Listening without Fixing


One of my favorite authors currently is Parker J. Palmer. If you are not familiar with his work, I highly recommend him to you. In his book “A Hidden Wholeness, the Journey toward an Undivided Life,” in Chapter 7, he contends that:

We should stop trying to fix people.

When we listen with the intent to fix, what presents itself initially as caring, actually may be our “shadow-side” saying something like this:

 

  • If you take my advice you will surely solve your problem.
  • If you take my advice and fail to solve your problem, you did not try hard enough.
  • If you do not take my advice, and you do not solve your problem, I did the best I could.

 

And no matter what the outcome, I no longer need to worry about you or your problem. When we listen with the intent to fix, what initially seems like caring, is really a way for us to keep the other at arms length, and distance ourself from their problem.

I concurr with much of what Palmer says. Many of us love to be answer-givers and honestly love the sound of our own voice. But often it is not what people really want or even what they really need. This was never more apparent to me than when my house burned down, and again now in the wake of my divorce. My friend Eddie modeled this as he physically stood beside me as my house was burning to the ground. He stood there silently, without saying a word, with smoke and emotion circling my head. I did not want anyone trying to make sense of it all in that moment. Not that there wasn’t things that could have been said, he just didn’t feel the need to say them. His silence spoke volumes to me. And inside the space of that vacuum without words, I was cured of answer-giving.

The common cry of our culture is that “no one understands me, no one really listens to me.”

And if you work with teenagers, or are a parent of one, you know how especially true this is for them. A few years ago I was sitting with a friend who was battling depression, and he was expressing how I was one of the few people who actually still took his calls anymore. How tragic! Not that he was battling depression, but that nobody was willing to walk with him in his pain. I responded by saying something like: “Of course! You are one of my favorite people. I may not have the answers, but I will always listen to you.”

Early in my journey, I would have tried to fix him. Now instead of giving answers, I try ask questions. Not to feed my curiousity, but to clarify their own thoughts. More than anything I try to just be present. To be someone who will walk with them in their pain. And if you beleive in God, and I do, Scripture says He is our “ever present help in our time of need,” and “a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” Often times, well-meaning Christians feel they need to be the voice of God for people. But that’s rarely the case. In fact, when God wants to speak, he generally does not have any problems communicating. And when you presume to speak for the God of the Universe, you better be damn careful what you say. Perhaps instead of presuming to speak for Him, we would represent Him best by simply being present with people in their pain.

The Jews have something in their culture called “sitting-shiva.” Shiva is a seven-day mourning period that occurs after the death of a loved one, often an immediate family member. People come and “sit-shiva” with the bereaved, often times sitting low to the ground, or even on the ground itself, to identify with the person’s suffering. Visitors do not ring the doorbell, do not speak, do not even greet the bereaved; they simply sit with them. They only speak when the bereaved initiates conversation, and often it is to simply share stories of the one who has passed.

Our culture could use a large dose of “sitting-shiva” with people in a culture of pain. It is the one of the few things in our culture that we have in common.

 

 

We have not all experienced the same pain…. but we have all experienced deep pain.

 

As people we would do well to learn to listen again; really listen. And to resist the temptation to fix people, but instead to simply journey with people in their pain.

In a culture of answer-givers, be the one friend who really listens.

Witness to an Adventure


BakerRailroadGrade

Michael had it written all over his face. He was done. Ninety minutes into our four-day hike, he was whipped. Michael was not really an athletic kid, a tad overweight and sweating profusely. He was wearing blue jeans and seemingly unprepared to climb a mountain. As an at-risk high schooler on our 12-day adventure called Leadership Pursuits, Michael already had accomplished way more than he probably dreamt he could. He’d gone whitewater rafting and kayaking. He belayed off a rock face, ridden horses, built a campground, and now was on a four-day ascent to the summit of Mt. Adams, a 12,280-foot volcano in Southwest Washington, adjacent to the infamous Mt. St. Helens; and he was ready to quit.

Greg Johnson, the trip leader and our most seasoned mountaineer in Youth Dynamics Adventures, pulled the group of 12 into the shade of some old-growth cedars for a short break and went over to Michael to assess the situation. Michael plopped his 60-pound pack onto the ground and collapsed in a heap onto a log. After we had rested for 10 or 15 minutes, we needed to get back on the trail, but we had a decision to make. Should we continue on with Michael or without him? It was to be a four-day hike to the summit and back. We really only had two options: Either we could pull one of our leaders off the trail, and he and Michael could sit in the parking lot and wait four days for us to return, or we could try as a team to get Michael through the next several days. We let the team decide. They rallied. The team wanted to help Michael complete the journey to the summit and back.

