Another tragedy and why youth need “a safe and friendly place”

Praying Youth

I woke this morning to the news. Another mass shooting.

The first thing I did was hug my kids. I decided not to tell them right away what had happened. Our time together in the morning is a time of peacefulness and preparation. Each weekday, we have breakfast together – without the TV or radio – and pack lunches and backpacks. Each day, Amy and I tell our boys we love them as we drop them off for school.

Our youth group meets in a few days. In the meantime, we’ll tell our boys that God loves them, but I’m grateful our boys will hear from our faith community about how God grieves, just like us, when human-caused tragedies occur. Lord, in your mercy…

I’m thinking of all our partner churches today, and the youth they serve. I am thinking especially of one church that asked YMIM for some strategic planning support last week. By a large margin, members of the church advocated that their youth ministry should be a “safe and friendly place for youth.” Over 60 percent of those surveyed prioritized this value.

Frankly, I couldn’t agree more with this congregation. The news was especially hard this weekend before today’s news. In our community, a teenage girl took her life on Friday in the hallways of the school she attended. Our family visited St. Louis over the weekend, where protesters again filled the streets, chanting disappointment with a judicial verdict that was race-related.

I am thankful that our youth group is a “safe and friendly place for youth.” YMIM has a small mailing list, so as I read through the names – possibly including your name – I share a prayer that each congregation may also be this beacon of hope, grace, and faithfulness for young people in our communities. Please let me know if I can help.

– Matt Vaughan, YMIM Director
matt@yminstitute.com

Four Case Studies

Midwest Students

Four Case Studies

by Matt Vaughan, Midwest Director for YMI

(Photo: Four YMI Midwest students attend our Foundational Retreat on August 31–September 1, 2015. Note that these students aren’t the churches in this article, but they do have similar stories.)

I spent some time this summer with two pastors and two youth ministers that have very successful youth programs. They are Presbyterian, Methodist, and Baptist (there’s a parachute or light bulb joke in there somewhere!). I asked them, “why is your youth ministry so successful?” They all said the same thing – their churches make youth ministry a priority.

They shared their case studies with me. One saw his youth ministry increase in size last year after the congregation focused on growth and invested in its family ministry budgets; one youth minister has been at his church for longer than five years and oversees a healthy and stable youth ministry; and one sent her entire youth group on an international mission trip for less than $300 per student, thanks to a church-wide fundraising effort to support the youth group.

A fourth pastor with a renewing youth ministry said that she’s seeing the culture change at her church. Youth ministry hadn’t always been important. She said her church “made youth ministry our highest priority in 2014, and our youth ministry really took off after we partnered with YMI. In fact, we’re now planning our first mission trip in years.”

Two of the churches I mentioned are clients of YMI. Two are not. All have successful youth ministry because these churches make it an investment.

YMI partners with successful youth ministers and pastors to coach and teach for us. YMI partners with other churches to stabilize, grow, and renew youth ministry. These partnerships are successful because we support local churches in addition to training their youth ministers.

Which of these four case studies is similar to your church’s ministry setting? Or, is youth ministry a priority at your church? How can YMI help?

 

Posted by Matt Vaughan

Grieving Takes Time

Me on the beach

Grieving Takes Time

I wrote a short essay about death and transition 367 days ago. My words were raw, but I wasn’t ready to share my thoughts publicly. It’s been a year. Grieving takes time.

How do you cope with grief? How do you help your students cope with grief?

Those questions were part of my dilemma. Read on, and know that today I’m in a much better place. I’ll close the blog with an update below.

Last Year – August 12, 2014:

I read scripture at memorial services for two of my former youth in the last couple of months. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Both were in their 20s. Both deaths happened too soon – one was due to an accident and the other was due to an illness. It was after each of these services that I broke down – when I remembered spending weeks with them on mission trips and Sundays with them at youth group.

Losses like these usually don’t hit me hard until after the fact. I like to be a helpful and calming presence when I’m visiting with families and friends – even in a hospital room or in a home experiencing crisis. I’m used to pushing aside my own feelings of loss to care for those around me. It’s not easy, but it’s a skill that I learned over the years in ministry.

This (last) spring, as Youth Ministry Institute Midwest ramped up, I transitioned from being a paid youth minister to a volunteer. Once again, I pushed aside my own feelings until long after the fact. I love building relationships with young people on retreats and deepening those relationships each week with spiritual and formational programming. How will that change, now that I’m a volunteer?

I finally realized this week that once again I was dealing with the grief of saying goodbye to my youth group. My sadness about losing two former students accentuated my grief.

Jesus teaches us that he is with us “until the end of the age,” even as he transitioned from human life to eternal life. His model for ministry is hard to live up to, isn’t it?

