When It Doesn’t Feel Like “Joy To The World”

I’m writing this blog as I’m finishing up the All-American tradition of Christmas decorating. I sure hope our neighbors appreciate the 3-foot light-up ornaments I bought to hang on the giant pine tree outside our front door. But let’s turn the Christmas music down for a minute and get painfully honest.

Ornaments

Truth be told, many of us experience the holidays feeling more like The Grinch Who Stole Christmas than Elf or It’s A Wonderful Life. One North American survey reported that 45% of those polled said they actually “dreaded the holiday season.” Hospitals and medical professionals back this up by saying that Christmas is the season with the highest rate of significant depression in North America.

I can hear you thinking, “But we’re CHRISTIANS…so that’s not true for US!” But think again. Just because you’re a sincere Christ-follower doesn’t give you an immune-pill against a serious case of the blah’s and/or depression. I should know. I have fought the “invisible dark cloud” in my own life almost every day for the past ten years. Yes, my life is hugely fulfilling, my family is beyond description, and Jesus Christ is the epicenter of my entire existence. But the “thick cloud in my brain” is still often something I have to push through on a regular basis.

So how could the Grinch be in full play during the holidays, even for authentic Christians? There are several possible factors. One consideration is “Seasonal Affective Disorder” (SAD) which is triggered by greater levels of darkness during the winter months. It simply means that due to lack of higher and longer levels of sunlight, not as many “feel-good chemicals” are produced in your physical body.

Secondly, lots of us unconsciously deal with unrealistic expectations of “Joy To The World” and “I’m Dreaming Of A White Christmas.” Christmas songs, movies, and even commercials bombard us with messages that everything is supposed to be “picture perfect” around the holidays – all of our family getting along beautifully, all of our wildest fantasy gifts under the tree, and all of deepest longings totally met. And if we’re in the ministry, OBVIOUSLY we would also be receiving a huge Christmas bonus that would allow us to make an impromptu trip to Cancun! Sadly enough, we all eventually come out of our “Christmas coma” and realize that Christmas is not at all what the media has led us to internally expect. As a matter of fact, many of the “halls we’re decking” are not very “jolly.”

And lastly, many of us in the ministry can find ourselves emotionally exhausted from all the “holiday events” we helped to make happen. We then easily find ourselves giving our family and most important relationships our “emotional leftovers.” If that’s not sad enough, the holidays can also reverberate with loneliness and a secret “victim mentality” for some of us. Have I shared enough realism to make you sufficiently depressed…even if you were happy when you started to read?

So how do you turn “Silent Night” into “Joy To The World”?

  1. First, if depression is consistently hampering your life and lingering far longer than just the holidays, swallow your spiritual pride and get help. Candidly reach out to your doctor for some medical assistance. Taking medication to balance out your serotonin is no more of a sin than a diabetic taking insulin to help correct his hormonal imbalances. Also consider taking an invaluable vitamin called “SAM-e.” You can get a good brand at your local Walmart and the documentation on its effectiveness for positive mood enhancement is exciting.
  2. Be aware of media’s subtle shaping of your own expectations and internal dialogue. Lower your expectations and remind yourself that true joy comes only from your determination to biblically control your own thought life. Choose to be genuinely “present” and look for things you can authentically be grateful for.
  3. Set some clear boundaries for yourself in several arenas: Financially (so you don’t overspend and regret it December 26), ministry wise (so you don’t work so hard on the youth Christmas party that your own family gets nothing but Bah-Humbug), and boundaries on your personal calendar (so you don’t attend Sister Sandpaper’s Christmas cookie party this year).
  4. Do something especially loving for another individual – with no thought of repayment or furthering your own agenda. Remember that “a man wrapped up in himself makes a very small package.” If you want to make it especially meaningful, make your gift a secret between you and the Lord.
  5. And lastly, create a “sacred tradition” between you and Jesus. After all, it is HIS BIRTHDAY we are all supposedly celebrating. My tradition has been going for over 20 years and has been adopted by my immediate family. Before we begin opening gifts, we put on worship music and each write Jesus a personal letter reflecting on the high’s and low’s of that year. We conclude our confidential letters by telling the Lord what our birthday gift to HIM is going to be for the upcoming twelve months. (Our “family moral code” says that we can read our own historical letters to Jesus –but reading what other family members have written through the years is not allowed.) The letters all go into a treasured, old Christmas gift box that yearly takes a position of honor underneath our family Christmas tree.

Yes, “the blues” and more serious depression can be a challenge for even the most committed Christians. But hopefully, some of my simple suggestions might resonate with you in a helpful way. Most of all, remind yourself this Christmas season that you already have almost everything important that money cannot buy. And that, my dear friend, is enough to turn most any “Silent Night” into a rocking “Joy To The World.”


Are You Tired Enough Yet?

