Tag Archives: Leadership

Four things a youth leader should say to young people

Did I offer peace today? Did I bring a smile to someone’s face? Did I say words of healing? Did I let go of my anger and resentment? Did I forgive? Did I love?  These are the real questions.  I must trust that the little bit of love that I sow now will be many fruits, here in this world and the life to come

Henri Nouwen

I have said a lot over the years to the young people that I have worked with – not always echoing the words from Henri Nouwen above!  As I move into a new phase of ministry life, I am in reflective mood.  I have been thinking about when it has actually made a difference . . . . you know, the things I have said – when have my words actually helped?  So – this is my list of top things to say to young people ::

1.  I believe in you.  This needs saying!  Even the most confident (outwardly) young person i have worked with has been racked with self doubt and a certain level of self loathing, not believing in themselves or what they can do or become.  It is important because it gets to the heart of what things are about, the words build a young person up – but, they cannot come from nothing.  You can’t say these words to a young person you do not know – they are not general words of encouragement – they need to be directed at a young person you really know.  They are at times incredibly frustrating, ridiculous, lovely a pain, a nightmare and hilarious . . . but then, you say these words.  They say, “you can do it”, they say, “I am FOR you” and they matter incredibly to young people.  So often our focus in youth ministry can be – “HOW on EARTH can i get this young person to BELIEVE in God!”  There are a lot of things wrong with that statement . . . but, essentially, it is hard to believe in anything if you are not sure that what YOU believe make any difference or matters – that is partly human nature, but it off the richter scale with many young people.  Having personal confidence and having personal dignity and just valuing themselves will make such a difference as they consider eternal truth and the claims of Christ.  “I believe in you” is powerful and helpful – but, it also needs to be said when you actually DO believe in them – you see a spark, a light, a bit of steel, a determination deep within that young person that maybe they do not see themselves . . . a bit like Jesus seeing something in Peter as he called Him.

2.  I don’t know.  Of the four things i am mentioning – this one is the most difficult of the four.  A youth worker is often seen by the church, youth group, parents as THE answer.  And, the one that knows the ANSWERS – the one that will solve the “youth problem” the church is facing, the one that . . . you get the drift.  From a young persons perspective – when there is trust and relationship, we are also the ones that they bring their unanswerable questions to :: “why didn’t my nan get healed?”; “why this . . . “; “Why that . . . ” and also, “Where does the Bible say . . . ?” We have two problems if we don’t simply say “I don’t know” when we don’t know.  The first is obvious, we are not being honest and our young people will suss that out fairly swiftly and trust is damaged – trying to blag our way through with a cobbled together load of nonsense just isn’t real or right!  Secondly, we are not OWNING our lack of knowledge, we have bought the lie that we are the answer and – even if we don’t know – we should!  Well, no actually.  The longer i have been involved in youth ministry the more I have realised i do not know stuff – in fact, there seems to be a SCARY amount of stuff I do not know.  We need to be honest and say it when it is true.  It is also liberating.  It frees us and also our young people.  There is a great work written, scholars think, in the 14th Century – we don’t know who wrote it and it is aptly titled, “The Cloud of Unknowing” . . . there is an understanding in the book that to know the deep things of God takes a lifetime, not only do we “not know”, but – in this finite life, there are things we “cannot know”.  It is a mystical work, not dissimilar to “The Dark Night of the Soul”, by John of the Cross . . . this unknown author – again – we think wrote a final work called, “The Book of Privy Counselling”, in this they wrote,

Knowledge tends to breed conceit, but love builds. Knowledge is full of labor, but love, full of rest.

It is not love to pretend we know when we do not, it is not love to make our faith one of simply “easy answers” . . . if we want to effectively disciple young people then there are times when we will need to say, “I don’t know”.

3.  You are Loved and Forgiven.  Number 2 was the hardest (i think) for a youth leader to say . . . this one is the hardest (i think) for a young person to believe.  It links with number 1, as we tell young people they matter, what they do counts . . . we tell them also that they are LOVED with an everlasting love (Jeremiah 31:3).  One of the toughest things to communicate to young people is that they are loved and forgiven because – firstly, if you don’t love yourself it is hard to believe that anyone else can love you.  There are massive issues in our culture for young people right now – mental health problems, self harm and image problems, relationships, how young people view sex and sexuality as they are bombarded by unhealthy and unreal images of beauty and prowess and the pressure to achieve and attain at school and college and university . . . life is tough and many (adults too) feel a failure trying to navigate these challenges as a Christian.  We have somehow communicated an untruth in our explanation of the gospel – on the one hand, Jesus has died for our sin and rescued us and redeemed us – making us right with God – once he has done that though, the pressure appears to be back on “us” or – our young people – to then “live this out”.  They can’t and don’t – it is not possible.  It is sad that i so rarely hear good teaching on Romans anymore!  It absolutely nails it from chapters 5 – 8, taking us through what Jesus has done on the cross and the being “dead to sin, but alive to Christ” . . . why is this so important?  Because we have to live our lives “in the Spirit” (Romans 8) to be fully alive and be trusting, not our own strength to help us live as Christians – but to trust the Holy Spirit who is at work IN US!  It is not be force of will that i resist temptation, it is in the power of the Spirit.  We can miss all this stuff out in our teaching and somehow imply to young people that “now they are Christians” they should be able to obey the commandments and live like Jesus.  Messing up becomes cataclysmic in this scenario!  But, “i’m supposed to be a Christian!”, how can i have messed up . . . ??  Because you are a human being, because you are trying to “live” your life with Christ in your own strength . . . more so, when our young people mess up – they can descend into a spiral of criticising themselves for their failure, continuing to tell themselves negative things, go round in circles – asking for forgiveness even, but not receiving it (or rather, not believing they have been forgiven – because they can’t forgive themselves) . . . all pretty messed up – but, what we teach and model shapes our young peoples expectations of themselves – and also – their expectations of the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives!  As youth leaders, do we live forgiven, restored, redeemed and free lives – or are WE racked with guilt about past mistakes, not forgiving ourselves and so finding this whole area a tough one to talk about and model to our young people?  Jerry Bridges, in “Pursuit of Holiness” says this, 