Greg immediately began to rummage through Michael’s pack. He discovered a family-size Bible, some blue jeans, some other heavy items he wouldn’t need, and promptly buried them. (We retrieved them on the way back.) Other members of the group volunteered to take some of his other gear so Michael’s pack would be lighter. Would it be enough? Would he last the day? Would he last four days? Only time would tell.

Our little caravan started back on the trail with me in the lead, followed by six high school boys, with three leaders interspersed, and Greg planted directly behind Michael bringing up the rear. What followed was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen. From one pit stop to the next, Greg was right there with Michael chirping in his ear. “You can do this. It’s just around this next bend.” Or, “Let’s make it to that big tree. Just 10 more minutes, then we can rest.” Sometimes Greg would encourage Michael; other times he was stern with him, prodding him forward. Step by step, Michael walked up that mountain. We hiked through the trees in the morning; beautiful forests of pine, cedar, Douglas fir and blue spruce. We emerged through the tree line just after lunch. We were encouraged, spirits were high. Then we encountered a section of the mountain that might as well be Mordor. Straight out of Lord of the Rings, it is a large field of lava rock, and it is brutal. Michael persevered and made it to our campsite above the lava rock at the base of mountain’s face. We spent the night at the snow line with our tents pitched mostly on rocks.

We took most of the evening and the entire next day with lessons about life and leadership and how God fits into the whole picture. We also spent a significant amount of time in snow school, learning how to climb safely in the snow with boots and crampons, how to properly use our ice axes, and most importantly how to stop ourselves if we fell, while not stabbing ourselves with our axes in the process!

The morning of the third day, we awoke early for a mountain ascent, leaving at 2 a.m. so we could summit and climb back down before the snow got soft and dangerous in the afternoon sun. We set out with our headlamps in the dark of the early morning, climbing in a line, one after the other, in a zig-zag pattern up the steep face of Mt. Adams. The face itself is about 1,500 feet of vertical, and it feels as if it’s straight up. Each step was taken carefully, with our ice axes in our uphill hands, planting them firmly in the snow, then scraping out a level foothold before taking our next step—then repeating the process. After three or four hours of climbing, we reached the top of the face, exhausted, coming to grips with the reality that we had only reached a false summit. False because if we hadn’t known better, we would have thought it was the summit while we were climbing only to reach the top and realize the summit was still beyond us, and we couldn’t see it from where we were climbing. While we waited for Michael and Greg to join us, we enjoyed a snack and took in the expansive view of the mountains below us as the sun had risen during our ascent. After a good rest, the team was eager to take on the final push. We set out on a free for all, traversing horizontally across a ½-mile flat field of snow and reconvened at the base for a final ascent of the last couple hundred feet of vertical. The team decided to wait and let Michael lead the team up from here. As we made the final push, here was Michael, the kid I thought was going to quit an hour into our hike, leading the team to the top. As he reached the summit first, a wide smile came across his face as he jumped up and down and shouted at the top of his lungs. It was in all aspects a pinnacle moment in his life. He had accomplished something well beyond what he believed he could do, something no one ever would be able to take away from him, and learned some things about himself that no doubt will stay with him for the rest of his life.

I have witnessed moments such as this again and again with teenagers while climbing mountains, whitewater rafting or rock climbing. The medium really doesn’t matter as long as the elements are the same. Take someone outside his or her comfort zone, include challenge and some risk, create an environment where he or she must exercise faith and dig down inside him or herself to accomplish something that previously seemed impossible, while a team of people surround and support the person. It’s an amazing thing to watch.

~Mark

Originally Published in YouthWorker Journal, March/April 2016

Legacy.


Herbert, Caleb, Shane, Scammell and Moder

Cameron’s Wedding – Spring 2015, 20 years of NLCC youth ministry representing!

