How Google and Facebook Divided Our Nation

chasm

We all saw it coming.  Oh, we didn’t know who was going to win this presidential election.  We may have put our hopes into one candidate.  But, nobody was really confident of a landslide victory.  We still saw it coming – this ever widening chasm between people.  No matter who won this election, there were going to be demonstrations and protests.

A long time ago I thought that there were simply disagreements among people regarding particular issues because the words “liberal” and “conservative” never fully defined the differences of opinion.  I knew plenty on both sides of the political spectrum that had nuanced opinions.  For instance some would say I am a “fiscal conservative but liberal on social issues.”

I’m not sure when it happened.  But, slowly people’s opinions became more rigid.  Beliefs became facts.

I have always prided myself as standing in the middle.  I resonated with being fiscally conservative and accountable.  It seemed as if reasonable systems insured our safety and our future.  I don’t believe in entitlement funding.  But, I do believe in investing in people who are on the margins of society and are without resources.  They are of value.  I am a typical American, a descendant from immigrants.  So, I have no problem granting a way for people to enter our country to attach to the American dream as my ancestors did.  I especially am moved by those that live in war torn countries and have been forced to be refugees.  I will never experience their pain and displacement.  And, I feel an obligation to them as a fellow human being.  All I am saying is that before this election I have consistently voted for the same number of Democrats as Republicans.

I understand that those of you on the right will consider me on the left and those on the left will consider me too far right.  I get that.  I have endured criticism from both sides because of my centrist views.

However, I am not in the middle anymore.  The middle doesn’t exist.

Two events happened in the last two months that allowed me to draw this conclusion.  I was in the car with a buddy of mine for two hours.  Our conversation shifted to politics at some point during our time together.  He used the word “leftist” when referring to well respected newspapers like the New York Times and the Washington Post.  His source documents came from the Drudge Report, which is a compilation of links to news stories selected by Matt Drudge.  After looking at his site, Drudge would probably be classified as a “rightist” if there were such an equally derogatory word.  Obviously, my buddy and I were working from two separate sources in forming our opinions.

The other event involved my wife.  She made a comment to me about her news feed on her phone.  She talked about how her feed gave her the articles she wanted to read.

Then it hit me.  Twenty years ago 50% of Americans would wake up and walk out to their driveway to pick up a nicely wrapped gift.  It was called a newspaper.  Every city had at least one newspaper company that would carefully determine the information in which the residents in the community might be most interested.  There were ethical guidelines for journalists (which still exist to some degree).  People felt relatively confident that the newspaper didn’t lie to them.  The job of the newspaper was to reveal the entire story and report it accurately, relying on verifiable facts.  Opinion pieces were limited and relegated to the opinion page of the paper.  To be an opinion columnist, one had to be considered one of impeccable journalistic pedigree.  In each community we all had the same source documents.  Our discussions emanated from the same facts.

It probably started with shock jocks on the radio and television shows that tested the boundaries of rational thoughts some twenty years ago.  It has definitely culminated in a wide open internet where the user can choose from a wide array of source documents from which to draw conclusions.  In some ways our culture has flipped the script here.  Most of us find source documents that support our already drawn conclusions.  Let’s be honest.  Our conclusions are more firmly based on our own cultural bias and skewed points of view.

Take the second amendment for example.  If we own a gun and want to retain that right, we will search out source documentation to support what we want to continue to do.  And the more fearful we are of that right being taken away from us, the more we put our stock into extreme hyperbolic source documents to support our desire.  Those are the stories that engage our emotions, igniting our passion.  Our emotional investment in an issue shields us from considering other sources that run counter to our invested beliefs.

Enter Google and Facebook.  These companies have carefully developed algorithms to make it easier for us to find the things we like.  When I purchase something or search for something in my browser, Google knows what I have done.  Google makes sure that those items I am looking for move to the top of my searches.  Facebook tracks my interests also.  My feed on Facebook is largely determined by those topics and persons with whom I engage.  The advertisements are placed there because of my previous behavior on my browser and by what I like on Facebook.  We are only fed what we have previously consumed.  The information that comes to us in our Facebook or news feed is information we want to read about.  Our opinions are being reinforced by other sources in line with what we have read previously, thereby bolstering our confidence that our opinion and facts we read are correct.  Therefore, the chasm between our opinions and the opposing opinions grows wider.  We literally never read the source documents of those who disagree with us.  And, if we do read opposing sources, we devalue them because our source documents have told us to do so.

If our facts are flawed and they become the foundation of our beliefs and subsequent actions, we are personally in deep trouble.  We become unknowingly manipulated by what we think is true.

And if we are only fed the information we believe to be true without balancing opinions and perspectives from the other side, then our society is in deep trouble.  It becomes unavoidable.  The chasm only widens with two sets of starkly different facts based on opposing sources, not just a difference opinion on singular issues.  This shapes opposing ideologies, without hope of reconciliation.

When I was with my friend for those two hours in the car, I realized we have formed a very different understanding of what America is and should be based on the sources we are reading.  He isn’t a bad guy.  I like him.  But, I’m not sure how our ideas of America will ever come together.

This is sad and depressing for our country.  The chasm is so deep and wide.  As a person who used to be in the middle and one who values discussion from differing points of view, I hope the narrative will change.  We need effective leadership that will bridge the divide.  Leadership can emanate from elected leaders, though they are bound by political party affiliation and the voters who placed them in office.  Leadership can come from religious leaders.  But, they too have their sets of facts and source documents, limiting their effectiveness and credibility.  So, how about it, Google and Facebook?  Can you change the algorithms and begin to bring us all back together?

Or, possibly, each of us should take some responsibility in our own communities, both virtual and real.  What if we were to once again agree on principles that might span religious belief and ideological concepts thereby building a foundation to discuss these important issues?  What if we were to challenge our sources and the facts as they measure up to these principles?  What do you think?

New Minimum Salary Law and the Church

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In May the Fair Labors Standards Act (FSLA) was updated (from 2004) to raise the minimum salary of exempt (from overtime) employees from $23,660 annually to $47,476.  This will go into effect on December 1, 2016, according to the Department of Labor. This means for employees making below the minimum, the employer will have to determine how to characterize the position and/or salary.  Some are asking questions about how this might affect church employees.

