Tips for Male Pastors Interacting With Girls

If you know me, you know I am a MOMMA. BEAR. I am protective of my teenagers, especially my girls.

Don’t be stupid.

As you read the rest of this article, I’m going to tell you to drop your guard a little. Don’t read that as “I’m the only person who can/needs to do this in their life” because that will lead to “I’ve just been fired and am on a sexual offender list.” Am I being dramatic? Of course. I’m a female.

Always have another leader with you, especially if you are meeting with a girl in private. Always gauge where a girl’s personal boundaries are, and don’t cross them. If you feel that a relationship is getting inappropriate, always get another leader involved. There are many things that your female leaders need to lead on in their lives…but this article isn’t about female leaders. It’s about male leaders interacting with female students.

Don’t be afraid to be appropriately affectionate.

Girls need love from men. It’s like ingrained in us. When we get it in a healthy way, we don’t feel the need to seek it out otherwise. It is perfectly okay to give hugs or pats on the shoulder–whatever you are most comfortable with. Be fatherly. Be appropriate. Be affectionate in a way that is comfortable for both you and others.

I think there is this notion that guys have to stick with guys and girls have to stick with girls–but that’s totally off. Everyone needs both genders in their life. There are many girls who don’t have redemptive relationships with their fathers, so many of them may look to you for that. Hear me out: Know your boundaries. But also listen up: My girls need appropriate men in their life. 

Be consistent.

Whoever you are in your relationship with your girls, just be consistent at it. Don’t be the typical youth worker who stays at a church for 18 months–that hurts more than you may realize. Teenagers feel like people come and go as it is, don’t add to that dramatization by making it a reality. And even if you don’t leave physically, here’s another one that you may not have thought of:

Don’t be awkward when puberty hits.

When they grow breasts and their shorts get shorter overnight, don’t put them at an arm’s length. Don’t get scared when teenagers’ bodies change. They’re pretty aware that they’re looking different. When you take away the affection and consistency you once offered, they notice that. And if YOU pull away from them, they WILL look for that affection somewhere else.

Do have women invest in them, shepherding them through this process. Your role is to stay consistent.

Be sensitive.

This seems like a no-brainer, but I am constantly reminded that it’s not. Sometimes girls get upset about things, and then guys think it’s funny…and then girls get even more ticked off because guys just don’t understand. This will be a theme throughout your entire life, so take heart: When a girl says be serious, time to get serious. If you can’t handle all the emotions, have another leader help you out.

Don’t shame them.

They’re not always going to want to play messy games, and you need to be okay with that. They are going to sin, and you can’t cast them away for that. Girls over-think things. If you say something rude to them, comment on their outfit, or do something else that is dumb, they will remember that. And they will replay it over and over. No pressure.

Just be affirming. That’s really all this sums up to.

What SBC Life Taught Me

Now that I’m in a mainline church, whenever I talk about growing up in the Southern Baptist Convention (and earning my degree from an SBC school), it’s not rare to get side looks or the occasional “you poor thing…”

As I reflect over the 18 years of life in the SBC, and how that shaped me as a person, I’m quite thankful for growing up in the tradition. Sure, religion is messy in general, and that particular faith tradition carries the stigma of exclusive theology. Yet, it shaped so many beautiful things about myself and how I see the world.

It taught me to value God’s Word

Conservative church tradition holds the Bible as God’s word and puts it above all else. This means that no man is the ultimate authority, but the Bible is. Of course, it takes a lot of faith to believe in a written document as the last authority on earth; yet because of the weight it holds, it’s learned that every answer to life can be found in there. This enriches life, because it brings a sense of simplicity that life never has.

Plus, I can quite scripture like mad-crazy, and Jesus juke any situation.

It taught me to center everything on Christ

Many conservative churches teach the art of self-reflection through altar calls that ask you to examine how you’re living your life.  Every week, you are reevaluating your relationship with God, keeping it centered, and staying focused on the process of sanctification. Done right, this means you become incredibly self-aware and humble. Philippians 2, a beautiful passage on how Christ lived on earth, becomes a ruler for life.