20 years ago I had just stepped into the biggest job of my life. Even though I had 9 years of youth ministry under my belt, it had all been at small churches of under 300 in size. Somehow, I had landed the best job in the region, working for Bruce Miles, a leader’s leader, whom everybody in my tribe wanted to work for. Bruce had planted a new church in N. Idaho that just exploded with growth. It’s first Sunday saw multiple services and over 400 in attendance. By the time I joined the staff, 3 1/2 yrs later, the church had 1800 people coming each weekend, and I was to be their first full time youth worker.

I got to build a program from the ground up. There were only 5 full time pastors in our entire church at the time, and we worked our asses off to try to keep up with growth. Our boys were 3 yrs and 6 months old at the time, I had no concept of how much the people I would do life with over the next 5 years would impact me and my boys for the rest of my life. This is my 30th year of working with teenagers, and I value every place I have worked, but those 5 years and the relationships we built there continue to be many of the most valuable relationships I have today.

During those 5 years we saw thousands of teenagers come through our youth ministry. I took Polaroids of every kid and used them as flashcards to help me remember names. I spent a ton of time with students, going to lunch at school every Tuesday, sitting on the bleachers at games, playing video games in their homes, having breakfast at Granny’s Pantry every Saturday morning, going on trips together…. so many great memories.

The picture above is from my son Cameron’s wedding a few months ago. It was held at that church, which he stayed at long after I moved away. The men in that photo represent 20 years of continuous youth ministry at New Life and were all involved with me during those 5 years I was there.

A few years ago, I was privileged to speak at a city wide youth rally back in town, a rally I first gave birth to years before. It was standing room only, full of teenagers and youth groups from all over the city… and I recognized at least 6 youth pastors who had been in my youth group as kids themselves.

In the moment, I never knew what kind of impact I was having on those teens, and I’ll bet they don’t remember a single sermon I preached. I see youth workers today and I wonder what kind of legacy they’re leaving. Are they just providing programming during the week? Or are they vested in the lives of their students? I heard Jeanie Mayo once say “The one who spends the most time with a teenager, wins.”

So many youth workers only stay in their role for a couple years before they get chewed up or burned out. It’s hard, I get it. And I know that my career field has topped out and is in decline. It’s sad really, because as much as the world has changed since I started in youth ministry with my ClipArt Books and my Overhead Projector; some things never change…

Teenagers need loving, caring adults in their world, who don’t leave. 

If you do that, you will find, unexpectedly, that they will give back to you much more than you ever thought possible. All of those teenagers are in their early 30s now… and I talk to many of them every month. And when we see each other, it’s so rewarding… they are now the age I was when I first met them in middle school. Most of them have families and are still in church and soon, middle schoolers of their own 🙂 Our conversations flow easily, as we process life and pain and faith. And it’s so very rewarding. I can’t imagine my life without them.

This pic was taken for a feature that Campus Life Magazine did on our youth ministry "The Student Body"... there's another one out there somewhere with me with bleach blonde hair haha! Oh the 90s.... :)

Summer time youth group on the Rathdrum Prairie. c. 1998

~Mark

My Top 5 Thanksgiving Memories


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Some of my Thanksgiving Memories:

1. Turkey bowl flag football games with teenagers and frozen gamehens.

2. Turkey Bowling with large birds, bowling pins and angry church custodians.

3. Tossing “butt-rolls” to my kids at the Thanksgiving table, (with corresponding screams).

4. Stabbing my brother’s hand with a fork during the Thanksgiving meal prayer, knowing he’d get in trouble if he made a noise.

5. Snowboarding at Silver Mt., with 2 ft of fresh pow, then coming home and eating turkey.

Today will be the first Thanksgiving that both our boys are not here with us… so thankful for the past but a new season of life is here. Enjoy your memories, but refuse to live in the past! Make new memories today!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

-Mark

Growing Leaders


Yes. I feed them both my leftover coffee. It's a little cannibalistic, I know.

The bamboo plant in my office used to be the size of the coffee plant on my desk…

So, I have this bamboo plant in my office…

It sat on my desk for several years in a 4” pot. It grew to a certain height and stayed that way forever. Then one day I had an idea. What if I put it in a bigger pot? Would it grow? Would it die? I decided to give it the opportunity to grow. And did it ever!

Today that bamboo plant is too big for my desk. Actually it sits on the floor and is now taller than my desk by a foot or more. All I did was give it room to grow, (and a lot of cold coffee).