Now is the time for the disclaimer.  This isn’t a legal opinion, nor is it binding.  Practice and judicial interpretation may alter how the FSLA is interpreted.

There are a few things that are important to know about the FSLA.  The Act was originally adopted in 1936 as a way to combat unfair labor practices during The Depression.  It applied primarily to commercial businesses. The judicial system has interpreted its scope over the years to also protect church employees who are engaged in commercial business, as well as custodians and administrative personnel in local churches.  Here are some additional web sites that may help when you are conversing about the FSLA.

https://www.dol.gov/whd/overtime/final2016/nonprofit-guidance.pdf

https://www.councilofnonprofits.org/trends-policy-issues/overtime-regulations-and-the-impact-nonprofits

After reading a few articles and some judicial cases, it seems there will be three options churches and employees may choose.

  1. The church may interpret the new law as binding for all of their exempt employees, thus raising salaries to the minimum $47,476 mandated by the law. This may result in fewer employees and more responsibility given to those who are left.  It is doubtful if many churches will go in this direction.
  2. The church may change the status of employees (making below the minimum) to non-exempt. This means they are eligible for overtime.  This is a great strategy for the church to compensate workers who work a consistent 40 hour work week or less, thus never incurring overtime.   Therefore, the wages of these individuals will not change even though they make below the new minimum.  Only their status will change.
  3. The church may lower wages and allow for overtime. This will cause churches and employees to calculate when their busiest times of year fall, planning for higher compensation during these periods.  For youth ministers who spend entire weekends with students during the school year and more than a week with them in the summer at camp and/or on mission trips, this may cause an interesting math problem as churches and employees estimate the amount of overtime.  In these situations, an employee can be paid an agreed upon weekly or hourly rate while being classified as non-exempt, thus eligible for overtime during the busy times of the year.

All of that being said, there is a possible exception to requiring churches to enforce the new law.  The “minister’s exception” was constructed by the court system in response to discrimination law suits challenging the Title VII Civil Rights Act of 1964.  Schleicher v. Salvation Army, 518 F.3d 472 (7th Cir. 2008) does an excellent job outlining the provisions as constructed over the last 30 years of litigation. “The purpose of the doctrine is … to avoid judicial involvement in religious matters, such as claims of discrimination that if vindicated would limit a church’s ability to determine who shall be its ministers.”

Who is a minister?  The court uses a “primary duties” test to determine whether an individual qualifies within the exception, focusing on “the function of the position” and “whether a position is important to the spiritual and pastoral mission of the church.”  See Rayburn, 772 F.2d at 1168-69 (4th Cir. 1985).  The exception does “not apply to employment decisions concerning purely custodial or administrative personnel.  See Diocese of Raleigh, 213 F.3d at 801; see also Weissman v. Congregation Shaare Emeth, 38 F.3d 1038 (8th Cir. 1994). However, in Dole v. Shenandoah Baptist Church, 899 F.2d 1389, 1396 (4th Cir. 1990) the court held that lay teachers at a religious school did not fall within the ministerial exception because the “teachers in the present case perform no sacerdotal functions; neither do they serve as church governors. They belong to no clearly delineated religious order.”  In at least two discrimination cases the minister’s exception did extend to a music director and a communications director.  This prompted a Massachusetts court in 2009 to state, “While the exception was originally applied primarily to pastors and clergymen, or “ministers,” it has been expanded to apply to any person employed by a religious institution and in a ministerial position whose responsibilities and duties are primarily religious.”

Can the minister’s exception be applied to the new FSLA law?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  In Shaliehsabou v. Hebrew Home of Greater Wa., 363 F.3d 299 (4th Cir. 2004) the court affirmed the decision to grant the minister’s exception for a lay person with a religious degree and a clear religious function in a suit claiming overtime wages.  This means the lay person was not allowed overtime wages.  However, the appellant court left the door open as it amended the ruling saying the plaintiff (the lay person) didn’t do enough to challenge the exception.

In short, the case law is not well developed enough to tell us if a challenge by a non-clergy person regarding overtime wages would fall within the minister’s exception.  Furthermore, if the minister’s exception is used on a lay employee, might it change the individual filing status with the Internal Revenue Service?  This is another topic for another day.  But, it is something to think about.

In conclusion, the new law (set to be updated every three years) can provide a healthy guideline as churches and employees negotiate employment compensation.  It does set a new standard that the church needs to pay attention to if it is to compensate professional employees in a fair and reasonable manner.

 

steve-schneebergerSteve Schneeberger is the Executive Director of the Youth Ministry Institute. He is also adjunct faculty for Florida Southern College.  Beginning in 1985, Steve began a vocation as a youth minister serving churches in Kansas and Florida. He is a 1981 graduate of Shawnee Mission West High School in Overland Park, Kansas, has a business degree from Baker University (1985) and a law degree from the University of Kansas (1988). He is married to Carol, an elementary school teacher and former counselor. They have three children. Steve consults, coaches and teaches Program Design 101, Teaching 101, Budgeting, Helping Youth Over Developmental Hurdles, and Expecting Great Behavior for the Youth Ministry Institute.  His teaching duties at Florida Southern includes Teaching and Learning Theories for Youth Ministry, Leadership and Administration for Youth Ministry and Bible and Theology in the Youth Ministry Setting.

Close the Door; Don’t Slam It

businessman in blue room with doors open

You will lose your job.  Everyone does.  Some get fired. Others resign. Eventually you will lose your job by retiring. Therefore, transitioning out of a job becomes important.

But, what if you are the one providing the “opportunity for transition?” There are horror stories of people arriving for work one morning only to find out they have been laid off. Armed security watches these ex-employees as they clean out their desks into cardboard boxes. Should such harsh human resource practices be used with church employees? Some churches have answered “yes” when it comes to their youth minister.

In the name of “good business” youth ministers are sometimes asked to resign without saying, “goodbye,” to the young people to whom they were charged to develop relationships.  They are ushered out quickly without an explanation, often times to the detriment of the young people they have been serving.

Let me first offer a disclaimer. If a youth minister has done something illegal, unethical or immoral to the extent to get him or her fired from the position, then that person has lost the privilege of saying, “goodbye.” It is an easy explanation to the young people as to why that person isn’t allowed back in their lives. There is certainly a mess to clean up and broken relationships to mend. But, in these horrible instances there is direction and, more importantly closure that makes sense.