It showed me how to live in an authentic church community

In SBC life, everything revolves around the church. It can be obnoxious at times to be at church so much, but it forces close community with those you’re around. I loved having ten grandmas at church, potluck dinner every Sunday, and being a part of “life group.”  Many times, Millennials with more mainline theology will ride it out in a conservative church, primarily because of the community that is there.

It taught me to follow the rules

I can’t lie: I’m a severe rule-follower.  Many people in my life tell me that I need to loosen up, and I’m getting there!  But you have to understand something: Fundamentalism saved my life.  I don’t mean that to sound melodramatic, for I truly believe that.  The world we live in is very grey, and I learned to put up boundaries.  Because I value God and His Word, I try to follow both as closely as possible.

It demonstrated a missional life of inclusivity

Southern Baptists are the best at sending missionaries in the world, and my SBC university sent out more missions teams than any other college.  With that comes the gift of sharing your faith with anyone and everyone. The best gift that comes with a missional life is the gift of inclusivity towards the poor and disenfranchised. Sure, conservative church culture has much to learn in terms of inclusivity in general, but because missions is often part of its DNA, so is taking in the orphans and widows.  That was me: a child who was thirsty, and they took me in and met my physical needs as well as my social and spiritual ones. 

With all of these, I can pick out the negatives that went along with them.  I learned to be close-minded and think that my way was the way.  Something I’m noticing, however, is the increased humility among many conservative church leaders.  There are some beautiful things about how I grew up, and I seek to bring these things into my Mainline church community.  Why wouldn’t I want my students to learn to put God and the Bible first, to live in genuine community with one another, to follow God’s commandments to love Him, and therefore, love one another with a missional and inclusive life? 

So now, when I tell people my background, I don’t have to duck my head and hide from it: Where I came from had beauty. And I can bring that beauty everywhere.

Willow Creek Leadership Summit, Day 1!

I’m very excited to join the Willow Creek Leadership Summit at the Grace Community Church satellite site in Indianapolis for the first time!  My church brings almost 100 people to this summit, and I love being able to do this with almost our entire staff team, as well as many of our dedicated volunteers.

Here are some of the highlights of the day that will stick with me:

One theme that was talked about was the idea of “visions” as part of being a “legacy leader.” If you want to leave your mark on an organization and leave a legacy, then Bill Hybels said:

  • What God treasures most are people…even more than visions.
  • Nobody drifts into being a legacy leader
  • The grander the vision, greater the price tag.
  • Legacy leaders will ride out the rough patches because they are working for the grandeur vision.

Another thing I loved is that the conference on our campus was full of young people.  Older leaders were inspired to give younger emerging leaders a chance, and by increasing the realms of responsibility, we can entrust emerging leaders with more.  One of our volunteers, who is active throughout the church and is an empty nester, pulled me aside and said, “The whole time I was thinking of you.” Mmm. So powerful.

None of us are “born” leaders, but have a passion and a vision and put it into action.  Carly Fiorina said, ” The highest calling of leadership is to unlock the potential in others.” This means that one of the greatest parts of being a leader is being able to groom new leaders. Leadership doesn’t happen top-down, but bottom-up–you can’t change an organization by changing the heads, but by getting the “grunts” on board. She said, “Jesus didn’t go to the poor because they needed help. He went to the poor because he knew the potential they had.” Yes yes yes.

Susan Cain’s talk on introverts was very inspiring. I’m a pretty middle-of-the-line kind of gal, who is extremely outgoing, but gets drained and needs pajamas and her cat. I loved that she was willing to challenge the status quo of organizations run by extroverts, and explain that we need to give space so that every person can work within the stimulation they’re capable of handling. We live in a world where everything is so loud, that we forget the beauty of quiet; therefore we forget the beauty of introverts.  She also pointed out that we need to think of “networking in terms of service.” Instead of sweet-talking, I could prove myself through my actions (a model I’m way better at).

The idea of self-sacrifice as a leader was important to Patrick Lencioni; “I’m tired of hearing about servant leadership because I don’t think there’s any other kind of leadership. . .A true leader sacrifices themselves for the well-being of others without a guarantee of a return on investment.”