Today – August 14, 2015:

It’s been a year. If I were to rewrite my closing words I would choose Romans 8:38–39 instead of Matthew 28, for “nothing will separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Yes, Jesus is with us “to the end of the age,” but Jesus teaches more than just ministry of presence. It is His love that sustains us; His grace that heals us.

I still think about those two young adults and I pray for their families. I think it was harder to grieve alone, without the presence of my youth group every week to share grace and support. Grieving takes time.

I’ve made the transition from paid youth ministry to being a volunteer. It turned out to be a great adjustment, but it took some time to accept. Grieving takes time.

My wife and I both volunteer in our youth group – she volunteers almost every week and I’ve helped out with mission days, a lock-in, and a retreat. It’s a good thing. Now we both are active in our church’s youth group. We are grateful for the opportunity, especially since our oldest son is in 8th grade. It’s been a blast for us to be a part of a ministry that gives life.

It took time to move forward. It took time to heal from the loss of my former students. It took time to love new opportunities.

Today I love my job. I love being a volunteer. I love seeing my son thrive in his youth group, and hearing about my wife’s experiences as a volunteer.

Yes, grieving takes time. I thank God for healing grace.

– Matt Vaughan, regional director, YMI Midwest

Avoiding the Bad Hire

Bad Hire

I’ve spoken with at least eight pastors in five different states over the last month. All of them are searching for a new youth minister.

            All of them want the same thing.

You might think they want a relational youth minister with experience and all the bells and whistles.

            Of course. But that’s not only thing.       

What they also want is to avoid the opposite – they want to avoid making a bad hire.

Because church ministry is so relational, hiring a new youth minister can become emotional for search committees. The committee might love the “crazy fun youth leader” who has a game for every occasion and overlook the quiet candidate who excels at building relationships and challenging students to deepen their relationships with Christ. Which leader is the right fit for your church?

I’ve met nearly a hundred youth ministers in the last two years. Many of them are highly skilled, and they have a variety of gifts.

  • Some are relational… but aren’t necessarily organized.
  • Others are delegators and organizers… but aren’t necessarily warm and fuzzy.
  • Some are empowerers that can find great volunteers… but aren’t necessarily focused.
  • Others are strong leaders… but aren’t necessarily gifted with volunteers.
  • And most can fit into the role of the “crazy fun youth leader.”

Just as every youth minister is different, every church is different. Every stereotype listed above can thrive in a “best fit” ministry setting. Which leader is the right fit for your church?

Back to the search process – here’s a few thoughts I’ve shared with pastors recently:

  • It might be better to head into the Fall semester without a leader rather than settle on a ho-hum candidate and risk making a bad hire.
  • Are there other candidates out there whom you’re failing to reach? In other words, are you just posting the job or are you marketing it?
  • How are you designing your interview questions to discern the right fit for your church?
  • What are you willing to give up? Experience? A college degree? A denominational affiliation? What if the “best fit” candidate just needed a little training?
  • Are you stuck? How can I help?

None of us want to make the “bad hire,” and none of us want to be that person. Of course YMI offers support to local churches – phone calls are always free, and we offer a wide range of services to support local churches.

But the greater implication is that churches, like any nonprofit or people-oriented business, need to invest time into training their search committees. Every candidate strives to be likable. Churches that find the “best fit” in just a few short interviews are intentional, prepared, and prayerful. Churches with these qualities succeed at avoiding the bad hire.

– Matt Vaughan, regional director, YMI Midwest

Education can learn a lot from iTunes

Cassette

Posted by Matt Vaughan, in Kansas, as he listens to his 1980s boom box…

My basement is a mess.

I can almost see your mental image, because I was just down there. We’ve got children’s clothes stashed along the wall. A bike with a flat tire sits in front of my old boombox. There’s another box of old coffee cups and glasses that we plan on setting out in a garage sale this summer.

Next to my boombox is a treasured box of old cassettes. Remember those? There was a day when we’d line up at the record store to buy a newly-released LP or cassette of our favorite band. That was during my teenage years. Journey was one of my favorite bands.

My 13-year-old son loves Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin.” The song was released 34 years ago on 8-track, LP, and cassette (the CD player wasn’t released for another two years!). My son looked incredulous when I set up the tape player recently. In the time it took to rewind my cassette, he bought the classic song on iTunes.

The song is still relevant, but the context changed.

Education is that way, too.

For example, my father worked for 39 years at the same company. He was highly educated when he took the job and he kept up on his education over the years as technology changed. The person that replaced him has a different kind of education. Instead of a degree, my dad’s replacement was trained in a specific skillset.

Education is more relevant than ever, but the context is changing. Education can learn a lot from iTunes.

This evolving format of education is nicknamed by some as “just-in-time education.” The Washington Post recently ran a piece about this on April 13, 2015 (Are master’s degrees on their way out? Alternatives grow as enrollment fades, by Jeffrey J. Selingo).