We’re more concerned about our own “victory” over sin than we are about the fact that our sins grieve God’s heart

Think about that for a moment.  Somehow, even when we are coming to God to ask forgiveness we can still make it about ourselves – more concerned that we haven’t been able to “beat” something, than that we have grieved God’s heart.  Our lives, in Christ, are no longer our own!  We are HIS – we ARE forgiven, we can boldly approach the throne room of God, true “repentance” means to head in a different direction . . . our lives are now GODward rather than Inward or focused on what we want and desire . . . yep, this is all big stuff to unpack.  But, if we cannot ALLOW God to forgive us – because we don’t believe we deserve it, we have totally missed the Gospel.  Lets help our young people grasp this and truly live in freedom, mess ups will happen – just look at the life of Peter (especially after He has received the Holy Spirit at pentecost, throughout the book of Acts he does some amazing things for God – and, messes up and gets it wrong too!) . . . our young people need to know their worth, they need to know there is nothing they can ever do to separate them from the love of God, they are loved now and forever – they also need to receive His forgiveness when they confess their sin.  We need to teach them the truth about themselves and what God has done, that helps them to do this . . . .

4.  What do you think?  Teaching young people how to think for themselves is critical if we want to make life long disciples.  Do they believe what we say the Bible says simply because we are saying it?  Think of the answer to a child who asks, “why?” and the reply they constantly get, “because i said so!”  We cannot disciple like this!  It isn’t discipleship.  Jesus had some great dialogue with his disciples and asked them what they thought.  The classic example is when they are discussing who people think Jesus is . . . and Jesus basically says, “thats great, people think this – people think that – but, who do you say i am?” (Mark 8:29) . . . er, um yes, well . . . then Peter steps up and nails it!  Jesus recognises it is the Holy Spirit that has enabled Peter to get there . . . in saying it though, Peter then discovers who he is and who is to become . . . thinking stuff through and yes, reaching our own conclusions prayerfully under God – is what many of us do as adults – we need to teach discernment to our young people, but this is very different from deciding for them!  It is the difference between teaching and telling – a difference brilliantly illustrated by Paulo Freire in “Pedagogy of the Oppressed”, chapter 2, as he highlights the attributes of “teaching” without dialogue and questions, 

the teacher teaches and the students are taught;
the teacher knows everything and the students know nothing;
the teacher thinks and the students are thought about;
the teacher talks and the students listen — meekly;
the teacher disciplines and the students are disciplined;
the teacher chooses and enforces his choice, and the students comply;
the teacher acts and the students have the illusion of acting through the action of the teacher;
the teacher chooses the program content, and the students (who were not consulted) adapt to it;
the teacher confuses the authority of knowledge with his or her own professional authority, which she and he sets in opposition to the freedom of the students;
the teacher is the Subject of the learning process, while the pupils are mere objects.

Just to pick up on one phrase above, the teacher acts and the students have the illusion of acting through the action of the teacher – in this i think of charismatic leaders who simply expect young people to emulate them, to believe and trust in them (which is not the same as putting their trust in Jesus) and, actually, there is an illusion of personal faith – but it is built upon another persons faith – rather than the faith of the young person, they don’t believe something themselves, they believe something is true because the youth leader has said it . . . 

A questioning, exploring faith – as Jesus encouraged in the disciples leads to the young person working out their faith – developing their relationship with God, it is interesting that we theologically and doctrinally believe that (as Paul puts it), “there is one mediator between God and people.” (1 Timothy 2:5), and yet – so often in practice, we can introduce an additional mediator, the pastor, the priest, the youth worker . . . we MUST create conversation and dialogue as we explore faith together with young people . . . “what do you think?” tells a young person their view matters, “what do you think?” gives a young person a chance to accept or reject what they are hearing, “what do you think?” gives a young person permission to share their view, “what do you think?” is following Jesus’ example . . . and, for me in my practice – i have been challenged and inspired in my faith as young people have answered that question.  

So there are my four key things to say to young people, there are obviously other things!  I have just found that these four have born fruit more than anything else i might have said or done in my youth work practice . . . give them a go!

Freedom to F.O.C.U.S.


Do you ever feel you can’t see the wood for the trees? I know that is a cliche – but, in ministry the day can never end (there isn’t a straightforward ‘in’ and ‘out’ tray), you can’t look at people’s lives or mission in a community where so few know Jesus and simply say ‘finished’.

However, we are also not effective with a scatter gun approach – doing so much that each bit of what we do appears to make no difference – instead of taking stock sometimes, we try and start more stuff or just ‘do’ more . . . Doing more is always the enemy of doing the best!