In Youth Dynamics (YD), we try to do the same thing with teenagers. It’s easy for people to get stuck.

Teenagers especially get put into a box, told by someone that they are this or that, defined by words that people threw carelessly at them.

In relational youth ministry we give students an opportunity to break out of those molds. As we build relational trust with kids, we challenge them to grow beyond where they find themselves.

Adventure ministry often times gives us a framework for those break-out moments.

It’s so great to see students step outside themselves, to risk failure only to find that they can do way more than they ever thought they could, and grow in the process.

In the 6 years that I’ve been with YD, I’ve seen our YD kids blossom and grow. Some have grown to the point where they’ve become interns, others have joined our summer staff teams and a few even have joined us as full-time missionaries. We try to do the same thing with our staff. Create a culture where they can step outside themselves and grow. We desire to create an atmosphere where it’s okay to make mistakes, to dust yourself off and to try again.

Parents and organizations alike would benefit from creating a culture that provides enough relational security for people to feel safe to step out and try things; to know that their acceptance does not depend on perfection.

One must do this with an open hand however, and a Kingdom mindset.

Your staff may outgrow your job and your organization. Is that okay with you? Your child may grow to become something that you did not have in mind for them to be? Are you alright with that? If you have a Kingdom mindset you will be. You will recognize that Christ has designs and plans for their life that likely differ from your hopes and dreams for their life. Hold them loosely. Develop people anyway. It’s what Christ calls us to do. “Go and make disciples.” And let them go take their place in God’s Kingdom, wherever that may be.

~Mark

Manhauling and Leadership. Life and Death Leadership Lessons from the Race to the South Pole


scottmanhauling2I just finished a fantastic book about the race to the South Pole that happened over 100 years ago. You may be familiar with Shackleton and his incredible story of survival, but this story is primarily about the other two principal explorers in this  epic battle for adventure supremacy, Roald Admundsun and Captain Robert Falcon Scott.

Scott was from England. Scott believed England always did it better. England was perhaps 25-30 years past the peak of it’s colonial power, and was trying to hang on to it’s world dominance. Amundsen in contrast, was from a tiny country, Norway, on the cusp of it’s independence. He believed he could learn from anyone, and spent months with a remote tribe of Eskimos near the North Pole to learn how to survive in the extreme cold. He learned how to dress, build igloos, even how to create a thin layer of ice on the runner blades of sleds by spitting on them, varying the thickness of the ice with the weather. It turns out that one of the most important lessons he learned, was how to use sled dogs. It seems only logical to us today that one would use sled dogs to pull sleds in the extreme cold over ice and snow, but at that time, the use of dogs was new technology (to everyone except the Eskimos). The use of skis for Polar Exploration was in its infancy as well. The old school of thought was to “man-haul.” This meant strapping leather harnesses on men, and having them haul sledges over the ice and snow, up mountains and over crevasses. It seems crazy, but this was the accepted practice for Polar Explorations, especially those from England. In fact, Scott thought there was something glorious in “manhauling.”

“In my mind no journey ever made with dogs can approach the height of that fine conception which is realised when a party of men go forth to face hardships, dangers, and difficulties with their own unaided efforts…Surely in this case the conquest is more nobly and splendidly won.” -Captain Scott

Somehow Scott thought it was almost cheating to use dogs or skis. It had to be done the way they had always done it, by “man-hauling.” You must understand the scale of this madness. It was nearly 1500 miles to the South Pole and back from their main camp, with over 10,000 ft of elevation gain. Four men to a sledge, pulling 9-10 hours each day, step by step, in subzero temperatures, for months on end. Amazingly, both teams made it to the South Pole, Amundsen arriving more than a full one month ahead of Scott.  Amundsen was meticulous in his planning. Leaving supply depots as he went, Amundsen religiously marked his supply depots with flags pointing to them for miles on either side of each one. He only allowed his team to do cover 15 miles each day, which most days only took 4-5 hours, pacing themselves for the long journey. They took blizzards as a sign from God to hunker down and rest.

