zealand, and Belgium.  The only states that have not chimed in here have been from N.Dakota, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine…I guess I don’t have any friends up there yet.  What a humbling thing to be a part of.  The folks down in New Zealand have averaged over 14 minutes on the site…crazy…and that is only with limited content so far.

We have much planned for the site in the coming months for sure. 

  • I am currently working with my network of friends to get them to give me one or two of their “best” messages so that we can develope a database for Youth Pastors and Youth Workers to download.  Not so much to “re-teach”…but to help those out there that are just starting out to see how veterans do it.  There is no real “standard” for developing a message or putting together powerpoint, but to see how others do it is real handy.  Each of us has strengths in our ministries and to be able to share the wealth is important.  Remember that. 
  • Linking to other blogs, videos, and websites is a great way to connect all of us that are in it for the long haul.
  • Expanding the Speakers and Bands area.  This is a part of my blog that has started much discussion and there is obviously a need to find reliable, God honoring, personalities to headline events from the largest to the smallest venue.  This is looking like it will expand to its own website with many people contributing to the lineup.  Good stuff.
  • Outreach events that work well for us is a top priority for me in the new year.  I am trying to get some of our events, both weekly and annually, down on paper to share with you.  I get many questions in this area because we have seen some dramatic success, it is only to bring glory to God, because I sure don’t know what I am doing yet.
  • Encouragement for the bi-vocational or volunteer Youth Pastor/Worker.  What ever we can do to help the small church or individual just trying to get something going.  That is where my heart is.  Just in our denomination there are 1400+ churches in Arkansas.  11o0 of those have 100 or less on Sunday Morning…so you do the math.  Not a ton of churches that can support full-time Youth Pastors.  When you throw in all the other Christian denominations in our state alone…we have a ton of students to be reached for Christ.
  • Whatever we can do to encourage other Youth Pastors to start blogging, contributing, or just connecting with other Youth Pastors in their area is a win-win situation.  So join the fun.  Connect with me on facebook or send me an email and share your ideas or some of the good things you have seen out there…so we can get the word out!
  • Most of all, I would love to pray for you and your ministry.  I have mentors praying for me and it helps me to know that.  Especially when I want to hang my head and wonder why I am even in this thing to begin with.  Have a Happy New Year.

Amazing use of video to explain something that some of us know…but all of us should.  My question is how can we embrace the technology in a way that brings Glory to God?  Sure the social networks are great for marketing/advertising/getting the word out…but how can we use it to share Christ.  This is something that I ask myself over and over…can we as Christians create culture?  The message is amazing…better than any new ipod or flat screen…how can we get Gen Y and beyond to use social media to share their faith?  Is it just a high tech Christian T-shirt or can it be much more than that?  Isn’t this fun…?  There are many apps that allow us to read scripture and share “thoughts of the day”…but what else can we do?

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