So, rushing back to scripture I read this again,

It was for freedom that Christ has set us free
Galatians 5:1

Freedom! Why then does ministry sometimes not feel like that!! Well, I think our desperate need to be appreciated and our guilt at not being busy enough with ministry work is like taking on a fresh yoke of slavery – we have been delivered, but we have put on ourselves a yoke of expectations, a yoke of fear, a yoke of (put your own particular thing here). Too much really can be too much – and, we are not called to it!

If you listened to the great commission from Jesus it is not a ‘death by PowerPoint’ presentation of loads and loads of tasks – the disciples do have a task ahead of them (it’s big!) but it is also really, really, CLEAR.

Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations baptising them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. And teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.
Matthew 28:19-20

Yes, ok, it’s a big mission – but how many things are on the job description? I can only count three:

1. Go and make disciples.
2. Baptise those new believers.
3. Teach them to obey Jesus teaching.

And, the BONUS – which isn’t a task, but what is also included in the mission they have been given:

4. Jesus will be with you.

This is such crystal clear focus from Jesus as he lays out what needs to be done, it is not ambiguous, it is not for a trial period or probation of 6 months and then a confirmed contract, it is incredibly focused!

How focused is our ministry job description? How clear is it? Does what we ‘do’ in ministry terms every REALLY deviate from the great commission – or is it simply we have so added stuff to what ministry is, that it has become obscured, we have lost focus?

F.O.C.U.S – let’s do that then!

F.O. “Full On”. Firstly, we have to acknowledge that ministry is full on, but – as we have identified, even with a MASSIVE job (um, go and REACH the WORLD) there are still only a few things that should be a priority. Three if you look above. And three is a good number. Think about what you do in ministry, think about when you feel most FREE to be who God called you to be – what areas of ministry do you find it easy to be FULL ON in? Which things do you do that you don’t need to work up a passion for – you are in ministry because of these things. Right, now write down just three of them. There things. No more. Three!

C.U. “Called Up”. You can look at this in two ways, we are ‘called up’ in the sense that we have joined something incredible, ‘called up’ could also be invited – we get to participate in all that God is doing (let’s not kid ourselves this being ‘called up’ is about what we can do). Look at who God called up in scripture! Amazing ‘got it all sorted people’? Or, people like you and me. Keep your ‘call’ central in who you are and what you do. It goes with the ‘up’ though, look up . . . A great verse to remember:

I lift up my eyes to the hills, where does my help come from?Psalm 121:1

When the psalmist wrote this, imagine the hills covered in idols – ‘over’ the people, dominating the landscape – so when the psalmist looks, he isn’t thinking of the angel armies coming riding over the hills – the help isn’t coming from the hills. Look higher! When we look up, we need to know that the God of heaven and earth – Has us, he who called us in the first place, in ministry terms if you doubt the ‘call up’ read this:

The one who calls you is faithful. He will do it.
1 Thessalonians 5:24

‘He will do it’ the verses before this one unpack it – sanctify us. Perfect us. We cannot – in the pursuit of ministry perfection, look to our ministry achievements as some kind of ‘badge’ the focus in this verse (while it is about us) is about what God will DO – not what we will do – yes we are called, but HE is faithful and HE will do it. This has to underpin our understanding of ministry.


S. “Service”. Giving ourselves to others, how do we go about this in the three priorities we have identified? We serve – preferring others, giving and ministering with a ‘less is more’ approach – less work and tasks and things, so there can be more of a focus and more poured in to a few things that will stand the test of time, be sustained, bear fruit – and, ultimately these ministry areas of work should be sustained with less of us! Service is about building others up – the ‘Ministry of Food’ book from Jamie Oliver did this – get a copy and read his ‘vision’ at the front of the book, now think about ministry – what would the church look like if EVERY person was equipped to do three things really well, and then they equipped three other people to do the same, and so on? How long would it take for the whole Church to be in ministry – serving others, living for others.

Everyone FREE to FOCUS on three things they can do to be salt and light in the world, live out the gospel in the workplace, share Jesus with their neighbours . . . .


1 – get focused on your three things.
2 – do them well in the power of the Spirit, knowing it is God who enables and equips you.
3 – pass it on.

The Pivot


Def: Pivot: ‘A person or thing on which something depends or turns’

When I was 20 I was an idiot. You might be thinking, “so, what has changed?” Well, I am prone to being daft – but I was properly and utterly a donut when I was a young man.

I worked for the Ministry of Defence back then. I was in the personnel department for the officers in the Corps of Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME). I was given the privilege of being on an ‘exercise’ a sort of practice thing for, you know, World War Three . . . I had to go to Whitehall and work in the bowels of the earth (tunnels and stuff) it should have been pretty cool.

Having familiarised myself with my vital role in this exercise (filing) I read magazines and novels waiting for it to all kick off . . . Lunch time came around and my line manager said, “you’ve got an hour”, so off I trotted with a fellow “exercise” bod, a lad in the army who liked a drink . . . Um, well – I didn’t want to look like an idiot in front of this hard drinking army lad did I?