“I may say that this is the greatest factor—the way in which the expedition is equipped—the way in which every difficulty is foreseen, and precautions taken for meeting or avoiding it. Victory awaits him who has everything in order — luck, people call it. Defeat is certain for him who has neglected to take the necessary precautions in time; this is called bad luck.”  -Roald Amundsen

Captain Scott in his arrogance did not plan ahead. He gloried in improvisation. He took only the bare minimum amount of supplies, leaving no margin for error. His dumb luck only encouraged him in his arrogance. His team would manhaul in any weather, manhauling for 10-12 hours on most days, sometimes covering only 1/2 the distance that Amundsen and his team did. They wore ill-equipped English clothing that trapped in the sweat which then froze to their bodies, with boots that froze to their feet, literally. Although Scott and his team eventually made it to the South Pole, on their way home, fatigue and lack of planning finally caught up with them and they could not find one of their supply depots only a few days journey from their home base. They died together in their tent, freezing to death only a few miles from supplies that they could not find.

 Here are a few leadership questions I culled from this story:

  • Am I more like Scott or Amundsen? 
  • Do I take the time to plan well or do I enjoy flying by the seat of my pants?
  • Am I overconfident because of past success? 
  • Am I resistant to new ways of doing things? Am I forcing my team to manhaul, when there are obviously new means to do it? (Work Smarter not Harder) 
  • Do I somehow glory in heavy lifting; in “suffering for Jesus?” 
  • Do I have a teachable spirit? Am I hungry to learn?

Lots of good food for thought here, but I’ll leave you with one final interesting tidbit from the lives of Amundsen and Scott, perhaps the most surprising fact of the story. Both men had the same mentor. That’s right, a man named Fridtjof Nansen. Both men greatly admired this legendary Norwegian explorer and in some ways each wanted to be his successor. The big difference was that Amundsen listened to Nansen whereas Scott, ignored his mentor’s advice to bring “dogs, dogs and more dogs.” And that was perhaps indicative of Scott’s greatest downfall. His arrogance and overconfidence eventually cost him his life and the lives of his team.

Are you listening to the people in your life who are pressing you to change? Or do you continue to manhaul, causing both you and the people around you to suffer needlessly?

~Mark

 

Is your teen suffering from “Affluenza?”


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Lawyers for a teenager in Texas whose blood alcohol was more than three times the legal limit when he crashed into a group of people, killing 4, claim the teen was a victim of “affluenza.” Having grown up in a home where he was coddled by his wealthy parents, he developed a sense of entitlement and poor judgement, they theorized. His defense team even produced an expert witness who claimed the 16 yr. old was a victim of “affluenza;” spoiled to such an extent that he had never before faced legitimate consequences for his actions.

Dr. Richard Ross, professor of Youth Ministry at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and a legend in youth ministry circles, spoke on this very issue this week, in a Ted-Talk style presentation to the Youth Ministry Executive Council (YMEC). ymec2014

Dr. Ross contends we are raising a nation of wimps, with parents who have removed all consequences from their children’s lives. We have reared a generation who all got a trophy for participation, where everyone’s always a winner, and where the possibility of failure has virtually been eliminated from their lives. Helicopter moms of university students will even call professors to argue grades for their adult children. Is it any surprise then, when asked the question, “Are you an adult?” that 50% of all 25 yr olds responded definitively, “No.”

As parents of two young men, (now 19 and 22), my wife and I have learned that failure can be a fantastic teacher, if processed appropriately. In fact, some lessons, can only be learned through failure.

When parenting, you must resist the urge to protect your children from the natural consequences of their actions. Of course, there are times where wisdom dictates that you step in and keep your kids from drowning, but children must learn that there is a cause and effect to their actions. Christian parents especially tend to attempt to over-control their teenagers lives, to protect them from everything bad. But too much protection can actually harm your teenagers ability to succeed after they leave home, (if they ever leave).

Teenagers need to experience risk and reward, failure and consequences in appropriate ways. Richard Ross asks the question: “Where does risk and challenge exist in our society today for teenagers?” I agree with Dr. Ross. It is the reason I so believe in Adventure-Based Youth Ministry. Teens need to get out and experience the challenge of doing something outside their comfort zone. White Water Rafting, Rock Climbing, Kayaking, Hiking, Mountain climbing, Horse pack trips, Ice Climbing, Snowshoeing… Youth Dynamics and YD Adventures do all these things and more. I’ve watched my own boys grow in their confidence in themselves as well as deepen their personal relationship with God through adventure ministry. Let’s get our kids out from behind their screens, to experience LIFE and LIFE TO THE FULL!