 

DON’T DO THIS

So, if a youth minister hasn’t broken the law, a moral or ethical code, then what are we talking about? I have observed this scenario way too many times. Here is how it happens.

Time for a Change

I tell youth ministers all the time, “You get hired for who you are.  And you get fired for who you’re not.” This most often happens in the 12-18 month window after the youth minister is hired. Read more about that here. Staff and parents realize the youth minister isn’t living up to expectations. Instead of working on some compensation strategies, skill training or a realignment of expectations, staff and parents keep a running record of all the mistakes.  Instead of dealing with each issue individually, the record is cumulative, resulting usually in the proverbial straw breaking the camel’s (or, in this case, youth minister’s) back.  At 18 months the church is looking for a new person to take the job for the next 12-18 months.

There is a List

Early in the 12-18 month window “The List” is given.  I wrote about The List a few years ago.  The List contains the tasks which need to be completed by the youth minister. The List always has a deadline.  The deadline is often days before a critical staffing meeting. The List usually means the youth minister is about to get fired.

The Decision

If The List isn’t completed, then it is an easy decision for the church to ask for the resignation of the youth minister.  If everything on The List is completed by the youth minister then it makes for an interesting game of chicken. Rarely do churches recommit to their youth minister after the successful completion of The List. But, in these unusual instances I have seen an entire church make a dramatic positive shift. Unfortunately, it isn’t often about the tasks on The List. The church (clergy, staff or parents) just doesn’t like the youth minister.  Usually (almost always) the kids do.

The Transition Process

At this point the church asks for the resignation of the youth minister, negotiating a severance package where the youth minister is paid for several weeks after resigning. Part of the severance agreement includes clauses that preclude the youth minister from speaking about his or her dismissal and permanently and immediately cuts off contact with the young people. If the youth minister were to break the agreement, he or she would leave needed money for personal living expenses on the table.

Youth ministers who are dismissed in this way are left to field endless text messages from youth about what happened.  They are forced to lie one text message at a time.  Of course they tell young people they chose to resign (kind of not a lie, right) and that everything will be okay.  If they told the whole truth (I was asked to resign and was told to stay away from you) they would risk not being able to eat or pay their rent. The church also isn’t offering the whole truth. Why would they? It would make them look bad.

The real victims are the young people in the youth group. From their perspective they have been abandoned by someone who recently communicated interest and love for them. Their intuition tells them there is more to the story. Instead of being given more information, they are left confused. Often youth are given an announcement and asked to move forward. There isn’t an opportunity to express feelings in these scenarios. Communicating grief or thankfulness to the youth minister is not allowed.  There is no closure, only raw feelings of hurt and abandonment.

This year I have experienced three youth ministers (with whom I am close) let go in this manner. In each instance the church plays into the role of abandoning young people and the young adults who serve them. These churches caused broken relationships and did little to heal them.

 

A BETTER WAY

There is a better way. Fortunately, I have seen other churches do a more than admirable job of transitioning employees. It still hurts. Yet, there is closure, respect and space to grieve. Here is how it can work.

Time for a Change

In healthy churches where an employee isn’t meeting expectations the church works way beyond the 12-18 month window (usually 3-4 years) developing the right relationship and culture.  The church acknowledges that every employee is not good at everything. Training is offered. Compensation strategies are considered and tried. The church is patient and sees itself as helping others, even staff members, to grow into who God created them to be.

There is a List

There is a different list, one that directs the ministry. The deadline on the list doesn’t coincide with some ultimate staffing meeting. In fact, there are many deadlines, one for each task on the list, spread out over a reasonable amount of time. The list isn’t just for the youth minister. Other people have tasks on the list, too. The entire ministry, not just one person, is evaluated by this list.

The Decision

At some point the church may determine the youth minister is not meeting expectations on a consistent basis. Or the church may need other skill sets. Or the church experienced a change in clergy leadership and the youth minister no longer fits the dynamics of the staff. All of these contribute to a well thought out decision about the direction of the ministry, often times occurring over the course of a year or longer. In these situations the church strategizes, with the input of the youth minister, on what needs to happen after the youth minister leaves the position. A plan exists.

The Transition Process

Part of the plan includes encouraging the youth minister to begin looking for another job while still performing the duties as youth minister.  Usually a reasonable timeline is given (2-4 months). There are expectations within the timeline that, if not met, will result in immediate termination. In other words, the youth minister needs to continue to perform his or her job.  This gives the youth minister time to look for another job.  Once found, it gives time for closure with the youth group.  The church, meanwhile, can begin an informal search for a replacement, ramping up their efforts when their present youth minister announces their next job.

There is still pain in this second scenario. The youth minister’s self-esteem is damaged. The youth are sad. But, it is manageable pain which everyone can talk about.  Closure is complete. In every situation where I have seen this process happen, both the church and the youth minister have eventually (almost immediately) landed in a better place.

Why don’t churches choose this method of transitioning employees? Often times they are not aware of alternative options. In fact, some churches just make it so difficult for the youth minister to perform tasks, the youth minister gives up and resigns. This isn’t helpful either. When there is disagreement, disappointment and distress, it is very difficult for people, even church people, to determine a Christian perspective. Emotions are involved. People rely on what they have observed in secular culture. Many justify their actions as “best for the kids” without consulting the kids to see what is best for them.

Honesty, transparency and time to grieve are what is best for young people in times of transition. When 50% of our youth experience divorce causing loneliness and abandonment, why would the church abandon them one more time, divorcing them from a person who loved and cared for them without an explanation or closure?

The church needs to think about young people first. And, secondly the church needs to extend love and care to a soon-to-be former employee. This love and care needs to be tangible and real, not just empty words. In other words, a two week severance package isn’t loving if it will take two months to land another job.

You will lose your job. This is inevitable for every person. Possibly we simply take a line from Jesus and treat others as we would like to be treated.

 

Steve Schneeberger is the Executive Director of the Youth Ministry Institute. He is also adjunct faculty for Florida Southern College.  Beginning in 1985, Steve began a vocation as a youth minister serving churches in Kansas and Florida. He is a 1981 graduate of Shawnee Mission West High School in Overland Park, Kansas, has a business degree from Baker University (1985) and a law degree from the University of Kansas (1988). He is married to Carol, an elementary school teacher and former counselor. They have three children. Steve consults, coaches and teaches Program Design 101, Teaching 101, Budgeting, Helping Youth Over Developmental Hurdles, and Expecting Great Behavior for the Youth Ministry Institute.  His teaching duties at Florida Southern includes Teaching and Learning Theories for Youth Ministry, Leadership and Administration for Youth Ministry and Bible and Theology in the Youth Ministry Setting.