We were both expected back at 1.30pm . . . But rocked up to the bunker at about 3pm. I sat down to take in the mountain of filing waiting for me, the exercise line manager said, “what are you doing?” I said, “I’m going to do this filing.” He said, “no you’re not – get your stuff, you’re finished.” I was ushered out of the bunker, escorted along a corridor to another building – in total shock at what had happened (and what was still happening, as I had to go and speak to the Officer running the exercise) I pleaded bowel issues and darted into the wash room. It was here that I made things worse.

Everyone on the exercise had a pass with their photo on it, mine was hung around my neck. I took it off and splashed water in my face – and stared at the mind boggling, bumbling, buffoon in the mirror. I then walked out of the wash room . . . leaving my pass by the sink.

A double whammy – I was sent back to my actual job in disgrace for:
1. Coming back late from lunch
2. Leaving my pass in the restroom and creating a security threat – which they thought I did on purpose (!)

I was truly “in it”. I got back to my actual job and my actual office to face my actual boss (who had allowed me to go on this special exercise in the first place). I walked into his office. I cannot repeat here what he said to me. However, once he had said certain things about my stupidity – he then proceeded to tell me something else – both by the next few words he spoke, and subsequently by his actions.

‘I believe in you’ he said.

I couldn’t believe this – seriously, I don’t believe in MYSELF – what is my boss doing? I have tipped him over the edge with my incompetence.

No, what I slowly – over the next few years – began to realise, is that he saw potential in me (deep, really deep down) and he was going to persevere in bringing me to a better place – helping me to believe in myself and start to do something with my life.

I began to work more closely with my boss, a bit like his PA – and picked up his office skills, watched his leadership of others. Saw how he dealt with conflict and challenges. The more time I spent with him, the more I learnt – and the more I discovered what I could do, given the impetus and the investment and the week in week out encouragement.

This guy was the best boss I ever had, because he helped me to become the best I had ever been . . .

I don’t know where you are at – we all have pivots at different times in our lives, ministries, circumstances. Something or someone on whom we depend. Someone who helps turn our life around.

Who are you a pivot for?
Who has helped you to pivot?

We don’t know the influence we have by the words we say and then the actions that follow. This boss of mine chose to believe in me (despite all the evidence telling him he was nuts) and it changed my life.
In scripture we are encouraged to ‘clothe yourself with Christ’ (Romans 13:14; Galatians 3:27) – when we first put on Christ, it can feel ill fitting, baggy and too much – but, gradually, the Holy Spirit working in us changes us and makes us more like Christ – we out on Christ, we become other than we would be without Him. So much more . . .

For us, Christ is the ultimate ‘pivot’ not simply a change of direction and something that helps us to turn – but a pivot that is death to life, despair to hope, insecurity to confidence, fear to peace.

Remember today those who have influenced you and helped you change and grow – but, more than that – give thanks for Jesus Christ on whom the whole of creation depends, the one on whom and through whom EVERYTHING pivots.

Pop Up Ideas – Faith at Home?

I love this!  I am a fan of Tim Harford, as he does “More or Less” on Radio 4 . . . which is a little bit of brilliance in itself.  However, “pop up ideas” is just superb.  Malcolm Gladwell recently, today as I was driving in to the office it was Gillian Tett of the Financial Times.  Absolutely fascinating . . . her past life (as an anthropologist) helped her to ask questions that no one else was asking of the financial world in the mid 2000s and she predicted the financial disaster that ensued.  Prophetic or what?!  Listen to it here.

I listened to it this morning and got to thinking . . . along similar lines, “what are the things that the Church is deafeningly silent on – that potentially have huge ramifications for even our future existence?”  Is there anything – or do we have all the bases covered?  

I think there is MASSIVE empirical evidence around the significance of the “household of faith” – the environment in which children are raised . . . the faith in the home and how that is passed on from one generation to another . . . or rather – how it is NOT passed on.  Most of our data around child attendance at church suggests that if parents attend (even just one) church, there is a far greater chance of their children having faith as adults.  Is that just because their parents BRING them to church . . . or is it also related to the faith of the parents themselves?  

I would contend, that rather than so much effort going into programmes and activities for children at church, so much time spent dividing the family for our segmented “church” activities, so much time spent supporting and sustaining “men’s ministries”, “student ministry”, “women’s ministry”, getting people to effectively sign up for things that mean we spend less time in (and with) our families is counter productive if our aim is to grow the church.

Much was said a couple of years ago (and it still crops up – unlike some “trendy” worries of the church, which seem to be all the rage until the time comes to produce the next marketable resource and then these “great concerns” mysteriously take a back seat).

With all we do at church, children still continue to leave . . . still in their hundreds, it is not enough to say that well – they aren’t leaving in their 1000s every week so we are doing better.  That’s like saying 100 deaths doesn’t matter as much as 1000 . . . each loss counts, each loss is a tragedy.

Isn’t it time to shift our focus COMPLETELY towards nurturing households of faith, the places where children still spend most of their time, the place where those closest to them are encouraged and EQUIPPED to live out their faith in full sight of and alongside their children.

That is my “pop up idea”, listen to this morning’s podcast, what are the conversations about in the Church, what are our leadership teams talking about, what is most prescient for our today and for our future.

Children, regardless of statistics are poor by a general standard if we consider the following:  the poor are those with no voice, no power and no money.  

Children are not heard or listened to . . .

Children have no power to make decisions in the church that will impact their present participation and their future involvement as leaders . . .

Children have no money (maybe that is the biggest issue!) and cannot buy influence or wave a wallet around to get what they want . . .

