Ministry Amidst Loss & Grief

Loss is a part of life. Whether it’s a pet, a family member, or a friend, we may find ourselves mourning someone we love while at the same time dealing with ministry responsibilities that need our attention. Being able to carry on in ministry amidst having to face loss and grief may seem impossible.

Sometimes, we have time to prepare ourselves for a loss. When I was a full-time Family Ministries Director, my 46 year old brother died after 3 long years with esophageal cancer. Our family had those years to consider his passing and then weeks to sit beside him, making his last days full of love and comfort. Other times, it’s an unpredictable, shocking event, as when our family had to help our beloved greyhound pass with only hours to prepare. When faced with grief, what things should we try to remember while it feels like our personal world stops and the rest of it keeps going?

Remember That There’s No Way Over, Only Through

“You’ll get over it soon.” 
“I’m surprised you’re still so sad, it’s been 6 months!”

With grief, there simply isn’t an end or an over. While the sharpness and weight of our loss may lessen, we will always miss the presence of who we’re grieving. Remembering that grief is necessary is important.

“Grieving is like breathing, but we act like we have to hold our breath – It’s a natural process and if you pretend like you don’t have to do it or that it doesn’t exist, you’ll end up choking or passing out.”

– Dr. Shatavia Alexander Thomas, AZ Therapist

Gently remind people who say well-intentioned phrases like the ones above that grief lingers because love lasts. Grief is individual yet universal – meaning we all experience it, but each in our own way. Additionally, mourning is not a set process. You may have heard of the 5 stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance; but most people don’t travel those steps in one straight line. We might traverse up and down those stages every other hour. All of this is normal and natural.

Remember To Let Others In

In your ministry role, it will be helpful to share your situation with trusted supervisors, co-workers, volunteers, and others. Doing this will help them understand that you’re entering a healing process. We don’t want to place a burden on students to manage our emotional reactions. In some cases, it’s absolutely appropriate to be vulnerable about the loss you’ve experienced, how it’s affected you, and the support you’re surrounded by. The young people in your ministry may surprise you with their compassion. You’ll also show them that we don’t have to carry our hardest moments alone. If people want to bring you dinner, cut your grass, take your kids to the park, or sit with you and look at photos of your loved one while you cry, say yes.

Remember To Get The Help You Need

Getting help might mean you delegate more ministry tasks than usual, or that you ask your volunteers and/or other staff to take over the heavy lifting. You could also consider keeping the ministry schedule temporarily light when you return to work. It may be helpful to allow your energy and focus to have some breathing room. Help can also take the form of seeking counseling in order to manage and express your emotions in a healing way.

I spoke with Emily Edwards, LCSW, (who was once a youth minister herself!), and she described what she and other mental health professionals see in their clients. “Many of us in the helping professions have carried grief with hurting people in our ministries. Our empathy for others can give us secondary trauma that will intensify our own grief events.” When this happens, we can move from Acute Grief – the time just following our own loss – into Complicated Grief. This phase is when our acute symptoms never seem to lessen or go away. A licensed therapist, counselor or psychologist can help us process the grieving journey into what is called Integrated Grief. This is a life-long stage in which a grieving person is dealing with the reality of their loss, and can cope with daily life. Be encouraged that seeking outside help with your grief is not a sign of weakness. It’s a strength that you trust in God and allow God’s people to help you.

Remember That Simultaneous Grief And Ministry Is Biblical

Who better to give us a practical example of ministry amidst loss and grief than Jesus, himself? In John 11 we learn about some dear friends of his, the siblings Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. When Lazarus dies, the sisters both approach Jesus and express their faithful expectations that if Jesus had only been nearer, their brother would not have died. Jesus grieves, comforts, and weeps with them, along with demonstrating his ministry and love by then raising Lazarus to life.

We may never be expected to resurrect a friend while we’re grieving. But it’s reassuring that even while we are mourning and it feels as if life is over, we still possess and can use the gifts God has given us in ministry.

Maresi Brown is the Administrator, Registrar, & Interview Specialist for Youth Ministry Institute. She spent nearly 20 years in ministry to young people and families at a United Methodist Church. Maresi is an avid knitter and resides in St. Petersburg, FL, with her husband, 3 kids, and Roo, the most adorable baby dog.

Creative Options For Continuing Education

Creative Options For Continuing Education

If you’re one of the Youth, Children’s, or Family Ministers out there whose church provides funding for continuing education, you might think big conferences are the only way to use that money. Those events can be so fun, impactful, and energizing to your ministry! Often, however, you’ll also need travel funds, hotel reservations, ride-share costs, and more that makes attending seem out of reach.

Or, you might be someone whose ministry budget is too small for a big conference. So, you are looking for something that you can either encourage your church to pay for, or that you can invest in on your own. We’re here to help you with creative, relatively inexpensive options to make the most of your desire to grow in your skills and abilities by using whatever continuing education funds you have accessible to you.

Creative Continuing Education Option One

It’s not a fun topic – but do you know the signs and symptoms of child abuse and neglect? In many states, all persons who have responsibility for minors in a capacity like church or parachurch ministry have an ethical and legal obligation to report suspected abuse/neglect. Protecting the vulnerable people in our care is an essential part of ministry. 