~Mark

Read more about the story…“Teen paralyzed in ‘affluenza’ case to receive millions” by Todd Unger, USA Today, May 6, 2014

 

Seriously, Why don’t we Rest?


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Why don’t we Rest?

I just got finished with three Rest and Renewal type events in April. I put on one for our 45 Staff (and their spouse if they’re married), hosted one for Youth Workers in the region (Soulitude), and finally, attended one (Solwatch) for my wife and I to fill our tank.

Why do I do it?  Because I truly believe in the Value of Rest and Renewal.

#1) Our culture does not know how to rest. People in ministry especially do not know how to rest.

#2) Youth Workers need a place to decompress – I want to help keep you in youth ministry longer. I don’t apologize for times of rest. You shouldn’t either. Ministry is hard. Rest and Renewal are essential to maintaining your effectiveness over time.

But sometimes I get the feeling that in ministry we feel like we can’t enjoy life. Like somehow we think our congregations wouldn’t be happy with us if they knew we were taking a vacation or something. Personally, I never took a vacation in the summer until I’d been in youth ministry almost 10 years. In retrospect, that was not just ridiculous, it was foolish.

I had taken a job at a large church, and the Sr. Pastor had told me no matter how much we grew, I would be the only youth pastor on staff and I needed to learn to utilize volunteers. A few years later I was running separate midweek services for Jr High and High School, running Sunday School for both groups and had Student-led campus clubs going on in all the area High Schools. I was speaking 4 times a week, leading worship 3 times a week, recruiting and training a team of volunteer youth staff for both groups, planning and running events and had no secretarial or other staff support. Crazy, I know. It all came to a head one September after three consecutive weeks of working 90 hours a week. Exhausted and feeling like a failure, I walked into the Pastor’s office and with tears in my eyes said “I’m not going to quit, but I can see the edge of the cliff from here.” That was my come to Jesus moment with burnout.

How full is your tank right now?

Full, ¾, ½, ¼, or Fumes

“How long have you been running this way?”

Let me remind you of a few things you already know…

God rested.

Genesis 2:1-3
Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.

He commands us to rest.

Exodus 20:8-11
“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

Exodus 31:13 “Say to the Israelites, ‘You must observe my Sabbaths. This will be a sign between me and you for the generations to come, so you may know that I am the LORD, who makes you holy.

Exodus 16:29  “Bear in mind that the LORD has given you the Sabbath…”

Who is the Sabbath for? Reread that last verse again. For Him? No, for you. The Sabbath is for you!

So if God modeled rest & renewal, and he commands us to rest… then, why don’t we rest?

Ask yourself:

Why don’t you rest? In your world, what is it that prevents you from resting more?

All of Creation models rhythm & cycles; rest and renewal. The sun, moon & stars each have a cycle in relationship to the earth. The Seasons all have a rhythm to them: Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter, Spring again. The tides ebb and flow. Each day, each week, every month, all year, every year; has a cycle. Bears hibernate, salmon migrate, birds make their nest outside my office wall every spring. There is a rhythm and a cycle to all of life. When you run contrary to that cycle; life runs rough; and it takes it’s toll.

But Jesus offers us rest.

Matthew 11:28-30  “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

So, if your yoke isn’t easy and your burden isn’t light; then whose yoke are you bearing? And who put it on you? Because God didn’t. Was it you? Was it someone else?

Ruth Haley Barton has several works that have been of immense help to me with this issue.

From her book “Invitation to Solitude and Silence” she recalls a conversation with her Spiritual Mentor regarding her inability to rest. She told her,

“You are like a jar of river water all shaken up. What you need is to sit still long enough that the sediment can settle and the water can become clear.” (p29)

Rest is Biblical. And it’s not just a suggestion, it’s a command.
Don’t apologize for a healthy pace. Model it for your family, model it for the other staff at your church, model it for other Christ followers. and model it to the teens you work with.

Don’t wait. Rest, Renew, Refresh. Recharge. There’s never gonna be a time where there’s not more ministry to do. Put something rest and renewal on the calendar anywhere in the future and stick to it. You wanna know the real key to longevity in Youth Ministry? Pace yourself, it’s a long season.

~Mark


This was at Soulitude just a few weeks ago with 40 youth worker couples… ask me if you’d like to join us next year!

Lessons I learned in the backwash of being Fired by the Church.