There’s much more than I can write here, but day one was inspiring!

I’m going to stock my bookshelf tomorrow…

(PS–I LOVE conferences, but I cannot sit still to save my life…Millennial problems.)

This is MY Ferguson

My hometown is a national headline, and for reasons that feels surreal, yet admittedly it’s representative of a problem that has been there my entire life.

Ferguson, a suburb of St. Louis, MO, has been headlining news the past few days. Michael Brown, a recently graduated senior from Normandy High School, was killed by a police officer. There are multiple accounts of the story going around; however, one thing is clear: Mike was walking away. He had his hands up. He was unarmed. He was shot multiple times.

Words cannot express the tragedy.

I grew up in Ferguson and the cities that surround it. St. Louis County is made up of a bunch of tiny little cities that are practically on top of each other. We call Ferguson and the cities that surround it (Florissant, Berkeley, Calverton Park, Jennings, Normandy, Hazelwood, Dellwood, Riverview, Kinloch, and so on) North County.  North County has had a terrible reputation for a very long time. One of the most segregated cities in the country, you can see it here. North County has a lot of low-income housing made up of primarily minorities, especially blacks. However, there are little pockets of white communities, far nicer than the hoods, that are in the midst of it. Put that together, and you have a ghetto right next to nice suburban neighborhoods.

Because of the socioeconomic difference between whites and everyone else, this caused extreme segregation. People mostly stuck to their race.  The first school I went to was in Normandy, and I was beat up almost every day because I was the only white person. Even though we were young, we were all taught the differences between “us” and “them” in a very ugly way.  My house was tagged by gangs with spray paint. There were drug dealers on my street. Then I turned 8 and moved to the edge of Florissant, which is Ferguson’s sister.

Fortunately, my experience in Elementary school didn’t stick.  I went to McCluer High School, which is in the Ferguson-Florissant School District.  We had a lot of different races, including a nice population of exchange students and immigrants.  I didn’t really fit into the “white crowd,” because my family was extremely poor and full of addiction, very like most of the black communities in the area. Truthfully, I didn’t really fit into any crowd.  I found myself starting “Club International,” a school-sponsored organization that was to unite people, no matter their race, socioeconomic background, or religion. My inner circle of friendship consisted of all kinds of different races and skin tones. It was beautiful.

This was what Ferguson had to offer me: a thorough education of the different cultures and customs of our world. It’s what inspired some of my friends to pursue degrees in international business, foreign languages, and missions work.

Even though most  who are impoverished find themselves stuck in a place of poverty, Ferguson was a place where a person could gain redemption through education.  I was able to take the ACT twice, not needing to pay either time. My high school offered free prom tickets to those who scored a 21 or higher on the ACT, and I wouldn’t have been able to go to my senior prom if not for that. I had teachers work with me on my writing skills, my grammar, and my attitude.

This was my Ferguson; my North County. It wasn’t perfect.  But it had something to offer me.  The difference is that, as a white female, I had an advantage. Everyone expects you to get out–after all, there was a major White Flight from North County many decades ago. However, if you are black, and especially a black man, there are little expectations, especially because the majority of the city is run by white people.

As I watch my friends from high school and church back home in the midst of these riots, my heart aches. I wish I could do something.  I wish I could go home and remind them of the Black History classes we took every year, about how it was those who stood for PEACE that we celebrated in class, not those who caused riots. Those who stood their ground, who didn’t back down, yet did it without the added violence.

And as I think about Ferguson, my home… I think about all the beauty that’s there, things that were added to add life.  I think about Whistle Stop, and how at Ferguson Middle School we would walk there as a class field trip every year for ice cream.  I think about Street Fest. I think about live music in the summers.  I think about having home-field advantage there as outfielder on my winning softball team, the Ferguson Fire. I think about Girl Scout parades through the town.  I think about the new bicycle path put there in just the last few years.  I think about all the little family-owned restaurants and bars. I think about how I want to avoid Marley’s, a bar that consists 90% of people from my high school.  I think about January Wabash Park, how we’d watch fireworks every Independence Day, and how we did the mile run there in school…with the terrible hills. I think about the church I grew up in, which is right across the street from the looted shopping center on West Florissant Rd. I think about all the times I told my mom I was staying after school, but really roaming the streets with my friends.