Take a look at your state’s Department of Children and Families resources. In Florida, for example, anyone can access their course free of charge, at any time. The materials cover the signs of abuse, the ways to respond, and to whom we should report our suspicions. You can also gather resources to share with families to help prevent abuse in the first place. We should ensure that ministry programs will be the most obvious possible place for children and youth to find a safe haven should they be abused and/or neglected.

Continuing Education Option Two

Another skill set that we hope to never use, but is smart to have, is CPR and First Aid Training. Accidents and medical emergencies can happen anywhere, and ensuring you are prepared can make a huge difference in the outcome. 

You can search “CPR First Aid Training Near Me” and find an array of training options. The Red Cross typically holds classes often and works to make their training affordable. You’ll learn what items to have on hand for incidents, how to get help quickly, and how you can potentially save a life. Don’t forget Infant CPR certification for your nursery workers! 

Creative Continuing Education Option Three

Ever find yourself wondering just WHY the children and youth in your programs act the way they do? If you entered ministry directly or from another career field, you may be missing important pieces of the puzzle. Consider registering for a child psychology or human growth/development course. Taking courses like these, either at a local college or university, or online, can open a crucial window into the ways young people develop. Spending your continuing education funds on this option can also help you minister to the grown ups in the lives of your young people. It’s a fact that partnering with them will deepen the connections in your faith community. 

Creative Continuing Education Option Four

Are you feeling like you’re stuck in your leadership growth? Do you feel like you’re lacking confidence? Teaming up with a trusted mentor, such as a Youth Ministry Institute Coach, may be the spark that lifts you out of this spot. A coach encourages you to unlock more of your potential. One on one coaching provides connection with a minister who’s been at this stuff for a while. They understand your needs and concerns in a unique way. The best part of coaching is that it can last for as long as you need. Coaching is unlike a one-time conference, it’s a long-term commitment to your development as a Youth or Children’s Minister. 

You Are Worth The Investment

Whether your budget is large or small, you (and your team!) are worth the investment of continuing education. We hope these options open up access for you to pursue avenues to success as a Children’s, Youth, or Family Minister. 

Do you have other creative ways to spend those continuing education funds, or options for free/low cost ways to broaden the skills you bring to your ministry? Tell us in the comments below.

Maresi Brown is the Administrator, Registrar, & Interview Specialist for Youth Ministry Institute. She spent nearly 20 years in ministry to youg people and families at a United Methodist Church. Maresi is an avid knitter and resides in St. Petersburg, FL, with her husband, 3 kids, and 2 dogs.

VBS Tips for First Timers

VBS Tips for First Timers

Love it or loathe it, Vacation Bible School looms on our advance planning calendar.

Maybe you’re new to ministry altogether. Perhaps you’re one of the first timers at the VBS helm, desperate for tips, and don’t even know where to begin. At some churches, VBS is a major outreach event, and for others, it’s a simple fun addition to the young people’s ministry schedule.

Regardless of where your church is on that spectrum, summer will careen towards us faster than we want to admit. If you’re the ministry staff person or volunteer leader who’ll be taking on this incredible opportunity of VBS as a first timer, let’s look at some tips.

VBS First Timers Tip #1: Where’s Your Team?

If you’re new to this role, you might want to jump in and prove yourself as super human, thinking you can get this task done on your own. Look, there’s lots of room for differences of opinion in ministry. But, can I just unequivocally tell you that attempting VBS solo is a massive mistake? You physically, spiritually, and logistically cannot be in more than one place at a time. Gather your trusty crew and sit down with them.

You might need to plan the when/where of your VBS according to the team’s availability. For instance, there could be more volunteers free at night, rather than during a weekday morning. Don’t have a crew? Well, don’t just depend on a bulletin blurb to bring them running. Personal request is the number one way to increase the team. Be looking now for people who are great at décor, and folks who have cheerful hospitality pouring out of them. Find the musicians, the teachers, the members of the craft circle – cast a wide net! If they haven’t served at VBS, they’re totally missing out.

They don’t even have to love spending time with children. There’s always a task that can be done beforehand or behind the scenes. And don’t forget to include the teens of your church – their creativity and energy will be a huge boost for your VBS squad.

VBS First Timers Tip #2: What’s Your Theme?

Many publishing houses are producing incredible packaged Vacation Bible School kits. There are the big name, all-inclusive ones that it seems like everyone in town is using. Lately, there are newer companies who are bringing new methods and ideas to the table. An additional consideration: some cost hundreds just for the basic kit, and others are completely free. Or, you and your team might have a flood of inspiration and want to create your own entirely!

To help choose, I highly recommend asking your peers what’s worked for them, as well as spending time personally researching the theological concepts that are presented. Don’t forget, you can take the building blocks of a packaged set and adapt it for your own context, needs, and theological traditions. Having your team work on this choice with you can help keep momentum and excitement going as your plans take shape.

VBS First Timers Tip #3: How Much Green?