I got fired from my dream job once. Well technically, I was “resigned.” If you’d been in ministry, you know how the all too familiar story goes, the details of my story are inconsequential. What’s important, is what I learned in failure’s wake. At the time, “getting resigned” was the most painful experience in my life to that point. I was hurt, defensive, disillusioned, disoriented… and I had to finish out the school year, 5 months away. It was brutal. For me, getting fired, even though I felt it was completely unjustified, taught me some valuable things.

1. Perspective is Everything

When I got resigned, it felt like it was the end of the world. Months later, I could see I was wrong. What looked like a really bad thing, in the rearview mirror, was actually God protecting me from a horrible chapter that was coming to that church. Even when it seems like God is not acting in our best interest, He is in fact, in that very moment, acting in our best interest. We just can’t see it yet.

2. I’m a Pastor whether I get paid for it or not

Getting fired, helped me discover that I was a Pastor whether or not I had a title or an office. I started to go to the same coffee shop every morning after I got resigned, and guess who became my congregation? You guessed it, the people in the coffee shop: the baristas, the owners, the customers. I naturally started to meet the needs of the people I came in contact with every day. I ministered to people I talked to. I prayed with some, counselled others. I even did a wedding for one of the baristas. I discovered  that I am a pastor because that’s what God wired me to do, not because I got paid to do it. My job no longer defined me. That was a fantastic discovery.

3. Getting fired humbled me a little.

It’s so easy to become arrogant in ministry, and it’s such a turn off. You get some success and you start to feel like it’s you.  You start to think you’re special. Your logical mind thinks “Sure, everyone is special, but I’m extra special because my ministry is growing more than everyone else I know.” That’s hogwash. It makes me wanna throw up. I can’t stand it now when I see guys in the pulpit who are full of themselves. Get fired and you’ll see. Ministry will go on without you. Yes God chooses to use you. But He could choose anyone. God allows us a front row seat for a time. It’s such a privilege to get to play a small part in eternal things. Don’t take it for granted. It may stop some day. And you know God can’t stomach arrogance either. (James 4:5-7)

4.  Some things you only learn through failure.

Failure can be a great teacher if you allow it to be. When I coached Jr. Tackle football, I remember during our practices, trying to get my son, who played cornerback, to make his first step backward on the snap. He was aggressive and very quick, and he wouldn’t listen. I warned him he would get burned someday. During our next game, it happened. A lightening fast receiver sprinted by him and wide open, caught a pass for a touchdown. My son came over to the sideline, head down, knowing he had failed, and was finally ready to receive instruction. I didn’t even need to say it. Failure was the teacher he needed to learn his lesson.  He never repeated that mistake again. He had learned his lesson through failure. In fact, I believe, there are some lessons we only learn through failure.

Lastly, remember, regardless of the human reasons that you “got resigned,” God’s hand is in it, guiding and directing you.

You can’t see it now. But it’s true. You will likely look back someday at this situation and think, “God’s hand was in this,” and “good stuff came out this super painful time.” I hope that encourages you. This doesn’t have to be fatal. God can redeem any pain for his glory. And He will, if you are faithful to go through the healing process.

I get a good laugh when I remember back to when the pastor who “resigned” me said I was too old for youth ministry. 14 years later, I’m still in Youth Ministry. Thank God I didn’t let anyone else’s word for me, define my calling.

Don’t let this define you. Get up. Brush off the dust, and keep going. You’re going to be fine. I remember an old youth pastor once told me, “you’re no one till you’ve been fired.” Welcome to the club my friend. You are not alone!

~Mark

Related post Youth Worker – You’re going to get fired someday. 

Youth Worker – You’re going to get fired someday.


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Or they’ll ask you to resign, or something like that. Maybe it will be your fault, maybe not. Most likely it won’t be over one big glaring mistake. And most likely there will be the public story and then there will be the story behind the story. Or maybe not, but people will wonder… “what’s the real reason?” I’ve had several friends lose their ministry jobs this month. Some ended well, some didn’t. Over the past 28 years of youth ministry, I’ve watched a lot of people come and go, and one thing I’ve learned; your job will end someday, and it’s rare when it ends well. The question is: How will you handle it, and what will you do when it does end? I remember when I got fired from my dream job. I had built a youth ministry from scratch at a megachurch.