And I think about the injustices that never seem to end. Racist white leadership. Black-on-black violence. A struggling economy.

So this is MY Ferguson: Complex. Yet it has beauty. Ferguson was a city really fighting for something to give its residents…and it infuriates me that people (who, are PS, mostly not even from Ferguson) are looting, burning, and causing violence.

But if you ask me the truth, I have to wonder: The things put in Ferguson to give it beauty and life–who are they reaching? If we have 2/3 black and 1/3 white, why are there country music concerts in the summer time? Why are there bike paths–not for commuting to work, but for exercise?  The beautification isn’t for the poor, but for the middle class to have something nice to look at, widening a gap and making blacks even more disenfranchised. “MY” Ferguson is in most cases, the white Ferguson.  Even though I’ve seen the poverty, I’ve also had interests catered to my Caucasian culture. Because again: I am white and therefore have a privilege in that area, whether I’m poor or not.

Despite not having the automatic white privilege I have, Mike Brown was making better for himself. He graduated high school from Normandy High, a school that is one of the roughest around. He was to begin college this week at Vatterott, a trade school with a great reputation. Mike could have made a great life for himself. Whether he did anything “wrong” in this situation, he didn’t deserve to lose his life. He was no threat. He was a kid achieving things that most don’t get to do.

I ask that you partner with me in prayer for my hometown. It shaped a lot of who I am, and although I’m in a different city now, I miss it. I wish there were easy answers.

I also ask that you pray for Mike’s family. I can’t even fathom what they’re going through right now, watching Mike’s legacy being “honored” by riots full of vandalism and violence.

Lastly, I ask that you join me in prayer for prejudism to be removed from our hearts. That we’ll learn to give respect to one another, no matter their color, their gender, their religion, their sexual orientation, their background, their socioeconomic status, their waist size, etc.  I pray that the Kingdom of Heaven will slowly be revealed more and more on earth, and that we can be restored…and quick.

Building a Healthy Ministry-Esteem

This post originally appeared here: http://youthmin.org/building-a-healthy-ministry-esteem/

I think there’s a dichotomy of the way youth pastors, or honestly anyone in general, tends to view themself: Either we are incredibly full of ourselves, or incredibly unsure of ourselves. Put another way: Either we think we’re the “poop”, or a piece of “poop.” Either way, it stinks and funks up our ministry.

Prideful people push others away. There are plenty of posts out there on pride, so I want to focus on the opposite.

Humility is great. Humility is Godly. But listen: Humility is not thinking of yourself as lowly and unworthy of love or even praise. Humility is putting God’s agenda above our own and praising Him in successes.

How Low Ministry-Esteem Hurts

Humility is not low self-esteem. Low self-esteem hurts ministry because the minister second guesses himself. It hurts because the minister isn’t confident in the choices he makes, the lessons he teaches, or the students he lead.  In other words, it is:

  • Lack of confidence in decision-making abilities, so he often second-guesses them and loses respect of those who watch him make the decisions.
  • Lack of confidence in ability to bring the Gospel, so he downplays it and doesn’t deliver the Gospel message aggressive enough or convicting enough.
  • Lack of confidence in ability to draw students with Jesus, so he has trouble developing events and programming.
  • Lack of confidence in the students’ ability to reach others for Jesus, so he doesn’t put in place the appropriate programming providing missional opportunities.
  • Any others? Puthem in the comments.

Building Balance

We are depraved, there’s no doubt about it. Yes, we are helpless (Romans 5:6). Yes, we shouldn’t think we are better than we really are (Romans 12:3). And yes, we are not to boast or be arrogant (1 Corinthians 13:4). And of course, we are to think of others as more highly than ourselves, for even Christ emptied himself and humbled himself to being a man dying on a cross…for us (Philippians 2).