What are the homes of our children like – are they heard, can their voice influence what we do, sometimes they speak truth to power (whether in the home or the church) are we listening?  They may not have money, but BOY do we spend most of our money providing for their needs!!  How is that the case in the church.  Many parents prioritize the health and well being of their children when money is tight . . . it is just “what you do”.  Can the same be said in the Church?  Chips are down financially in the church, what do we ensure happens . . . what must be maintained and looked after?  Is it our children?  

Our children need to know that they are our highest priority . . . we must INVEST time in the home rather than in getting people into our buildings, we must EQUIP parents to talk about their faith and share the story or God at home – is this happening?  Is it what we do – or do all our efforts go into strong arming people onto the Sunday School rota?  We must STOP endless activities that keep families segregated and apart (which apparently, we declare is about ministries that will build the Kingdom) . . .

Here is a thought, if we kept the children we currently had (who we part of the church), if we invested in these family relationships in such a way that faith was passed from generation to generation, parent to child and that faith STUCK, by the middle of this century the actual “membership” of the church in this country, (with no overt evangelism, just faith being effectively passed down the generations through the home . . . ) would be about 8 million.  That isn’t those who tick “Christian” in surveys, that would be ACTUAL Christians.  That we have raised ourselves.  With no evangelism.   

Here is a thought then – scrap your evangelism budget and create an “invest in faith at home” budget.  Rather than Church Army Evangelists lets have Church Household Pastors and Teachers . . . 

The thing related to this that I think we know (I have even heard evangelists whisper it) is that if we got discipleship right, and raised a generation of children and young people in the faith, who kept the faith . . . then the evangelism would look after itself.

There.  That’s my pop idea.


Never land or Wonder land in Youth Ministry?

We (me and my wife) are hugely enjoying ‘Once Upon A Time’, it’s a mash up tv series with just about every fairy tale character you could imagine. The episode we have just watched had a character from Never Land (Hook) meeting a character from Wonder Land (The Queen of Hearts) and, I got to thinking about those two words – ‘never’ and ‘wonder’. What kind of landscape does our youth work take place in? What motivates us to ‘do what we do’.

Never Land. Maybe we are working in a place where our young people are frequently told ‘never’. You could never do it, never change, never finish school, never amount to anything. Maybe we do what we do because we will not accept that. We cannot believe it could be true. We work in Never Land, but we refuse to believe it is the only place our young people will grow up. Or, maybe, and this takes some honesty – we are – on the quiet – a ‘never’ youth worker, we can’t quite believe things can change – even as we try to do it, we find it hard to have conviction. Maybe we have been told ourselves, you will never change these young people, you can’t make a difference – maybe you should be doing something else.

Don’t accept that!

Wonder Land. Maybe our young people live here. Anything could happen, they are full of wonder, hope and expectation. Opportunities, possibilities, life is full and exciting. Everything just works out! You have your dream job, are constantly encouraged by all that God is doing, parents of the young people you work with run up and high five you in the street!

Reality Check.

Maybe most of us (and our young people) live somewhere in between. It’s not ‘never’ its ‘maybe’ or, rather than everything being full of wonder its ‘pretty good’.

The challenge in youth ministry is to see the landscape we inhabit as God sees it, see the young people we work with trough his eyes. To take the occasional ‘never’ the regular ‘maybes’ and the rare moments of ‘wonder’ and, EVERY time, in all circumstances and – however the Land lies – see God at work.


What the Holy Spirit tells us about Leadership

dove_four_359520225The Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus (Philippians 1 verse 9) appears throughout scripture equipping and empowering people for service.  There are three things I have noticed in particular about the Holy Spirit that speak to me about leadership and what it should look like.  However, these three things kind of buck what is the received wisdom about who can lead and, to some extent, what leadership is.

These are just my reflections, but I feel pretty convinced we have some things wrong when we think about leading others and what that looks like, if we are not modelling our leadership behaviour on what the Holy Spirit does . . . .

1.  The Holy Spirit empowers nobodies.  People who are broken, people who are the least are used powerfully by the Holy Spirit, people who are prone to depression, fits of rage, people who in and of themselves have (until they have an encounter with the Holy Spirit) appear to be achieving nothing it is these that He uses.  This is not some biblical equivalent of my low sense of worth (i.e. I feel as if I am a nobody), this is not just people who had a downer on themselves but were really just not having the right perspective.  Gideon is a good example of someone who was powerless and was actually a nobody.  David didn’t even make the line up when Samuel was looking to anoint the next King of Israel.

Here is the point – what is my criteria?  Do I only empower people who are already “on the way”, “showing potential”, those I have (in my infinite wisdom) “discerned” have leadership skills?  Or, do I listen to the whisper of the Spirit?  “Empower Him . . . . “, “Give her a chance”, “Notice that person over there”.  What these people did seem to have in common was their heart.  It is interesting as I write that Jason has left the apprentice this week.  Everyone reflected on the fact that he was a “good man”, a nice guy.  He wasn’t handling the task and for the first time ever in all the series of The Apprentice, he abdicated the leadership of his team and “for the good of the team” gave the role to someone else.  However, according to Alan Sugar and the needs of the business world in this country apparently, being someone with a good heart is not at the top of the list.  Heart matters, but, it is not the preserve of some elite band of leaders – and, according to the Holy Spirit, it matters more than all the other stuff we might see in someone.  As God said to Samuel, (who didn’t get it), “Man looks at the outward appearance, I look at the heart.”  What are we looking at when we determine to raise people up, give them a shot, equip them and empower them.

