Friday, October 1, 2010

Importance of Youth Ministry Conferences

I've been in Youth Ministry since 1997 as a volunteer, part-time youth worker, intern, Young Life Leader, FCA Huddle Leader, and full-time youth worker.   For my three ten years of youth ministry I did training with Young Life and FCA and you can see many of those influences and teachings in the format of my youth ministry.  I also went to small trainings and seminars put on by the United Methodist Church in my district and the North Georgia Conference.  My undergraduate degree was Pre-Law in Political Science with a minor in Sociology at the University of South Carolina.  In my mind the small outside training was good enough for me to take on the work of youth ministry.   I would monthly get flyers and brochures from Youth Specialties and Simply Youth about their conferences, but saw the cost of $300+ and not to mention the cost of travel, hotel, and food to be too much for "continuing education" for my full-time job in youth ministry.  I always looked at my budget and personal reimbursement accounts and just didn't see how I could fit it in.  Every church I worked at never really saw them as important and felt that the small seminars and training the United Methodist Church was enough...mostly because they were either free or at most $25 and only a few minutes from the church.

In the spring of 2008, I was in the middle of my first semester of graduate school at Pfeiffer University and Wesley Seminary when it was time to register for the Fall Semester.   I was advised to take Catalyst and Youth Specialties Nation Youth Workers Conference for the fall since my emphasis in my Masters of Christian Education was Youth Ministry.   The courses comprised of me going to these conferences, taking notes, going to seminars, writing a paper on my experience, and having a follow-up with my course advisor to receive one hour of credit for each.    I had several classmates and other Youth workers that I knew that told me how great it would be. But I had no clue!

So the fall came, I had my hotel reservations for Catalyst and talked with my friend Jason in Nashville to stay at his apartment for NWYC.  I had my continuing education account set up to pay for everything and was off for a new adventure.  It was amazing to see so many familiar faces of friends in ministry at both Conferences.   Catalyst blew me away with the intensity of the format, the worship, and the speakers.   It was an awesome experience.  Little did I know that was only the beginning as I prepared to go to NYWC.   My friend Jason had been many times, so he was my tour guide.   I was a Exhibitor Floor Rookie.  I was blown away by all the resources, camps, and everything about youth ministry in Exhibit Hall.   Before the first session I had signed up for almost everything to win things and get information.  But the coolest part was all the FREE STUFF!  I had 3 bags of free resources, t-shirts, brochures, and candy!   I had to take a trip back to my truck before the first general session to drop it all off.   Then I went to the General sessions and was blown away about the excitement, the worship, and the speakers.  My only thought was, "Why have I missed out on this for all these years."  It was a time of renewal, a time of learning, a time to just be me with thousands of other youth workers who went through the same stress, problems, the joys, and everything that is youth ministry in the church.

I learned so much, I made many new friends, I really started to use twitter for the first time, I got tons of resources, I got free stuff to give out for games at my youth group, but I was renewed.   The main point in my papers for my class was that no matter where I am at in ministry, going to at least one conference was going to be a priority for me.

Last year I was unable to go to Catalyst due to my daughter being born and will unable to attend this year due to other commitments.  But I was able to go to NYWC in Atlanta and I brought someone new.  I brought my former youth Mark, who is now in his fourth year of youth ministry and stayed at his place.   It was so awesome to see how he reacted when we checked in and to see him as he went through Exhibit hall was so awesome.  But the best part was once again reconnecting with old friends in youth ministry by having meals, having coffee, walking through exhibit hall together, going to seminars, and staying for late night concerts.   I also really enjoyed coming back and talking with Mark every night about what we experienced that day.  I also tried taking time to meet with a consultant, who has become a great friend.  Lars Rood and I were twitter friends before NYWC, but it was mostly just me retweeting his blog.  But he was a great resource that I never knew existed.   I also had the chance to meet with Adam McLane for breakfast on the last day and like Lars, I only knew him before on twitter.  Since then I've had some cool tweets back and forth with him and others that I met.  Mark and I also met Matt McCage, who Mark tried to get Doug Field's cell phone from (funny side story...Matty gave Mark the Taco Bell number close to Saddleback!).  Matty has become another good friend who I call on occasion, tweet, and Facebook with and it would have never happened with any of these great guys if I didn't go.

