Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Youth Pastor --- Who Is Your Mentor?

Jasper Speaks:

I have a great mentor. I have years of longevity alongside him. I have learned from his sermons how to speak to teens in a relevant way. I have learned how to design ministry from him. I have listened to him as he has warned of pitfalls and encouraged success. I credit much of the pastor I am today to his tutelage.

We have only met a couple of times.

My mentor is Doug Fields. He has been accused of being my "man crush" on more than one occasion. Through the years I have listened to Doug's preaching style and it has had a major impact on my own. I have known many youth pastors who have admired many theological giants and have created messages like theirs.  I have also seen the bored, unengaged faces of teens not ready to hear such theological pontificating. There is nothing wrong with going deep with students. I encourage it. However, I learned from Doug that going deep is best framed in relevance with a spice of humor and poignancy along the way. I know I am the communicator I am today because, without knowing I was doing anything special, I spent a lot of time listening to Doug's messages. His expert use of personal narrative built on passion for God's Word and teenagers eventually seeped into my sermon prep and never left. I am better for it.

I know I am old school but I read just about anything Doug wrote. Purpose Driven Youth Ministry and Your First Two Years in Youth Ministry, solidly helped mold my philosophy of working with students. I was about 15 years into student ministry when I read the latter and I still recommend it to anyone starting at a new church. His book What Matters Most when NO is better than YES helped me prioritize life and ministry when I really needed that help. I've listened to podcasts and sat in on seminars soaking in all that I could.

In the truly formative moments of my ministry I was in New England. There were no other more experienced youth pastors to learn from in my community. Simply Youth Ministry became a lifeline. I learned so much from their resources. 

Doug has been a mentor to me. I have introduced myself a couple of times and even once got a shout out from him on a podcast (although he did make fun of my name). Other than that, he has no clue who I am but his influence on me cannot be ignored. 

I have had other pastors come alongside me and I have been richer for it. Having a mentor is important. Having one who understands and loves student ministry is essential. You may be in a place where there is no one around to physically walk alongside you in your ministry, I urge you to find a voice who is passionate about students and learn from him. Communication with students is not the same as communication with adults. Ministry with students is not the same as ministry with adults. I would encourage you to find godly youth pastors who you can study. Perhaps they will never know you. Perhaps your mentor will be like mine and you will only have brief encounters face to face. Don't do this alone. Learn from those who have gone before.

My prayer is that you would find a person nearby who could mentor you. You could learn the ropes from them. Even if you have been at this for awhile there is still so much you could learn. I would also pray that you would seek out "successful" youth ministry veterans and read what they write and listen to how they communicate. We all need mentors, even if they don't know who we are. 

Sunday, April 14, 2013


Spiritual Battles

Jasper Speaks:

Some days being in ministry does not seem rewarding. I remember the spiritual warfare retreat I did with one youth group earlier on in ministry. The two-day adventure was going to be great. We would take a small band of weary kids to an out of the way cabin in the woods and would return them to the city as vibrant vessels of God fit for war. We had large group times planned. We had small groups assigned. We had powerful praise and worship. We had intense role playing where the students would actually battle Satan and his cronies with nothing but prayer and the word of God.

The one thing we were not prepared for was the grumbling in the ranks. I had not planned that one student felt forced to go on the trip by his best friend when he would rather be on a date with his latest girlfriend. I had not prepared for the emotional outburst of a senior high student who yelled at me and then took off without telling anyone. I was equally unready for weary adult leaders who just wanted to pack everyone up, go home and resign from our ministry. All these things cycled out of control and I just stood, mouth agape, wondering what had happened to all those great plans we had.

Fortunately, a friend who had come along as a small group leader reminded me that we are always in the midst of spiritual warfare. I was reminded that these events were real life portrayals of the topic for the retreat. Yet, I questioned my value. I questioned my call. I even questioned my leadership abilities

Suddenly I was reminded of another leader at another time. He came to work with thankless people. He had a small band of soldiers whom He taught regularly. There were twelve --- the same as the number of students that I had brought on the retreat. Those twelve guys watched Him heal the sick. They watched Him raise the dead. They watched Him feed multitudes with morsels. Still, in the crunch, they were thankless. They wanted to know who He loved most. They wanted to have earthly power. In a phrase, they just didn't "get it". At one point they deserted Him. They denied they ever knew Him. They walked away from all He had taught them.

Still, this leader did not give up. He was in the battle for the long haul. He was willing to trust them with the most important task and message the world has ever known. Physically, He was not there to witness their shining moments. He had returned home. Yet, that ragtag group of thankless men went on to take the time, love, and wisdom invested in them and set the world on fire. Apparently they had been listening. Evidently they took some of the three years of modeling and applied it.

Some days in ministry I just want to pack my bags and give up. I wonder how often Jesus felt like that. I wonder how many times He grew frustrated with Peter being bullheaded or John and James wanting all the attention. Still, He loved them and continued to serve them even unto death.

There is a lot a minister can learn from the Master's example. Ours may be a thankless task but the eternal rewards of faithfulness are the best thanks we could ever earn.