Have you ever been in a teaching funk? Most teachers have, and it feels like I’m in one now! I love teaching God’s word and I am fortunate enough to be the primary teacher in our junior high ministry. Like most pastors, I’m critical of my own teaching. Not because I want to be perfect—there was only one guy who was perfect, and we don’t need another. I’m critical because I really love what I’m teaching and I know I’m not teaching moral living or the thoughts of a good teacher. I’m teaching lessons from God himself. His eternal plan for a fallen world is one that we need to share, not keep quiet or be jealous over—like Jonah. God’s word is serious, life-changing stuff. It’s not a joke, it’s not a part time thing, and it’s not a stepping stone to something better. Taking on the role of teacher is something that we will be judged very harshly on. Instead of running from that truth, I press into it in order to improve. You may be the same as me, always striving to get better and connect the truth of Jesus to people.
Because of the funk I am in right now, I am looking at thirteen different things to help get me out of it.
1. Admit you have a problem. Well, maybe it’s not a problem, but if you’re feeling like you’re in a struggling season, talk to someone about it. Talk to your supervisor, other pastors in town, or people whom you network with and have community with. Don’t sit in your office and stress over it, but instead, reach out to others who can encourage you and help.
2. Mentors. Do you have one? Do you have someone who has gone through the
same things as you? This isn’t just a teaching thing; this is a leader thing. Every good leader has to be mentored by someone with more time, experience, and wisdom.
3. Time alone with God. Are you getting filled up or are you just pouring out into others? Are you connecting with your Savior or just teaching about him? This may sound like a soft question, but it’s not. If you’re not with God, then you can’t know God. If you don’t know him, you can’t teach others about him. You can fake it for awhile, but that will eventually fail.
4. Content. Do you believe in what you are teaching? Whether it be curriculum that you’re teaching, or following the church teaching schedule. Are you being told what to write or writing your own content? Think over if you’re having a writers block or if you need better prep. In the end, if you don’t believe in the content than something needs to change
5. Prayer and Fasting. When was the last time you did this? Take a day and worry about one thing: connecting with Jesus. Go to Jesus in a few different ways and really connect with his heart as your God, his heart for you as a teacher, and as his son or daughter.
6. Read a book. Someone suggested that I read a book on teaching. I have to be honest: I have been in the same books for a while, and I haven’t read anything new. I’m going to get a new book this week to read from a different voice. Great idea, and one we don’t think of that often.
7. Take a break. If you have the ability to take a few weeks off of teaching to re-focus, get your passion back in some ways, get your head and heart right with God, then do it! Some love being the upfront guy too much to take a break, but unless you have people you are equipping to be a great teachers too, you are not doing the best for your ministry.
8. Your writing process. How are you writing and preparing for a lesson? Do you use an outline that you learned in college? Did you steal the style of a pastor you like? Really think over the process that you use, how you write, and where you could tweak it to get new outcomes.
9. In a routine. There are good routines and there are bad ones- ones that limit you, hold you back and squelch creativity. These are routines that you may want to re-think. Ask around for what works for other pastors and see if you can make some changes to your own routine. There is NOTHING wrong with a good routine, but when you are shackled by it, then it’s time to re-assess
10. Try something new. Maybe for you, trying something new means getting off of the stage and breaking that barrier. Maybe you will pull some students in to share their testimony and let students hear from other students. Whatever it is, try something different. Shake it up, and see new results.
11. Trust in the Holy Spirit. When you are down on yourself, know this: The Holy Spirit will move. Anything that our students get out of our lessons is because the Holy Spirit is at work, so take heart! Our best prepared lessons can fall on deaf ears, and the Holy Spirit can use our worst-prepared messages for amazing things.
12. Ask others. Record your lessons, and ask others to listen and give you feedback. Invite them to your room when you’re teaching so they can give great feedback too. Don’t feel it’s week to ask others; don’t think that they’re really thinking in their mind how much better they are than you, because they won’t be. Just get others who are willing to hear and speak quality into your life.