Ok, so you caught me trying to be clever and rhyming my tips for VBS First Timers. I’m talking about how each church has its own budget, which for Vacation Bible School might be $0, might be $500, or it might be $50,000. Some churches have historically charged a fee to attend, and others do it for free. Having spent most of my years in ministry working with next to no funds available for VBS, I promise it can be done, and done well, with very little money. We also never charged participants a fee.

Having budget information helps you determine just how much work you can outsource (i.e., purchasing the merch, craft kits, décor, lesson materials, etc. from the publisher) versus how much you’ll have to creatively work on with the team. Be sure you know what you’re working with before you place that giant and expensive order full of flashy stuff. If you’re short on funds, make a master list of what you need, and what you think would be nice to have. Throw open every closet door in the building to hunt for materials. (Why does every church seem to have storage to explore?) Then, make specific requests to your congregation to gather the rest.

And Tip #4: What Does Your VBS Mean?

Individually, and as a team, spend some time in thought about why your ministry is doing Vacation Bible School. Are you hoping to reach new people in your community? Is the primary purpose to remind the young people who come about Jesus’ love for them? Will VBS be a chance to serve families in your area, providing them with a safe, loving, and fun experience to bring their children to in the summer time? It might be all those things! Remembering the purpose of your event helps keep your expectations reasonable, and gives you goals to shoot for. Also, this clarifies the way you’ll communicate information to the people you want to come.

As a member of the VBS First Timers club, these tips may not be something you’ve considered. Don’t be afraid as a first timer leading Vacation Bible School. Sure, by the end of the week you’ll be exhausted; yes, the songs will get stuck in your head for months; sure, you might end up eating “Lydia’s purple cloth” made out of dried fruit for dinner… but it’s also an exhilarating and unique chance to feel Jesus working through you as you share God’s love with kids.

Maresi Brown is the Administrative & Interview Specialist for Youth Ministry Institute. She spent nearly 20 years in ministry to young people and families at a United Methodist Church. Maresi is an avid knitter and resides in St. Petersburg, FL, with her husband, 3 kids, and 2 dogs. You can connect with Maresi at the social media below.

Job Hunting Mistakes To Avoid

You need this job.  You binged the entire Netflix catalog.  Your bedroom/office is becoming smaller every day.  And your budget isn’t going to support your diet of ramen noodles much longer. 

So why haven’t you found a job yet? 

Well, it could be a number of reasons.  But try to avoid these common mistakes when job hunting first to see if it makes a difference.

Job Hunting Mistake #1: Don’t put your picture on your resume. 

I mean you’re good looking, and the new outfit pops, right?  But that shouldn’t be what gets you your next position.  When people are reading your resume, they make judgments about who you are.  It is much easier to control impressions by the words you write and phrases you use.  A picture, while it is worth 1000 words, is out of your control.  They will make assumptions about you based on that photo. And beauty is always in the eyes of the beholder, and you don’t know who is beholden you.

I have seen people use pictures that include family members, pets, hobbies, and other activities.  I am convinced they understood why they chose a particular picture.  The problem is that the person reading your resume doesn’t know. 

You want someone to evaluate you on the experiences you communicate in a resume. 

That will be how you will get the job.  A picture never helps.  It can only potentially hurt.

Job Hunting Mistake #2: Not Researching The Church

It can be easy to send resumes. After all, you may be feeling the crunch of needing a job. However, rushing to apply without doing your research can lead to a bad fit for you and the church. No one wants to end up in a position only to then find out that your beliefs or values do not line up.

Another important point here, when you fail to research the church, you also put yourself at a disadvantage. Looking up the church, watching sermons, and reading the website or newsletters can all help you gain insights into the congregation’s language and culture. Want to know how to dress for your interviews? Watch sermons and see how the people dress.

Researching can be an important step in your job hunt, so don’t skip this step.

Mistake #3: Don’t stop looking. 

Be sure to be applying for 3-5 jobs per week.  You may get all the way to final interviews with your dream job and find out they can’t pay you enough or you came in a close second. 

You can’t afford not to have several possible job opportunities going at the same time.  Yes – you will likely experience more rejection than you think your ego can handle.  But ultimately, you are looking for one person to hire you.  And your odds increase with the more positions for which you are applying.

Job Hunting Mistake #4: Don’t forget your deadlines. 

You may have to source your references or submit additional written work to a future employer.  Be sure you are agreeing to and meeting the deadlines they are setting for you.  It is a strike against you if you have to be reminded.  And if you are reminded repeatedly, you may want to consider pulling your name from consideration.

And, finally… Job Hunting Mistake #5: Don’t give up. 

It may feel impossible to avoid these job hunting mistakes, but… Be patient.  The road to my longest-tenured job began with an interview in October in which I was rated the second choice (I found this out years later).  I was married in December and thought I would inquire about the job in March.  I started in April.  The first choice turned them down.  I stayed interested, and they finally offered me the job.  I never gave up.  Don’t you, either.

Steve Schneeberger is the Student Ministry Lead Director at the Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, KS, and is the founder 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, a school counselor and former teacher. They have three children.