Indifference IS NOT Forgiveness

whatever

It began many years after it started.

I am not a bitter man.  I don’t hold grudges.  I don’t seek revenge.

I was meeting with our associate pastor on a routine matter.  She is 25 years younger than me and in the first year of her first full time pastoral role after seminary.  What was meant to be a 20 minute conversation turned into two hours of gut wrenching epiphanies.  In retrospect, there were issues with a common thread that slowly boiled beneath the surface of my conscious.

I have a forgiveness problem.  Possibly, I am not unique.  But, certainly it is my problem.  Oh, I am adept at generously forgiving people who ask for it.  I am able to easily ask for forgiveness when I think I have wronged somebody.  I have even developed an appropriate phrase when I unintentionally hurt somebody and am made aware of it.  “I’m sorry.  I didn’t intend to hurt you.” Even, when I play basketball, I am one (probably the only one on the court) who apologizes for fouling or being a little too aggressive on a play.

 

MY FORGIVENESS PROBLEM

Here is my problem.  If someone has hurt me and doesn’t acknowledge it (sometimes unaware of it), then I write them off.  I become indifferent.  I don’t forgive.  And, my anger and resentment of them simply boils beneath the surface of my conscious mind.  At least, that’s what I tell myself.  In reality, I spend way too much time thinking about how they have hurt me.

So, it began with my associate pastor listening to me complain about the hurt someone had caused me.  She challenged me to reconcile with that person.  At that point a wave of sickness nearly did me in.  I started sweating uncontrollably.  Reconciliation had never crossed my mind.  I was content to be indifferent towards the person.  In those moments after her challenge I considered what that might look like. I imagined my conversation with this person.  One of two choices would be made.  The person would most likely NOT take responsibility for their actions and blame it on others.  This was the pattern of this person in the past and one that would fuel my anger and add to my hurt.  Or, this person would apologize.

That’s when it occurred to me.  I wasn’t sure if I could accept the apology.  This person had hurt my wife and others in my circle of friends.  I’m not sure if a simple apology would be enough for me.  What would be enough, then?  I concluded that nothing would be enough.  The only solution was of the sci-fi variety – go back in time and correct history.  I realized that I had no hope of reconciliation if I couldn’t first forgive.

 

INDIFFERENCE REVEALED

So, then I began to analyze how I was dealing with this person.  If I wasn’t able to forgive this person, how was I able to interact with this person?  After all, I saw this person often and had maintained a good façade in spite of my hurt.  I was friendly and responsive.  Frankly, I didn’t want to be angry.  I just was.

I determined that I had become indifferent.  In every conversation I looked for a quick exit hoping I wouldn’t be hurt again by some off handed comment or idea.

Then, I began to think about other people who I had become indifferent towards.  The list was longer than I had hoped and always led back to being hurt by them in some way.  I recalled broken relationships in college and since then. I wasn’t able to forgive any of them either.  My habit of not choosing to forgive started many years ago.

As with any good 12 step program, I had to acknowledge I had a problem.  My inability to forgive people who negligently or purposefully hurt me without acknowledging my hurt was only hurting me.  I needed to forge a different path.

 

LOOKING FOR ANSWERS

I meet with some close friends periodically.  These are friends I trust more than anyone else.  They have my best interests at heart and have told me some tough things over the years.  I shared my experience with my associate pastor.  One of my friends told me that God won’t forgive me until I forgave.  He was correct.  Look it up in Matthew 6:14-15 and Mark 11:25.  Or try on the parable of the unmerciful servant in Matthew 18:21-35. That sounded rather harsh and more like “conditional love.”

My friend went on to tell me that being able to forgive was one of the most pivotal points of his spiritual journey and began quoting other scripture that motivated him towards forgiveness.  See Colossians 3:13, Ephesians 4:31-32, Luke 6:37, Matthew 18:21-22 and Matthew 6:12 (which is the part of the Lord’s Prayer I recite every Sunday – hmm).  I knew his life and the instances he was talking about.  His story of forgiveness was much more monumental than all of mine combined.  I was beginning to get more traction on the idea of forgiving, yet still unsure of how to apply it my life.

A couple of weeks later I was responsible for the devotion at a meeting I was leading.  I chose the topic of forgiveness and shared my struggle in general terms.  The insight and vulnerability that was shared began to encourage me.  I still didn’t have any handles, though.  I just knew I needed to do it.

Several weeks passed.  As I was preparing for a trip I knew I would have a lot of time to read.  In my office I have several shelves of books, most of which I have read.  On one shelf sit all the books that were gifts to me and remain unread.  I place the books that look most interesting on the right.  I usually start there when I am out of reading material.  I glanced at the shelf hoping something would grab my attention.  On the far left of the shelf stood a book larger than the others.  It was titled “Forgiveness…the Ultimate Miracle.”

That’s what I needed – A Miracle!  I needed a miracle to change a lifetime of bad habits.

 

STEPS TOWARDS FORGIVENESS

I read the book.  It was exactly what I needed.  I followed the 10 step approach using a spreadsheet.  I listed the people who have hurt me that I have not forgiven.  There are nine.  I listed how they have hurt me and what I want as a result.

This step was more difficult than I anticipated.  I was used to telling stories that vilified them.  So, I had quite a few instances that threw them into a negative light – most of which had nothing to do with me.  I realized the hurt was pretty specific (and real).  The added stories I had been using only justified the extent of my pain.  They were not important to the hurt I was feeling.

The other thing I realized is that none of these people committed criminal acts against me.  They all hurt my ego.  When I listed what I wanted, it involved things like respect, honesty, and sincerity.  In most instances, I felt like I had a shot at reconciliation.   In other words, when I looked at my hurt on paper, it was easy to decide to get over it and move on.

I had a few other hurdles to jump.  The book had 123 pages of information on how to do this well.  I won’t repeat all of the nuggets of wisdom.  But, I want to address the issues where I was most concerned.