The new Sr. Pastor took my wife and I out for breakfast one Saturday and out of left field told me I was finished. He used words like “unqualified, ineffective, too old.” I was shell-shocked. Blind-sided.

We’d been there 5 years and had seen phenomenal numerical growth and lots of transformational life change. It made no sense. He would let me resign, but I couldn’t tell anyone for 3 months and I needed to finish out the school year. It was brutal. Years later the man took me out for coffee and apologized, and said he was wrong for firing me. It’s been 14 years, and while I’ve long been over it, I remember it like it was yesterday.

Why does getting fired from a ministry job hurt so much?

Very few jobs are so intimately connected to your heart like a ministry job. Not only does getting fired make you question your work ethic and the quality of your work, but a ministry job is all tied up with your heart and your dreams, even your very relationship with Christ. We pray, we cry, we dream, we plan, we risk, we put everything we have into it. Like the Apostle Paul  we have “poured out our life as a drink offering.” So when it all goes south, its very difficult not to take it personally and feel like we are a failure as well.

As if that wasn’t enough, often times many of your closest friendships are in the church, for both you and your family, and there’s a tearing away, almost like a divorce, as friends decide if they will keep you in their lives or move on.

And then there’s that feeling of betrayal from the leadership, of promises broken, the disillusionment, the loss of innocence and idealism that you once had regarding the Church. At times those same feelings even bleed over into our relationship with God.

“I served you in this thankless job, and this is what I get?”

Here’s what I’d like to tell every Youth Worker to help you survive and to prepare for the day you get “resigned.”

Not to be too pessimistic, but if you go into ministry with correct expectations, it will be easier when you leave.

1. It’s part of the job.

If you’re going to be a pastor, youth pastor, worship leader, children’s pastor etc… getting fired comes with the territory. Like being a professional football coach or something, coaches come and go. You get your shot at building a successful program, but there comes a time when it needs to be someone else’s turn. Coaches usually get too much of the credit when a program wins, and too much of the blame when teams lose. Don’t take it personally. It’s part of the gig. It’s rare when the coach goes out on top to fanfare and celebration.

2. Take the high road. Always.

Don’t engage in finger pointing, in lashing out, in defending yourself. Don’t post something scathing online. Doing so never does what you hope it will, in fact, it does exactly the opposite. It diminishes you and your character. You are above that. Leave with class. If there’s judgement to be meted out, if there’s truth to be told, it’s not yours to deliver. Leave it to the sole Arbiter of Truth.

3. Learn the nugget of truth in your firing.

While the bulk of the reasons you got let go may not have merit, there is likely some core truth the Lord is trying to bring to your attention. It would be a huge mistake not to take full advantage of this teachable moment in your life. And when you’re good and ready, ask The Lord to show you what He’s trying to teach you. And if you can’t hear it from Him, ask your spouse or a really good friend!

4. Let the rest roll… like water off a duck’s back.

Take the core truth in, but let the rest of what’s being said bead up and roll off you. Do not absorb the rest of that polluted water into your being. Everything being said in this storm is not true or beneficial. Take the nugget and let the rest roll.

5. Refuse to get bitter.

Satan will lie to you and try to plant that bitter seed deep down in your soul where it will fester and grow. I did not want to be that guy who spat vile whenever the conversation touched that topic in the future. I refused to let Satan diminish the eternal work that was done while I was the youth pastor there. But refusing to get bitter is not a one time decision. Those bitter thoughts come daily, even hourly at first. Over and over you will have to make a conscious choice to not take in that bitter seed. Spit it out, every time. Lastly, don’t let it negatively impact your relationship with God or let it sour you on the local church. You work for Jesus, not for people. We are called to serve them whether they appreciate it or not. And in some sense, when you suffer pain at the hands of the Church, you are sharing in the sufferings of Christ. Like the Apostles, Luther, Bonhoeffer, Yaconelli… who all suffered abuse at the hands of the church. You are in good company.

Both of our sons have talked about going into full time ministry someday. They have had a front row seat to both the good and the bad in the church world. They’ve watched their dad have both success and failure, been treated well and mistreated. And they’ll serve anyway. And that’s my hope for you.

I know this. It always ends. And it very rarely ends well. Shake off the dust and serve anyway.

We are not looking for “Well done good and faithful” from their lips, but His.

~M

Related Post: “Lessons I learned in the backwash of being fired.”

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