13. Don’t compare. When I was at Catalyst West, Jon Acuff said “Don’t compare your beginning to someone else’s middle.” I get the opportunity to work at a great influential church with many world-class pastors and teachers. It makes it easy to compare yourself to others, you try to do your ministry while imitating other pastor styles and try to emulate their ministry. “Be you” is the lesson I got from Evan Gratz, one of the pastors on staff. Just be you. That’s a lesson that I’m still learning, but I know it’s one we as pastors share. This is a little clip from Matt Chandler that really brings this point out. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zhFOkuQ3uvA.
I want to hear your ideas. Connect with me and share or leave a comment at the bottom of this post.
Teaching is important and we can all get better together.
By Theresa Mazza
My honeymoon phase in youth ministry was exactly what I imagined it would be. A giddy newlywed, I was absolutely head-over-heels in love with my new life as a youth pastor, and enjoyed an early blissful marriage to my youth group. I felt fulfillment and purpose. And I had no doubt that I was perfectly in the center of God’s will for my life.
I was 22 years old—the first female youth pastor ever hired at the church I was serving. I was doing everything a youth pastor should: my lessons were biblical and interactive, my events were fun, the parents were happy, and our discipleship program was impressively attended. Every mark my supervisor wanted me to hit, I hit. I did this by developing a core group of students. I’d witnessed this type of leadership investment before and knew it would work here. These teenagers were absolutely on fire for God and very active in every part of the ministry.
The investment was paying off. My core group served their guts out. They worshipped every Sunday night as if it were their last day on earth. They were faithful followers and hard-core student leaders. And they made me look good… really good. My ego was, well, healthy. And I knew—just knew—that I’d be the youth pastor at this church for a very long time.
But then God decided it was past-time for the honeymoon to end. A cloud of dissatisfaction settled over me, and it dawned on me that I was not the perfect youth pastor serving a youth group full of perfect teenagers. There was a kind of dark underbelly to all of my “success”:
• I called some kids by name and others by my default greeting: “Hey man.”
• While our core group was worshipping like crazy, the rest of the group sat patiently on the sideline for 30 minutes as our leaders talked over and around them.
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Not every day is an easy day in student ministries. Anyone who is even two months in on a good internship can tell you that. Well, today was a day and a half for me. While I won’t go into why, I will go into what I learned from this difficult day. Anyone can choose to do a tough day alone, with Jesus, or with their spouse. Occasionally, going it alone will be okay; other times, one may suffer for choosing to go solo. Moreover, moving through a difficult day with a team can also be varied in a few key ways. Recently, the team that I am a part of has been faced with a couple of rocky days—emergencies with students, families, and each othe…all things that are normal in any church environment.
However, today was different in that the whole team was in the office, and we all dealt with the emotion of the situation at the same time. For us, timing was key.
I learned a few things today:
It’s good to have a team that has your back. Maybe your team is made up of staff in your department, or maybe it’s your church staff working as a team, or maybe your team is made up of elders and veteran volunteers. Any of those options can make a great team. If you don’t have a team, find one! If you feel there is a rift in your team right now, be part of the solution to fix it!
Moments of honesty are healthy. You need to have moments where you can speak freely with your team. Be wise and don’t let this become gossip, because we all know that it can. However, as a team, with trust and confidentiality, you should be able to be honest. Speak your mind, vent if you have to. If you don’t have some one to vent to, find someone pronto!
It’s good not be a workaholic. While I am sure that the idea of being a workaholic is a blog post all in itself, being part of team and having people in your life that don’t let you become a “non-stop worker” is a good thing. It means they care for you and don’t want to see you burn out. Listen to them, and be willing to speak it back to them if need be.
It’s good to laugh together. After our tough day, I sent a funny video around to everyone in hopes that they would laugh. The winning idea is that there will be more bad days, not just one, not just ten, but MANY. So if you take every shot personally, if you let it be the issue on every team members mind, you’re doing a disservice to the team. Have fun. We all need to have that now and then, especially after a bad day.
It’s necessary to take time to process. Whether the struggles are related to volunteer leaders, students, or parents, make sure you know the process or chain-of-command, to make sure that you’re not making it up as you go along. When tough things happen, it’s easy to be flustered and shocked, especially if it really is unexpected. I know that every situation is different, but guess what: If you have some idea of what to do in a given situation, you at least have a starting point or a lead staffer that can delegate what needs to be done.