Should I forgive these people in person?  This was my biggest concern.  I can come off pretty self-righteous in the best of circumstances.  Offering forgiveness out-of-the-blue could be misconstrued as self-serving and a condemnation of their actions as opposed to a gracious act of moving forward.  And, what if the person to whom I was apologizing didn’t know the hurt that was caused.  This may complicate the relationship rather than smoothing it out.  So, I plan to determine this on a case-by-case basis.  The key for me is to be sincere in my forgiveness whether it is in person or not.

And, what about reconciliation?  Reconciliation is a two-way process.  Both parties need to be seeking it.  I am actually surprised how open I am to it after going through this process.  I feel there is a good shot at reconciliation with all but two or three on my list.

I plan to pray for each individual on a regular basis, verbalizing my forgiveness for them.  I’m not sure how long I will do this.  But, I think I will be finished when I cease to be indifferent towards them.

I am ready for my faith to once again align with my behavior.  I am craving a feeling of joy and optimism.  Above all, I am tired of reliving these stories of hurt.  They have only damaged me, not just once but over and over again.

While I still believe in God’s unconditional love for us, I am fully aware that my behavior prevents me from fully experiencing God’s love.  I have control over how I react to the hurt I have experienced.  I choose not to be indifferent, but to forgive and love.

My wife, who is an educator, shared this quote from another educator, Najwa Zebian,

“Forgive them.  Not because they asked for your forgiveness.  Or because they deserve it.  Or because the pain they caused you is not worth it.  But because you cannot truly move on without forgiving.  It shows your level of maturity and your ability to understand that life is not always fair.  And that someone’s behavior speaks of them, not you.  Your forgiveness speaks of you, not them.”

 

Steve Schneeberger is the Executive Director of the Youth Ministry Institute. He is also adjunct faculty for Florida Southern College.  Beginning in 1985, Steve began a vocation as a youth minister serving churches in Kansas and Florida. He is a 1981 graduate of Shawnee Mission West High School in Overland Park, Kansas, has a business degree from Baker University (1985) and a law degree from the University of Kansas (1988). He is married to Carol, an elementary school teacher and former counselor. They have three children. Steve consults, coaches and teaches Program Design 101, Teaching 101, Budgeting, Helping Youth Over Developmental Hurdles, and Expecting Great Behavior for the Youth Ministry Institute.  His teaching duties at Florida Southern includes Teaching and Learning Theories for Youth Ministry, Leadership and Administration for Youth Ministry and Bible and Theology in the Youth Ministry Setting.

How Not to Lose Your Youth Ministry Job in the First Year

Job Tightrope

It’s a little pessimistic sounding, isn’t it? As the Coaching Coordinator for a youth ministry training organization and someone with 20+ years of youth ministry experience, I have watched several youth ministers make the same mistakes. For all of you first-timers at a church, here are some ways for you to avoid pitfalls so that you can grow and develop into your new position as a youth minister.

So, what are some things that could help you to keep your youth ministry position?

Develop a relationship with your senior pastor.

Your pastor may have an office on the other end of the campus, but the senior pastor needs to feel secure in trusting you with one of the most important ministries in the church. He wants to know that he can safely have your back when someone comes to him with a complaint. Your pastor wants to know that you can be trusted and that you make sound decisions. He needs to be kept abreast of the workings of the ministry so that he is not blind-sided when someone else shares his/her discontent regarding the youth ministry. Your senior pastor can be a resource to you in many ways, and you may develop a valuable life-long relationship. Make an appointment with your pastor today and weekly!

Despite how busy you are, respond to phone calls, emails, or texts within a reasonable time.

Church staff, parents, youth, and volunteers are all busy too! They also need to feel valued. Create a habit by responding within 24 hours. If you cannot get back to someone within 24 hours, at least text or message the individual explaining that you received his/her message and you will respond within a realistic, designated period of time. Open communication in youth ministry is often perceived as an oxymoron. Let’s change that perception!

Spend the first year gathering information and then make changes with input from others after the first year.

From the name of the youth ministry to the meeting nights, the whole set-up may not be palatable to you. However, before you arrived on the scene, the volunteers, parents, church leadership, and youth may have had some type of ownership for this ministry. If you want to develop a healthy ministry, bring the input of these folks to the table and make mutual decisions. Not only will you want to stay for the long haul, they’ll want you to be there!

Establish a professional mode of dress.

You say you want people in the congregation, parents and youth to treat you with respect? Earn it! Dress like a youth ministry professional, not like you just got back from a dodge ball game. People’s new attitude toward you may amaze you! And, the dynamic of professionalism in youth ministry will get bonus points.

Be proactive in making an annual youth ministry budget.

Do you want to have a budget for your youth ministry? Most churches cannot afford an accountant for the youth ministry. So, you’d better learn how to create a budget, submit it to the finance committee, have measurable goals for expenditures, and manage it. These strategies will expand your skill-set!

Work on sensitivity during communication.

I’m not discouraging transparency here. That is an asset. What I am discouraging is the email to a parent, volunteer or staff person in response to frustration on your part. It can be a wise practice to run your emails or text responses by someone that you trust first. Once you hit the “send” button, you cannot retrieve what you said, and it can get you in a world of trouble if your response is perceived as terse, defensive, or angry. Maintain vulnerability seasoned with grace.

Consider parents or guardians a part of your youth ministry.

Yes, you are the YOUTH minister, but if you miss the opportunity to partner with parents or guardians, you are missing an opportunity to influence youth in their faith. The Fuller Youth Institute spent a lot of time researching the fact that biggest faith influence on a teenager is the parents. http://fulleryouthinstitute.org/articles/helping-kids-keep-the-faith Youth ministry is a family ministry. As you equip parents to support the faith of their students, your youth will be more successful at taking ownership for their faith. And isn’t that our end-goal?

Learn how to manage your time.

You have a position that often has a flexible schedule. Annual events, mission and service opportunities, concerts and frequent evening and weekend events are a part of the ministry. However, the church leadership and pastoral supervisor will want an accounting of your time, most especially during your first year. And, you will want to avoid burnout and stress. Set up a regular weekly schedule that includes your ministry priorities as well as your personal ones. This time management skill will prove to be a gift for life.

Have peer support and accountability.