The author writes, “Until now, if you needed additional training to get ahead in your job or switch careers, you had little choice but to enroll in a graduate or certificate program at a local college or online…most of all, the programs were expensive, and came with little, if any, financial aid from the colleges, which saw them as cash cows.”

The article continues by saying “the graduate and professional education market is ripe for disruption.” I think the same thing is true about how we educate and train church staff who serve in youth ministry.

Youth ministers need practical, just-in-time training more than ever. Two Duke Divinity professors and a United Methodist bishop wrote an article last year (Mainline Protestantism and Disruptive Innovation in Youth Ministry, February 24, 2014) that “many congregations have all but walked away from the field, allocating minimal resources to youth programs and hiring people with little theological training to lead them.”

The writers go on to say that “the lack of theological education among those who serve and lead adolescents going through one of life’s most developmentally important seasons is a travesty. Approximately 70 percent of full-time youth ministers have no theological education, according to one recent survey.”

You probably know where this is going. Youth Ministry Institute disrupts the traditional model of education with practical training and personalized coaching. We meet the need of providing quality training and theological education for youth ministers who enroll in our program.

As a result, these youth ministers stay longer in their jobs and their youth groups grow substantially – usually more than double.

One year ago, a pastor at one of our Midwest client churches said, “I am not persuaded that any other program even comes close to offering the depth and richness of YMI. There is still quite a bit of “creative thinking” we would need to do on the topic of how to work it into the budget, but that should really be the least of our concerns – it seems – when it comes to building a solid foundation for this church and its youth ministry for years and years to come.”

I love that quote. The church enrolled in our program, and one year later, great things are happening in youth ministry at that church. The church’s needs were immediate, and Youth Ministry Institute Midwest provided a relevant context to meet those needs, just-in-time.

Speaking of time, I need to go and flip the cassette to hear “Don’t Stop Believin’.”

By Matt Vaughan, Midwest Regional Director

Growing a Youth Group

Large Group - Sunday Morning

Numbers are tricky and often difficult to analyze. Sometimes the pastor or parents want to know “how many youth are attending?” It can be hard to quantify, especially if you have different areas of programming.

We all want to grow our youth group. It’s part of our calling – to share the good news of Jesus Christ!

But we’ve also seen the statistic that only 8% of youth in today’s culture are devoted to their faith. Our culture doesn’t value faith and religion like it once did. Youth have more choices about how to spend their time. Growing a youth group is getting harder!

To effectively grow a ministry, we need to focus on Jesus’ example of mountaintop experiences. Jesus preached the Beatitudes on the mountain, he was transfigured on the mountain, and he went to the mountain to pray. Those were transformative experiences that shaped Jesus’ ministry. But the majority of Jesus’ ministry happened in the valley. People live in the valley, and they occasionally visit the mountain. Jesus did most of his ministry in the valley, in the presence of people, near their homes.

Every week, we plan youth group, Sunday school, and other weekly youth events. Those are valley experiences, because those are our “home” ministry experiences.

And, usually in the summer, we plan a mission trip or camp. We look forward to that experience all year. It is our mountaintop experience!

Most youth ministers accentuate the mountaintop experiences, because they only happen once a year. It’s exciting! Join us! Travel with us! Jesus’ example is to use the mountaintop experience to shape the ministry that we do every week – ministry at home.

On your next mountaintop experience, ask your youth to help plan the evening devotions. Ask them to help plan the menu. Ask them to help plan your group outing or activity on the free afternoon.

Then, ask them to keep doing it as part of a youth leadership team that meets all year. They’ll get excited about their youth group. They’ll be more devoted. They’ll claim ownership. They’ll bring their friends. It will take time, but your youth group will grow!

Need more ideas? Check out our Executive Director’s blog post on how to nurture different-sized youth groups, from 10 to 90 youth.

Fact: churches that partner with Youth Ministry Institute often see their youth groups DOUBLE in size during the tenure of their YMI-trained youth minister.

 

Matt Regional YMI DirectorMatt Vaughan is the regional director for Youth Ministry Institute Midwest. Matt previously served as a youth minister for over 18 years at three churches with varied memberships of 350 to 4,500 members. During his career, he planned over 70 trips, taught 700 confirmation students, and hired 45 interns (of which 18 pursued vocational ministry). He began his career at at United Methodist church and most recently served a Presbyterian church. Matt received theological education from Saint Paul School of Theology in Kansas City and was later certified as a school teacher by the University of Missouri – Saint Louis. He is a graduate of theUniversity of Kansas. Matt and his wife, Amy, live in Prairie Village, Kansas with their two sons. When they are not at a basketball game or tennis match, they yearn to hike, camp, or ski in Colorado and Arizona.