Youth Conferences are more than just a conference, they are now an important part of my youth ministry.  I now look forward to them and make them a priority in my ministry and life.  They are the first thing I put on my yearly schedule and my budget.  They are about relationships, a renewal, an agape love from God, worship, and so much more.  So during the next couple days as NYWC is going on in San Diego this week and you see the #nywc and Catalyst next week in Atlanta and you see #CAT10 on many tweets, pray for these guys and girls.  And if you haven't planned on going to Nashville this year then try to work it out or sign up for Simply Youth Conference in Chicago in March or the Orange Conference in the April.   Make it a priority.   Take time for renewal.  Take time for yourself.   Take time to learn for your students.  Take your adult volunteers.  Take another youth worker.  Take your Senior Pastor.  Just don't make the mistake I did for so long and make excuses.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Technology in Student Ministry

·        I have tried to stay up with the latest technology since I started in Youth Ministry in 1997.  Since my first church I have always found it important to have a youth group website.  Over the years it has evolved as technology has changed.  I use our website to give visitors an open house of what our ministry is about.  The website is updated several times a week to help parents and students keep up with current and future events.   The website allows visitors to see what we are doing and what we have done.
·         I have always had a newsletter in youth ministry, and in recent years I have adapted with technology and send out two weekly newsletter via email using www.constantcontact.  I give weekly announcements, give information about future retreats, and give a summary of the current topics we are teaching in youth group, small groups, and Sunday school.  I also print out several copies for those who do not have internet access that can pick them up in the church office.  I also post the link on Facebook and in our churches weekly email newsletter.
·         Since 2008, when I attended Youth Specialties and stopped by the vender Youth Tracker, I have used this website to keep attendance and organize our students in small groups, outreach, events, and more
·         Text messaging is the language of most teenagers today.  I use text messaging to weekly send out announcements and reminders.  I also use it to send the students daily scripture readings.  I use Simply Text.
·         I also use the technology of Facebook.   I have set up several groups online for parents, youth, small groups, and our praise band to keep everyone connected.  I also encourage parents to use Facebook to stay connected with their students.  I use Facebook to post articles, blogs, announcements, newsletters, and scripture.
·         Twitter is also used in my student ministries.  I use it for quick updates, announcements and to share links with my students and parents.  I also use it for personal use to network with other ministry leaders around the world.
·         Video is another key use of technology in my ministry.  I always take a video camera with me to school events and make highlight videos to help encourage students to bring their friends.  I always video any retreat and mission trip to document our trip.   I make a highlight video that I share at youth group and with the congregation.  We always make these videos available on our website and on youtube.   For the past two summers on our mission trip, we have made daily video blogs to help connect our mission trip to the parents and our congregation.  I also make funny videos for youth group.  I use videos from different church media outlets such as Blue Fish TV and the Skit Guys for illustrations in my devotions and lessons.  We use a DV camecorder as well as two Flip video cameras and my iPhone for videos.  I use Pinnacle Studios 14 for video editing on my computer.
·         In 1997 the technology for leading worship was an overhead projector with transperancy song sheets.  As worship technology has changed, I have moved to powerpoint and now use Media Shout 4.5 during youth program time.  I have also used Easy Worship and Song Show Plus.  
·         My iPhone has also become a big part of my ministry.  I use it for texting, photos during events and youth, quick videos, and iPhone Apps such as Twitter, Facebook, Bible Commentarires, NIV Bible, Youth Specialties, and other ministry Apps.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Tweets can be useful now and later

"To find meaning and purpose in your life you must see it in the context of Gods plan."  - @andystanley

A couple weeks ago Andy Stanley tweeted the above statement.   I've been on Twitter since May 2008 when Simply Youth Ministry put a challenge out to try twitter.  At first I rarely used it.  Then as the fall approached in 2008, I started to use it more, at first I used it as another facebook status update then I started seeing after going to Catalyst 2008 that many people use it to share blog, news, ideas, and interesting links.   So many times I would RT or just click the link and not share.  Over the past year I have started Tweet boxes in my email.  Anytime I see a cool Tweet with a link or quote, I email it to myself and use it or save it for later.   

The above tweet from Stanley was put in the to save for later box.  At the time I saw it I really liked it, but something told me to save it.   Just now I was looking for another link in the save it for later Tweet box and found it.  It really made me think and pray.

Where I'm at right really hit home.  Too often over the past couple years I've been in a daze and no clue why I started on my Masters and working towards ordination.   But every day know God is showing me new things and why I went through my Masters program and seeing the context of God's plan for everything.  Its really cool to see God moving!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Listening to God

Lately...I've been listening a lot to God in places that I usually do not have them time to explore.  Like I said in my previous blog, I spent quite some time a week ago listening to several sermons of Steven Furtick as he preached for 24 hours straight last week.   I also have had a chance to listen to Pastor Ed Young, Rick Warren, Joel Olsteen, and a few others.  In the past I used to listen to several pastors a week as part of my time with God.   During the past two and a half years I have listened to books on my iPod and have been reading more books and blogs.  But during the past two weeks, I have had the opportunity to listen and watch several online and broadcast of sermons.   All of these pastors have different theological backgrounds and they are really on different pages.  

But here is the thing....every sermon has been a different building block for where I am right now.  God is really speaking to me and to my wife right now and I'm really excited to see what He has in store for us in the upcoming months as we listen and act on what we are learning.   In upcoming blogs I will elaborate more on each!

"Be still, and know that I am God" -Psalm 46:10