There is only one group of people who can even begin to understand the ups and downs of youth ministry, and that’s other youth ministers. Yet, we have developed a culture of self-protectiveness amongst ourselves. What is it that we fear? Every year youth ministers who complete our program at the Youth Ministry Institute emphasize the relationships that they have developed with other youth ministers as their greatest take-away. We can all benefit by participating in a cohort of youth ministers to pray, share best practices, and celebrate together.

You now have a heads-up on how to avoid some of the most common pitfalls in youth ministry.  Thanks to all who have gone before and helped to teach these lessons. I wish I had known these things when I began in ministry…

 

kathy-rexroadKathy Rexroad obtained a Bachelor of Science degree in nursing in 1975 fromWest Virginia University. While serving as volunteer nursery coordinator at an Orlando area church, Kathy felt God’s call into a life of ministry. While serving for over 25 years at that church, she “grew up” with the children she served and became their youth minister. As the church’s longest tenured staff member, she received the unique blessing of watching some of her former youth alumni respond to their call to ministry and others return to their church home as godly spouses and parents. In December 2010, Kathy retired from her ministry to serve her family that included four new grand babies, with her husband, Gregg. In September 2012, she was hired as the Coaching Coordinator for the Youth Ministry Institute. In addition, Kathy coaches, leads a small group, serves as a Youth Ministry Assessor and board secretary, and teaches Student Leadership.

All I Need

gift

Two days after Christmas. I am in the midst of this two-week holiday break wondering what happened. Has my seemingly growing cynical approach to the holiday season subsided because I “received” some nice gifts? Or, did I successfully tune into the meaning of Jesus’ birth? I’m not really sure. Though, I can tell you where my heart and head was one week ago today.

“I really hate Christmas,” I said to my friend, “And love it at the same time.”

I am not a gift giver. I would rather give my time and effort to someone than give gifts. In my house I am the grocery shopper, the groundskeeper and in charge of the laundry. I actually love doing all of those things because I know it really helps my family in obvious ways.

There are other reasons I am not a very good gift giver. I don’t shop well. I am impatient and tend to buy the first thing I see instead of thoughtfully taking my time to consider all of the items the other person might enjoy or need. Need. Hmm. That is part of it. No one in my family “needs” anything. I provide clothes, shelter and food for my wife and children on a daily basis. In fact, everyone owns multiple items they don’t use or need because (my theory) they have been overly gifted. This is a first world problem that, I am certain, has reached epidemic levels. In American culture there is no cure for our over consumeristic tendencies other than war, economic depression, natural disaster or some other completely undesirable influence.

Time is also a deterrent to being a good gift giver. When I was in college I worked in the summer and on winter and spring breaks at a large law firm in Kansas City. At Christmas time the senior partners would send me on errands to buy gifts and deliver them. At the time I thought it was very impersonal. Today, I would love to be able to afford a person who would shop for me, wrap the gift and deliver it. It would save me so much time.

Here is the real reason I hated Christmas a week ago. I hadn’t yet bought my wife a gift. I knew that without a thoughtful gift, I was going to be in big trouble. Her list was short and expensive. I really wasn’t sure how I was going to pull this one off AND stay within the budget to which we both agreed. And I was running out of time and short on ideas.

This pressure only added to the guilt I was heaping upon myself. Had I lost the real meaning of Christmas? Was I resentful that the pressure of buying gifts was shielding me from the gift of the life of Jesus given to the world some 2000 years ago?

I went shopping on the 23rd fully intending to shop the next day also. I began to formulate alternative plans if my shopping proved unsuccessful. Leaving the country wasn’t an option as it was expensive, too. Luckily, within five hours I met some helpful sales people in several stores who guided me to some beautiful purchases for my wife (she loved the watch and earrings from me and the other accessories from my children).

The pressure had finally subsided. Over the next three days I found myself securely in the moments of the season. Christmas Eve worship was amazing. The birth of Jesus came alive for me. Time seemed to stand still because I paid no attention to it. Gift opening, meals and playing with the kids seemed to flow naturally into one another. Love was palpable and real.

These are the reasons why I love Christmas.

Every year I forget. I forget the symbolism of giving to one another leads to our understanding of the gift of love God continually gives to us. My new Fitbit and hammock are nice gifts. I certainly didn’t need them. But, when I lay in my hammock, I think how excited my children were when I opened the gift and their enthusiasm in helping me hang it. Their love gushes out. So, therefore, I am reminded of God’s love for me and all of humanity. It gushes out in tangible and unseen ways.

I understand why I need to fully celebrate Christmas every year. The holidays provide a much needed break so that I can remember the importance of love. I don’t need a natural disaster or anything else to remind me of God’s love for me and my responsibility to love others. All I really need is Christmas.

 

View December 2015 Newsletter

steve-schneebergerSteve Schneeberger is the Executive Director of the Youth Ministry Institute. Beginning in 1985, Steve began a vocation as a youth minister serving churches in Kansas and Florida. He is a 1981 graduate of Shawnee Mission West High School in Overland Park, Kansas, has a business degree from Baker University (1985) and a law degree from the University of Kansas (1988). He is married to Carol, an elementary school teacher and former counselor. They have three children. Steve consults, coaches and teaches Visioning, Organizing and Planning for Success, Budgeting, Helping Youth Over Developmental Hurdles, Beginning Leadership – Mastering the Core Competencies, Conflict Resolution and Expecting Great Behavior for the Youth Ministry Institute.

A New Beginning

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This morning is unlike most mornings.  Sure.  I am sitting in my office with my feet propped up on my desk and my laptop in my lap (really, this is my normal working position). The sound of the downtown traffic speeds by my first floor window as people enter downtown Orlando for work.  The air conditioning kicks on for the first time in the morning to drive out the stale collected air from the night before. All of these things happen as they happen every morning.

Today, however, is a new beginning. My oldest started high school. As I write, she is finishing up her first period class dressed, for the first time, in clothes of her choosing. Gone are the khaki shorts and polos from the K-8 school she attended. My oldest son is starting middle school where he gets to wear a red polo instead of blue, a rite of passage of sorts. He begins his day within the hour, handling the announcements on the school television station. My youngest began 5th grade and is opening car doors this morning as a valued member of the Safety Patrol. Even my wife has a new beginning. She is teaching second grade for the first time.

There was no dread in our house last night or early this morning – only excitement at the possibilities of the coming day.