But look at that: Christ saw us worthy enough to die for us. God loved us so much that he sent his son to die for us (John 3:16).

So even if we are nothing compared to Christ, that doesn’t mean that we are nothing to Christ. We were made in God’s image (Genesis 1). We were fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139). God gave us a spirit, “not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:7). God gave us each a very personal gift from his Spirit to use for his Kingdom, and he expects us to use it. Paul says to the Thessalonians (2:4-5):

“And we have confidence in the Lord about you, that you are doing and will do all the things that we command. May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.”

Humility is denying personal sin, regarding others as God sees them, and knowing that we are loved.  And you are loved, dear friend and minister of young people.

Live a redeeming and affirming life knowing this.

Providing Perfection to Students

During our Local Missions Trip, some of my precious junior high girls and I somehow found ourselves chilling in my office (how we fit so many of us in there kills me–we must have really been trying to escape those boys!).  We were playing board games, when one of them found my memory box. I was going through it, sharing funny stories about  the moments from past churches.

One of the girls then asked me, “Are you going to be here very long?”

Dang.

Youth pastors in general have a problem with not sticking around very long. Add in the Millennial factor, and we’re flightier than migrating geese.  Our students in my church have especially been victims of youth leaders who were only around 2-3 years, with exception of our head director.

I don’t want to be one of those people who leaves when things get tough–and I’ve certainly had a boot camp in my first 8 months here! I want to remember, when I’m burned out from mission trips and kickoffs and spending so much time away from my one-eyed cat, that the reason I do this is to give my precious students some sort of consistency in their life. I may not be perfect, but what I can provide for them is exactly what they need.

So then, my girls and I sprinkled wish dust and painted our nails. And then played “Fodgeball” with the boys, fog machines, and strobe lights. A perfect night in junior high ministry.

What can you do to make sure that you stick with it? What can your church do?

Stop Sharing Your Stories With Your Students!

I’ve got to be honest–I’ve never been a cool kid. I’m okay with that.

And because of that fact, I’ve struggled to gain rapport with students.  This is why I love Junior High students–for the most part, they think that I’m cool just because I’m hanging out with them. We play games, we eat pizza, and we are best friends. High school is much more difficult.

I used to think that I just had to force rapport–I’d:

  • Tell them they can “ask five questions they want about me”–but it usually ends up in an awkard conversation about my lack of a love life, or an even more awkward reveal about my crazy family.
  • Go ahead and “share my testimony” with them so they know up-front about my crazy family.  But this actually has created walls.  My life is pretty unique, and unless I’m talking to a certain group of students, all it says to students is “I come from a completely different background than you.”  I received feedback in my internship four years ago this from the group of suburban high school girls I worked with. They felt like they couldn’t relate to me off the back.
  • Interrupt a conversation to share a random story about my sister, my cat, my first car, my high school days, etc.

And so I’ve realized something…

Students don’t care about my life.

Now, that isn’t completely true.  But there’s one important truth:

Students care when I care about their life.

Want to build rapport? Quit talking about your embarrassing high school moments out of the blue. Ask them questions!  Ask them about their family, their school, and more! Learn to be more of a by-standard and absorb conversations, and when there’s a natural moment, ask a question that opens the floor and creates rapport.

Here’s an example–on our mission trip, someone brought up a scar story or something like that, so a leader asked: What is the stupidest way you’ve ever gotten injured? Soon, students are laughing and sharing their stories with one another. Then I get to share how I once sucked a cup to my face so hard, it wouldn’t come off…and when it did, I had a huge circle bruise. Yes, I essentially gave myself a hickey gotee around my mouth.  But had I been like, “Guess what guys? One time…” they would have laughed and gone “Wow she’s weird for sharing that out of the blue” and then Snapchatted to their friends about the weirdo adults on their trip.

It’s kind of like that basic dating rule (you know, since I’m such a guru): Listen more than you talk. If you talk too much about yourself, then that person is going to think that you only care about yourself.  Teenagers want to talk about themselves to people who want to listen.