What do you think? What am I leaving out? What do you do after a bad day at the office? Share some tips and tricks for other youth workers like me to use for next time. Trust me, there will be a next time; the only question is: Will you be prepared?
Justin Herman is currently serving as the Director of Ministry for Jr. High at Mariners Church (@marinerschurch) in Irvine, CA. Mariners is a large multi-campus church serving the people and needs of orange county. Their vision is, “transforming ordinary people, into passionate followers of Jesus, courageously changing the world.” He has been in youth ministry for eight years in various roles from intern to full time. His passion is students. You can connect with Justin on Twitter @HeyJustinHerman or on Facebook.com/heyjustinherman or follow his blog heyjustinherman.com
For the last 13 years I’ve been a volunteer; I started out in college ministry because I was in college, but my pastor asked me to try youth ministry because, and I quote, “Your humor is more on their level.” I resisted; I said no. I almost swore…and I never swear. I did not like middle-schoolers.
It wasn’t until a really cute girl leader invited me to check it out that I tried it, hoping that she’d date me. She never did. But I was hooked: Youth ministry would be my passion for the next decade and beyond. I struggled hard to be the most faith-filled, capable volunteer that anyone had ever seen—so good that they would have to hire me to be a middle school pastor or something…anything with a title. Did I mention I’ve been a volunteer for 13 years—only a volunteer? Those dreams never happened.
Did I mention I’m divorced? Yeah, that was kind of another thing that happened in there. I poured so much energy into my ministry that I burnt myself out. I worked hard at everything I did so that people would take notice and become so wrapped up in how amazing I was that they would pay me to be awesome in ministry for the rest of my life. In the midst of my burnout I made increasingly poor decisions, which led me to moving to a foreign country (Canada) and marrying a girl—one I couldn’t even tell you why I loved. We were just so good at kissing and snuggling that our relationship was perfect! (read with sarcasm)
Six months after our summer wedding I carried my suitcase and a box on a cold winter evening into the Calgary International Airport. My mind was swirling around how it could have gotten so bad this quick. I tried hard to be the perfect husband but, within weeks of returning from our honeymoon, I was a failure. Appearances were great, people would always comment on how much we were in love and how perfect we were for each other. We led worship at our church, I taught the boys sunday school class, and I spoke occasionally for church. Did I mention everything was perfect? It wasn’t.
In the months after moving back in with my parents I tried to figure out how to revive a marriage that had never lived. I tried to get a job but hit road blocks at every step. Every dream I had ever had was a complete failure. I was divorced, I had no ministry, I lived in my parents’ basement, I was broke, and unemployed. What would have been my first anniversary came and went as did my 30th birthday. Still broke, still unemployed, still no ministry, still no purpose…
That’s when God began to work in earnest, or rather, that’s when I realized that God had been working in earnest all along. You see, everything had been for my benefit. It was open heart surgery without anesthetic and I was going to live; the surgery was on my need for approval and acceptance. I had looked for it in accomplishments and relationships, in jobs and friends.
When my pain and discouragement was at its worst I began to pursue God. I got on my face daily praying that I could know Him. The Gospel became my only preoccupation. In the midst of this I found myself in conversations where God was speaking through me to explain the Gospel to people, to students, former students, leaders, friends, strangers.
I returned to volunteer ministry with a new fire and humility. God tells me what to say and I say it; He tells me what to do and I do it. The rest is up to Him; the work is up to Him; students’ hearts are up to Him. There are two kinds of faith: human faith that believes in what it thinks God can do, and faith that comes from God, which can do abundantly more than we ever hope or ask. Our human faith limits God, but God’s faith has no limit.
Did I mention I’m not there yet? I vacillate between these two faiths on a daily basis; my goal before I die is to live one day of my life where I have done more in God’s faith than I have done in my own. So I press on to reach the goal that God has called me to, forgetting everything that holds me back I lock eyes with Christ to walk above the troubled waters of youth ministry and spread the Gospel of peace. I hope you will do the same.