2.  The Holy Spirit makes us more like Jesus.  This is a clear to me from scripture.  This is what the Holy Spirit wants to do, as I started with, He is the Spirit of Jesus.  Bringing and bestowing gifts (that were all manifest in Jesus’ ministry) and growing fruit in our lives as we “live by the Spirit” that reflect Jesus’ character.  There is nothing self seeking in the Godhead.  Jesus is only doing what He sees the Father doing, and wants to bring glory to the Father, The Holy Spirit points us to Jesus (see John 16 for the beauty of this relationship).  So, our enabler, our empowering presence, the Spirit that gives us life is not in it to make a name for Himself.  The Spirit is not working for his own glory!

When we raise others up and equip them for ministry and leadership – are we simply looking for a “mini ME”?  Do we get frustrated if they are different from us?  do we get frustrated if those we develop and lead have skills that take their leadership in a different direction to the one WE (again, in our infinite wisdom) had mapped out for them?  Do we get insecure if we notice that they are BETTER at stuff than we are?  Maybe we have been generous and in some kind of patronizing way we have given someone “a go”, only to discover they are AWESOME – but, rather than feel thrilled, we start to get defensive and think about ourselves?  This is not leadership!  We aren’t creating clones (or at least we should not be), we should be nurturing growth – yes, but we are not the ones bringing about the real stuff of leadership and ministry – God is at work!  He isn’t in the business of making those we invest in like us, lets not get into a wrestling match with God about what kind of leaders those we raise up are going to become – who do we think we are?

3.  The Holy Spirit is for Everyone.  This one is the biggest challenge (I think) for how we understand what leadership is and what it is for.  In the Church we don’t so much talk about “five fold ministry” (pastors, evangelists, teachers etc) we catch all of that stuff up into this thing called a “leader”.  Leadership is mostly mentioned in the New Testament with reference to what the Holy Spirit is doing.  Let me say that again, it is mostly what the Holy Spirit is doing.  Leadership is rarely mentioned with reference to what people are doing, even the apostles.  We are to be “led” by the Spirit.  Well, hang on a minute – surely that is a challenge to my leadership?  What about all the leaders in the Church?  Yes, what about them – what exactly are they all for?  Rarely mentioned in scripture, but it seems as if we mention nothing else . . . we have leadership courses for everything, and programs to help people to “become” leaders.  We even confuse different roles withing the church and just call everything a “leader” (so, people who have been ordained to the priesthood join this crowd of people we just call “leaders” and rather than being priests are “church leaders”).  Leadership though, is not something for everyone – so if you don’t get selected, someone doesn’t appoint you, you aren’t “noticed” . . . you just get on with whatever you do that isn’t  leadership.

At Pentecost something crazy began.  The Holy Spirit poured out on all flesh.  The promise, for you and for your children . . . (Joel’s prophecy), oh, and by the way – children there means “child” not “next generation of adults”, when children receive the Holy Spirit it is not a junior or baby version.  It is the Holy Spirit.  IF, the work of the Holy Spirit makes us more like Jesus, if the same power that raised Jesus from the dead is in each believer, what can we NOT DO!

Yet, it often seems that our “leadership” is about creating more people who will be leaders like us, rather than like the Holy Spirit, which is about empowering everyone!  We still, it seems to me, have leadership teams in churches that do most of the work, we cannot get people to volunteer to help with stuff, the same few do everything.  We are missing the whole point – and again, it is probably because, in the Church we have latched on to a worldly understanding of leadership and this replaces everything biblical about what the church could or should look like.  Ephesians is pretty clear about the need to build up the people for works of service, everyone being built up and equipped.  EVERYONE, not the few.

Does our leadership focus on the few or the many?  Do we limit leadership?  Do we even grasp what it is?  The Holy Spirit, equipping the believers to serve, to live and to love . . . well, surely that needs to be managed by us?  By leaders?  Maybe that is the crux of the problem.  The focus of our leadership being what we are doing as “leaders” our own actions (and whether we are being followed), instead of being led by the Spirit ourselves and discovering, TOGETHER, all that God, by His Spirit, might have for us.  The purpose of every believer is to lead, to lead others by example as we point to Christ, as each of us are transformed by the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit.

Come on!


Don’t Default to Disillusionment – 3 thoughts that help me

20130619-212146.jpgWow. Disillusionment – it is pretty easy in ministry to get disillusioned. Thinking, ‘what is the point?’; people don’t ‘get you’ they don’t understand your approach to ministry, life, youth work – you feel like you are banging your head against a brick wall. You keep finding that the same issues occur again and again. ‘Are we learning anything?’ Wow – it would be easy just to say – stuff it.

Don’t give in.


Three thoughts that have helped me:

1. Be a thermostat rather than a thermometer. It is pretty easy to get swayed by what others think or say, we can loose conviction if we find we keep getting knocked back or stuff we try either isn’t supported or it doesn’t seem to work. Well, it’s a choice how we react to that stuff – and, it is a choice how we choose to begin conversations or projects. We can be a thermometer – just take the temperature, see what happens, ask ‘do others seem up for this or not?’ OR we can be a thermostat and set the temperature, hold to our core values, choose to focus on our passion, vision and our faith in what God has called us to. Don’t let others determine the level of your passion or commitment!