You’re Just a Temp

What happens if they stay?

If you’re in the workforce you’re just a temp – a “temporary employee.” 

It’s true. Sooner or later, you’ll leave and somebody else will assume your job responsibilities. You might stay 2 years, 5, or 8 years, but you’re still a “temp.” It happens in all vocations, especially in youth ministry.

There’s no such thing as a “permanent hire.”

In fact, being a “temp” could actually increase the urgency for any of us to succeed, because the work that we do has permanence.

The question in the above graphic is a common one for churches. Youth ministers don’t have a reputation for staying very long. The statistic that only 30% of youth ministers stay at their job for more than two years probably won’t surprise you.

Churches ask, “what happens if we develop our youth minister and then he/she leaves us?”

What happens if we don’t, and he/she stays?

The work of an effective youth minister has permanence.

This is why Youth Ministry Institute exists. We develop leaders that grow youth groups for many years. We’ve certified 36 youth ministers in nine years, and 80 percent have stayed at their church for longer than five years or are still at the church that hired them. Training youth ministers has permanence.

There are huge benefits from our program for churches and youth groups, even in the first year of partnering with YMI. Volunteers are engaged. New ideas are introduced to the congregation. Youth ministers are more motivated to succeed. Those benefits grow over time.

That’s why we ask the question, “what happens if we invest in developing leaders, and they stay?”

 

Matt Regional YMI DirectorMatt Vaughan is the regional director for Youth Ministry Institute Midwest. Matt previously served as a youth minister for over 18 years at three churches with varied memberships of 350 to 4,500 members. During his career, he planned over 70 trips, taught 700 confirmation students, and hired 45 interns (of which 18 pursued vocational ministry). He began his career at at United Methodist church and most recently served a Presbyterian church. Matt received theological education from Saint Paul School of Theology in Kansas City and was later certified as a school teacher by the University of Missouri – Saint Louis. He is a graduate of theUniversity of Kansas. Matt and his wife, Amy, live in Prairie Village, Kansas with their two sons. When they are not at a basketball game or tennis match, they yearn to hike, camp, or ski in Colorado and Arizona.

What’s New? YMI Midwest!

YMI_MidWest

YMI_MidWestPlease allow myself to introduce… myself. I’m Matt Vaughan. My friends call me Mattvaughan.

You read that right — over time, my name became one word. In fact, I’ve been Mattvaughan since I was in youth group. It was years before I realized it. My youth minister called me Mattvaughan. My classmates called me Mattvaughan. My teachers called me Mattvaughan. Same with my college friends, kids in the youth group I led, and even my in-laws. Why doesn’t anybody call me Matt?

Well, duh. I never introduced myself that way. It wasn’t intentional.

And that was the dilemma.

Doing the same thing, over and over again, can be comfortable. The dilemma for me wasn’t the way I was introducing myself, it was the way I was approaching my vocation as a youth minister. Recently, I began to feel the Holy Spirit pushing me in a new direction, and I had to be faithful about that.

Paul teaches us in 2 Corinthians 5:17 that with Christ, the new creation has come… “the old has gone, the new is here!” I believe scripture pushes us to be faithful by seeking renewal. So, let me reintroduce myself.

I’m Matt. I’m the new Site Director for YMI Midwest. The Youth Ministry Institute is expanding, and it’s exciting! A great team of youth ministers, board members, pastors, churches, and friends are launching YMI in Kansas City. Don’t worry, YMI Florida isn’t going anywhere. In fact, our team is especially grateful to the board of YMI Florida for backing this project. We are using the next ten months to build a network of churches, partners, and instructors so that we can welcome our first class of students to YMI Midwest in August 2014.

YMI Midwest is new, and it’s here!

Paul continues in the scripture by saying in verse 18 that “All this is from God.” So today, and every day, join me in turning to God for direction. We’ve got to be faithful about that, and we’ve got to help each other by being intentional. Help us discern our call to follow the Holy Spirit. Pray for us. We’ll pray for you. Drop me a note with advice or to introduce yourself. Spread the word. The new is here!

 

Matt Regional YMI DirectorMatt Vaughan is the regional director for Youth Ministry Institute Midwest. Matt previously served as a youth minister for over 18 years at three churches with varied memberships of 350 to 4,500 members. During his career, he planned over 70 trips, taught 700 confirmation students, and hired 45 interns (of which 18 pursued vocational ministry). He began his career at at United Methodist church and most recently served a Presbyterian church. Matt received theological education from Saint Paul School of Theology in Kansas City and was later certified as a school teacher by the University of Missouri – Saint Louis. He is a graduate of theUniversity of Kansas. Matt and his wife, Amy, live in Prairie Village, Kansas with their two sons. When they are not at a basketball game or tennis match, they yearn to hike, camp, or ski in Colorado and Arizona.