If only we could begin every day in this manner, right?

A month ago I finished a book called Boundaries for Leaders by Henry Cloud. One of the many exercises suggested in the book involved making a list of worries. Cloud suggested making two lists. One list contains all of the things we worry about we can’t control. My list consists of family schedules, responses from potential clients, money (most of us are under the illusion we can control this), and the work ethic of others. Cloud says to spend 5 minutes every day reading this list. And, I added praying over the list asking God to help me not to focus on these things. Cloud says we are going to worry about these things anyhow. So, you might as well get them out of the way.

The second list contains things we can control. I wrote at the top, “My attitude.” I added the following to the list Cloud suggests I spend the rest of my day worrying about.

  • My willingness to pray for solutions to seemingly insurmountable problems
  • Attention to financial details
  • Showing appreciation to the people with whom I work
  • My schedule and how I spend my time on my work
  • The quality of the time I spend in conversation with my wife and children

Today is a new beginning! And, possibly, every day will be a new beginning if I begin each one in this manner!!!

 

steve-schneebergerSteve Schneeberger is the Executive Director of the Youth Ministry Institute. Beginning in 1985, Steve began a vocation as a youth minister serving churches in Kansas and Florida. He is a 1981 graduate of Shawnee Mission West High School in Overland Park, Kansas, has a business degree from Baker University (1985) and a law degree from the University of Kansas (1988). He is married to Carol, an elementary school teacher and former counselor. They have three children. Steve consults, coaches and teaches Visioning, Organizing and Planning for Success, Budgeting, Helping Youth Over Developmental Hurdles, Beginning Leadership – Mastering the Core Competencies, Conflict Resolution and Expecting Great Behavior for the Youth Ministry Institute.

 

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Constantly Changing

Change_Ahead

Wow. This has been a week (or two). The Supreme Court ruled on gay marriage and the validity of the Affordable Care Act. Violence erupted in a church in Charleston, South Carolina, causing some unpredictable responses – forgiveness, love and a move to place the confederate flag only in museums.

The human condition is interesting isn’t it? We are flawed. We all know that. But, when it comes to these issues we tend to believe that the other person is flawed and we are not. Why is that?

Humans are in need of some anchors – beliefs that tether them to something that doesn’t move or shift. We look for these anchors in all aspects of life. We adopt a professional or college sports team and pay homage to it, sometimes anchoring ourselves to it as it sinks, hoping that it will resurface. Our beliefs are shaped by our family of origin and the culture in which we live. Since we have an emotional attachment to both, we connect strongly with those widely held beliefs. After all, if we begin to deconstruct these beliefs we are in danger of alienating ourselves from our family or the people in our culture who invested time in our development.

As our life experiences give us different inputs we begin to internally question these beliefs, rarely turning from them, especially if they don’t fit the beliefs we have spent the majority of our life forming. This causes internal conflict that only surfaces in anger, frustration and defensiveness.

Why can we not rely on these anchors?

An anchor is locked into a land mass which shifts ever so slightly upon tectonic plates. These plates exist on an earth which is constantly rotating and orbiting around the sun. Evidently our solar system and galaxy are in constant motion also. Therefore, the anchor is an illusion in a universe of constant change.

I am about ready to poke at a raw nerve for some. So, stop reading if you aren’t ready.

Take marriage for example. Many talk about God ordained marriage between a man and a wife. I am married. I believe God was involved in our meeting and our union. Some people cite the Bible as ordaining the institution of marriage. Here is where it gets sticky. Who in the Bible do we look to for the Godly example of marriage as we view it in today’s modern culture? There is certainly a long list of Godly men who had many wives and concubines. See Abraham, David and Solomon to name a few. Fast forward to the New Testament. Our most revered Biblical characters weren’t even married. See Jesus and Paul.

Do we simply select the individuals in the Bible who we feel practiced in the manner we wish to practice today? Isn’t this choosing scripture to suit our needs instead of allowing scripture to inform us as to what we need? If I didn’t hit a nerve and send your blood to a boiling level, you are probably with me on this point. Marriage, and the behavior within a marriage, has been an ever changing social construct. To be fair, it is a decent place to anchor if one realizes that it changes too, even slightly.

Most of our anchors are like this unfortunately. We desperately want to believe in things that are solid, people and ideas that don’t move. It gives us security and allows us to build other systems of beliefs and practices. So, we drop our anchor into these things and then feel betrayed as the opinion of others causes waves to crash over the bough of our beliefs.

What if we chose only one anchor? The writer of Hebrews (in chapter six) says the nature of God’s purpose is unchanging. “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.” (verse 19) The waves of change may rock us back and forth, sometimes unsettling us or upsetting us. But, this anchor in God’s nature is the one that never shifts.

There will be other weeks like the last few. Many others. Where will you sink your anchor?

 

steve-schneebergerSteve Schneeberger is the Executive Director of the Youth Ministry Institute. Beginning in 1985, Steve began a vocation as a youth minister serving churches in Kansas and Florida. He is a 1981 graduate of Shawnee Mission West High School in Overland Park, Kansas, has a business degree from Baker University (1985) and a law degree from the University of Kansas (1988). He is married to Carol, an elementary school teacher and former counselor. They have three children. They have lived in Orlando, Florida, since 1994. Steve consults, coaches and teaches Visioning, Organizing and Planning for Success, Budgeting, Helping Youth Over Developmental Hurdles, Beginning Leadership – Mastering the Core Competencies, Conflict Resolution and Expecting Great Behavior for the Youth Ministry Institute.

Say What?

writers block

I have had difficulty writing lately, as in the last five months. Here is why.

I don’t have anything to say. Wait. Don’t stop reading. Because, frankly I have a lot to say and am choosing not to say it. I guess that’s what being an adult is all about, right? Whatever you are feeling or thinking, be sure to bottle it up, analyze its potential effects on others, and then put it on the shelf. Look at it from time to time and imagine what it might look like if you actually said it. Then, don’t say it.

Sure, the talk radio and trash TV people don’t have any problem with saying exactly what’s on their minds, or more accurately, what might be most apt to incite a negative reaction from others. But, that’s not how it works for most of us.