2. Don’t take knocks or set backs or misunderstandings personally. Easier said than done. But, we must separate ‘who we are’ from what people think and say about ‘the things we do’. Often, I have found – even with some unjustified comments or reflections about what I am doing that I can find something in what is being said to work with. I can only do this by not taking it personally (even if the knock backs appear to be personal attacks!). It is hard and I don’t always do it – I can fly off the handle or I can get a right sulk on! However, if I take time to look at things objectively, moving myself and who I am away from the scene, putting myself in the shoes of another, I can sift what is being said and where it is coming from much better – and, often when I do that (and it is a choice not to wallow) there is often something that I need to think through. As a bloke, I often find pride at work, I don’t like to be wrong, I don’t like I appear inadequate – but, at these times I new to Remember John 3:30, ‘He must increase I must decrease’.

3. God is sovereign. Yes, he is – I know this, but so often in the midst of life and strife I can forget the bigger picture, one particular detail of a conversation might derail my attitude, one person might get my back up, one person might too me over the edge by their unhelpful, ill times comment . . . But one person is always faithful, never fails and – as I seek to serve others in his name, he also has my back. I need to trust that the ‘Lord is my shepherd’.

So, I don’t know if any on those help you right now. I needed to write these to remind myself about not letting disillusionment take hold – its been one of those days!

Keep going. Don’t give in to disillusionment. Know you are loved and valued, as I am – more than you (or I) can imagine.

20 Essential Ministry Books // #5 “Your First Two Years In Youth Ministry” Doug Fields

Doug Fields is probably best known for “Purpose Driven Youth Ministry”, which was written back in the mid 90s.  This book, still written 10 years ago, isn’t really a follow up – in some ways, it is more a book that gives each of us involved in ministry a context, the values and the ethos we should have before we start thinking about which tool; which youth ministry teaching book; which resource we are going to use in ministry.  This is why, as I look at this whole list of my essentials, there is not really a book for running a programme or doing youth ministry with young people – it is not the most important stuff.  The best thing we can offer young people is a healthy US.  This book from Doug seriously helps with that.

The book is split into chapters around particular topics, all with a view to helping you have a healthy view of ministry, our role as youth leaders and – especially helpful – we can drawn on the experience of others throughout the book who are honest about their mistakes and some of the pitfalls we might avoid with their generously offered hindsight.

I did not read this book in my first two years of youth ministry – but, it is an essential read, at whatever time you get your hands on it!  The most helpful chapter (which I wish I had the opportunity to read back in 1986) is about working with parents.  Seriously, if you read nothing else in the book, or browse the other chapters with the “i know this stuff” feeling . . . don’t skip through this chapter!  As a single guy from the late 80s to the late 90s, I spent a decade ignoring parents almost completely – duh!  Parents, and their faith and values, are essential to the spiritual health of their children, we ARE NOT.  Doug shares from his own pain of missing this, but doesn’t wallow – through what he has learnt along the way, he helps us get to grips with why this needs to be a priority of ministry with young people and how to go about it.

You may not see a chapter heading that stands out to you, maybe as I write this it is because I have a particular desire to help others (and myself) get it right with parents – maybe it is because I am a parent myself now.  This is another reason this book is so critical, Doug has this “360 view” of the place and purpose of youth ministry – I think, so often, in my own practice, I have just been looking at what I am doing right now (barely thinking to the next session, never mind the impact of the work with young people in 3 or 4 years time).  I guess this has been emphasized at different points in ministry – I have worked for churches where the senior pastor has young children, so the kids work is “vital”; a senior pastor with young teens, so the 11-14s work is “vital”; a senior pastor who’s kids were about to go to university so the key question was, “what are we doing for students?” . . .

This book helps me reflect across every area of work and, rather than focus on the work itself, get me to focus on ME and what I am prepared to bring to every piece of work, every relationship, in the pursuit of reaching and discipling children and young people.

Further highlights that mean I keep returning to this book – for a “pep talk from Doug” are:  Dealing with discouragement // Establishing (or recovering) a strong spiritual foundation // Time Management! . . .

The area of the book (for me at least) that I keep returning to is right at the back . . . Doug’s recommendations for what to practically focus on in your “first two years”, the thing is – they are not “jobs” to be ticked off a to do list . . . they are habits, actions that need to be kept up.  So, whether you are brand new to youth ministry (or any kind of ministry, the same applies!) or been doing it in various ways for 27 years (yep!) this is the kind of gold dust book that will keep reminding you, in an encouraging way like a good friend, to keep going, to have hope and to love ministry . . . not just for now, but for as long as God has called you to it.

Get this book.

20 Essential Ministry Books // #4 “Awareness” Anthony De Mello


It’s well over twenty years since this book was published – “Awareness” is a collection of material from Anthony De Mello, a monkish guy who encouraged people through retreats, workshops and therapy courses to discover their true selves.  To become aware of who they truly were and their potential.  This great little book is one I keep coming back to – to remind myself of some of his great stories and illustrations, but primarily for his ability – with incredible brevity – to sum stuff up.  For example, I have been to a shed load of conferences and seminars where someone is trying to define or articulate exactly what “spirituality” is (an hour long seminar with death by PowerPoint and I am more confused than I was before), De Mello tackles that in the opening line of this book,

Spirituality means waking up.”