I thought when I started writing a blog, it would give me license to say exactly what I think and how I feel about all sorts of things. I could spout my opinion about politics and religion expecting only responses that would complement me on my incredible insight and my discerning nature. On the contrary, I evidently have a public to please. I have donors and clients and family members that may actually read what I write. I don’t want my words to hit an unintended nerve.

So, I have been in a writing crisis as of late. My most recent observations about life around me aren’t positive. This is a bad place to be for an optimist. Dire circumstances always produce opportunities, right? What I really want to write about are the positive opportunities. So, therefore, I don’t write.

Before you call the crisis hotline on me, let me clarify. Life in my home is great. Our kids are all growing and finding great expressions for their individual talents. We have a big vacation planned in a couple of weeks. We still laugh a lot. My work is fantastic. The Youth Ministry Institute continues to grow in many ways. Our youth ministers and partner churches increasingly become more satisfied with the services we offer. I feel as if we are having a great affect on people who lead the church.

I’m just not enjoying all the other stuff. My wife and I have said for years (our whole married life) that it would be nice to just find our own abandoned island and live there (shelter and food provided, of course). The other day my wife said, “Why don’t we take that same island and make everyone else live there? Why should we have to leave?” Great idea!!!

A month ago our associate pastor asked this question in his sermon (I actually wrote it down), “What if my faith were a product of my trust rather than my effort?” I have been carrying that around with me for six weeks. It may be why I chose to not give up or add something for Lent. Or, it may be why I have justified not writing about the very things that weigh heaviest on my heart. My effort won’t change them. My trust will, however. Is that why Jesus said that faith as small as a mustard seed can move mountains. There is no effort in that.

So, all the “hopeless” junk I’m giving to you, Jesus. I trust you will be able to turn it all into opportunity.

As for me, I would like to write again. I desparately want to see the world around me as hope filled. Here’s trusting in the outcome….

steve-schneebergerSteve Schneeberger is the Executive Director of the Youth Ministry Institute. Beginning in 1985, Steve began a vocation as a youth minister serving churches in Kansas and Florida. He is a 1981 graduate of Shawnee Mission West High School in Overland Park, Kansas, has a business degree from Baker University (1985) and a law degree from the University of Kansas (1988). He is married to Carol, an elementary school teacher and former counselor. They have three children. Steve consults, coaches and teaches Visioning, Organizing and Planning for Success, Budgeting, Helping Youth Over Developmental Hurdles, Beginning Leadership – Mastering the Core Competencies, Conflict Resolution and Expecting Great Behavior for the Youth Ministry Institute.

Read the most recent YMI Florida newsletter.

Called or Stuck

stuck

In the church we talk a lot about being “called” to do things. Specifically we are identifying things God calls us to do. This can get mighty tricky. God doesn’t often call in an audible voice. Therefore, we have to piece together evidence of a call from God. There may be a supernatural event or dream that serves as a catalyst. But, the bulk of our call comes from conversations and mundane life events that end up pointing us in a direction.

In my work with youth ministers we talk a great deal about calling. The more sure the calling, the greater liklihood that the calling itself will sustain a person through difficult times. For instance, early in my career at the church to which I am still a member, a person on the personnel committee questioned my calling. In short, that person didn’t agree with a ministry decision I made involving her child. Without asking me the source of my call or my understanding of my calling, she raised the question in a committee meeting. To this day, I think I was nearly fired over HER perception of MY calling. Thankfully, I was sure of my calling. And, I made the decision if I lost my job because of this person’s opinion of me, I would go find a job in youth ministry elsewhere. I didn’t lose my job. I stayed another 15 years.

In a conversation recently I likened a calling to a compass. The compass is always true and points north, no matter what. We may choose different expressions of our calling. But, those expressions always points to the same call. For example, a person called to youth ministry may be a counselor, a teacher or rec center director therefore allowing their vocation to honor their calling. A person may also work in an occupation not connected to thier call (a job to pay the bills), yet their volunteer hours are spent working with teenagers in various capacities. This also honors a call to youth ministry.

However, sometimes we can get stuck. I have counseled many who are in the middle of a career crisis wondering if what they spent the first part of their life doing was somehow disconnected from their calling. Did they misinterpret God? Or, did they fail to listen to God early in their life? Being stuck in an unsure calling is like paying $15 to go see a seemingly bad movie. One isn’t really sure whether to leave before the movie is over or to stick it out to see if the ending somehow redeems the show thereby making the investment of time and money worth it.

So, how does one know if one is called or stuck?

  • Check the compass. Dig deep to discover the foundation of the calling. What are the events and the conversations that led to the call in the first place? Pray for clarity. Figure out the direction the compass is pointing and reorient towards that direction.
  • If you leave, leave on an upswing. Most people want to quit their job when it gets tough. People learn more about themselves when things are difficult compared to when things are going well. Use this period of questioning to sharpen skills and increase aptitudes. It will help in the next job. But, more importantly, effectiveness will increase in this job. Don’t quit until things are going well.
  • Pray that God will make the next steps obvious! My wife and I have used this prayer in all of our major decisions. Don’t guess about God’s calling. Be sure. Read the Bible. God always makes God’s self known (see burning bush, Jonah’s fish friend, road to Damascus, etc., etc.).

Difficulty and adversity are not very good indicators of whether God’s calling exists or not. If that were true, Jesus and the early apostles would have all quit. Recall the uncertainty of Jesus’ disciples shortly after his death and resurrection. They were hiding and unsure of what to do. Like a light switch, their calling became sure, embolding them to do things beyond their known skill set. The surety of our calling can do this for us. We develop bold confidence and begin to accomplish things we previous thought were not possible.

God calls all of us to something. Have confidence that God has called you.

 

steve-schneebergerSteve Schneeberger is the Executive Director of the Youth Ministry Institute. Beginning in 1985, Steve began a vocation as a youth minister serving churches in Kansas and Florida. He is a 1981 graduate of Shawnee Mission West High School in Overland Park, Kansas, has a business degree from Baker University (1985) and a law degree from the University of Kansas (1988). He is married to Carol, an elementary school teacher and former counselor. They have three children. Steve consults, coaches and teaches Visioning, Organizing and Planning for Success, Budgeting, Helping Youth Over Developmental Hurdles, Beginning Leadership – Mastering the Core Competencies, Conflict Resolution and Expecting Great Behavior for the Youth Ministry Institute.

 

View the latest Youth Ministry Institute newsletter.