That is it.  Becoming aware of this beautiful thing we call human existence.  This is a difficult book – you will find yourself saying “what!”  (Surely he can’t mean that!), but just as you are getting ready to throw the book at a wall he comes out with a piece of brilliance . . . De Mello makes spirituality incredibly practical, it is not some ethereal feeling, he doesn’t even make it about the transcendent, the “other” who we worship.  De Mello makes it about us, how we live, how we treat each other, what we value and – ultimately – whether we are awake and aware of what we are doing, or whether we are asleep . . . The following quote is one of the best (but most challenging) things I have ever read,

I challenge anyone to think of anything more practical than spirituality as I have defined it – not piety, not devotion, not religion, not worship, but spirituality – waking up, waking up!  Look at the heartache everywhere, look at the loneliness, look at the fear, the confusion, the conflict in the hearts of people, inner conflict, outer conflict.  Suppose someone gave you a way of getting rid of all that?  Suppose someone gave you a way to stop that tremendous drainage of energy, of health, of emotion, that comes from these conflicts and confusion.  Would you want that? Suppose somebody showed us a way whereby we would truly love one another, and be at peace, be at love.  Can you think of anything more practical than that?  But, instead, you have people thinking that big business is more practical, that politics is more practical, that science is more practical.  What’s the earthly use of putting a man on the moon when we cannot live on the earth?”(page 11)

Through the book he talks about our need to listen and unlearn some of the things we have come to believe – how many of us are only listening for something in a conversation that confirms what we already think – rather than engaging in genuine listening?  How true is the following statement he makes, think of this in relation to a whole variety of challenges the Church faces at the moment,

We hate the new.  We hate it!  And the sooner we face up to that fact the better.  We don’t want new things, particularly when they involve change.  Most particularly if it involves saying, “I was wrong!” (page 18)

In leadership, in ministry we just don’t like saying we were wrong – we live in a world of personal theological, ministerial, this-is-how-i-do-things – and, (men especially) find it so hard to say “I was wrong”.  When we do, we usually stuff in a whole load of caveats (because etc – which of course we can trace right back to the garden of Eden).  Awareness that De Mello opens up for us is staggeringly unusual, but we should be living in a place of open awareness to ourselves and others!  It should come with the territory of being a leader, of being in ministry.

In some ways, this book is looking at the same kind of stuff, thoughts, the world, how we live and how our lives are guided and determined as Freire (in Pedagogy of the Oppressed), he challenges our desires for programmes or techniques or tools that will aid our thinking – as this limits our ability to “self-observe” – some of this thinking might take up to crazy places, our ability to have compassion and be empathetic with those we serve and minister to might be challenges by the following,

The trouble with people is that they are busy fixing things they don’t even understand.  We’re always fixing things, aren’t we?  It never strikes us that things don’t need to be fixed.  They really don’t.  This is a great illumination.  They need to be understood.  If you understand them, they change.” (page 37)

This is not (I don’t think) about huge injustices that need challenging and just observing them changes nothing, good people need to ACT and bring about change – but, in our daily lives, in leadership and ministry, our time can be spent trying to be the answer and trying to fix things (whether in our own lives or the lives of those around us), understanding needs to be part of this picture before we blunder in and try and “fix it”, but – to understand we need to be aware, to be aware we need to be awake!

As you can see (hopefully!) this is a challenging book to read – there are more ideas, challenging thoughts and moments of amazing insight that in any other book I have read of its size (just 184 pages) – this observation has nothing to do with De Mello as such, but have you noticed how slim many spiritual classic books are – in comparison with much that is written today?  What does that tell us?  Those with spiritual insight (like De Mello) don’t need 500 pages to get their ideas across, they don’t need bluff and bluster and padding.  Every sentence is saying something meaningful that requires our attention.

It would be easy to read bits of the book and, in isolation, dismiss the whole thing.  I don’t agree with De Mello’s conclusions on everything (but then, maybe I am simply pulling out the bits I already agree with than genuinely listening to what he is saying!) – however, when I think of ministering to young people and equipping others to do the same, there is much in this book I have found essential fuel for the journey over the last 25 years – not necessarily embedded in my practice, but – having read “Awareness” there are moments when I can see exactly what he is getting at.  My final quote to share with you,

think of a little child . . . this is what your society did to you when you were born.  You were not allowed to enjoy the solid, nutritious food of life – namely, work, play, fun, laughter, the company of people, the pleasure of the senses and the mind.  You were given a taste for the drug called approval, appreciation, attention.” (page 162)

Being a disciple, and seeking to nurture that desire to follow Jesus in others, we are constantly coming up against the things “of this world” that tell our young people what will make them happy, successful and popular.  The disastrous thing in our own attempts at being disciples is that we want to be happy rather than holy, we want to be in a successful ministry, church, team, etc (and often measure success in a way that seems to lack Kingdom values) and we want to be popular in the Church or Christian ministry circles.  Who cares!  Seriously, does this matter – we exchange one drug from society for another when the Church places similar values and ethos around “Christian things” . . . we are in a mess, we need to wake up.

This funny, challenging, hard, inspiring, crazy little book is an essential tool on my shelf – I suggest you get it.  Become aware, wake up!  Paul got it,

Wake up O Sleeper and rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” (Ephesians 5:14)