Not long ago, I found myself on a 12-hour international flight after doing ministry with some youth leaders who met together in Turkey. I’m a bit of a “tight wad” so I refuse to pay for “business class upgrades,” even on long flights. But thanks to lots of mileage points, I received the upgrade without cost. So I stretched out comfortably in my amazing assigned location, complete with 5 different settings to make sure my seat was as comfortable as possible. I pulled out my iPad and began work. After all, I’d been out of the country for several days. “I’m way behind,” I thought to myself.

Fast forward to “hour 11” of my 12-hour flight. The plane cabin had been dark for several hours. The guy across the aisle from me made me inwardly laugh with his strange snoring pattern. But I kept working – determined to use the hours on the plane to “catch up.”

Then a thought came pounding into my consciousness. Though I’m slow to call all fly thoughts “from Jesus,” the clear and “loud” nature of these particular five words pointed pretty clearly to the divine.

Jeanne_9“Are you tired enough yet?” the internal voice asked me. And almost immediately, I knew what Jesus was trying to say. “Jeanne, what are you trying to prove? Are you exhausted enough now to finally think you have ‘earned the right’ to turn off your iPad and get some sleep?”

Years ago when I was visiting Israel, I accidentally got into the wrong elevator at our hotel. Though I didn’t realize it, we had walked into the “Shabbat elevator.” (In the Jewish tradition, “Shabbat” is the term for the Sabbath.) So in the Shabbat elevator, I found myself stopping at every floor! The Orthodox Jews in Israel take the Sabbath so seriously that you are not even allowed to “work by pushing buttons!”

Granted, this approach still seems a bit extreme to me. But that day on the elevator, just like during my lengthy plane trip, I think the Lord was trying to say to me:

“Jeanne, stop living at such a break-neck pace! Stop trying to push all the buttons that control your life. Slow down…slow down…slow down.”

Matthew 11:28 lovingly whispers this truth to me another way: “Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” How about you, my friend? Maybe reading this wasn’t a coincidence for you today. Maybe the Lord is lovingly saying to you, like He did me, “Slow down…slow down…slow down.”


Are Big Events Really Worth It?

We hosted an amazing “Block Party” recently at our youth service, complete with a well-known Christian rap artist (at a supposedly “discounted rate”).  Our attendance nearly doubled and many indicated at the conclusion that they wanted to give their lives to Christ.  But here’s what four decades in full-time youth ministry have taught me:  It is highly likely that this coming week’s youth service will show little evidence that much fruit from our big night “stuck”!   So, why continue hosting big events?  After all, they are tons of extra work and often, come with a pretty hefty price tag. Let me give you my thoughts:

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  • The most important part of your big event is a well-planned follow-up system.  Short of this, you’re kidding yourself that much eternal business was accomplished, no matter how well the actual night itself goes.  Pre-determine what avenues of follow-up you are going to use and have those people and systems “sitting on go” before you host your event.  You want some personal follow-up to begin within 24 hours of the event.  Treat your guest info like “evangelism gold”…because they really are!
  •  Big events are great tools for outreach and heightened awareness in the community.  They also provide your teenagers with an “easy ask” for their non-believing friends.  Hosting big events maybe 3-4 times a year have some genuine advantages.  But it’s a ticket to “depression villa” if you think that a successful big event will easily translate to sustained attendance and spiritual growth in your youth ministry.
  • Pre-think before you host your event how you are going to effectively gather names and contact info from your guests.  There are all sorts of approaches you can use−from giving away a cool gift after a drawing you do that night to texting a pre-determined cell number to obtain a small “Next Steps” sort of piece.  Truth be told, simple cards for a drawing seem to work the best because you are stopping your event for 3 minutes to get them all filled out and collected.  If you want sustained results, those three minutes will be some of your most valuable ones all night.
  •  At the risk of sounding simplistic, keep reminding yourself that God’s Word never, ever returns void. So even if the weeks that follow don’t give you much numerical encouragement, remember that if Jesus was proclaimed clearly, your event was an authentic success in the eyes of Heaven.

Bottom line? Nothing replaces the long-term impact of day-in and day-out discipleship. No, it’s not real glamorous or “sexy.” It doesn’t give you a huge attendance number to “modestly drop” into conversation with other friends in youth leadership.  But if you’re interested in authentic Jesus-oriented results, it’s still your most indispensable vehicle. So, keep hosting your occasional big events. But make the follow-up and resulting discipleship an even bigger deal than the excited crowd that you’re hoping to attract. Jesus will be smiling…and so will you, especially when you stand before Him.

 


Riding The Emotional Roller Coaster Called Youth Ministry

It’s true confession time! Only 3 years into my journey in youth ministry, I remember seriously thinking, “I’m not sure I can do this much longer.” That was over 40 years ago. I don’t think I was prepared for the emotional drain that whole-hearted ministry would measure out to me. Now, don’t get me wrong. I love youth ministry and thank God almost daily that I “get to do it.” But let me share some of the reasons why all of us who do youth ministry often ride an emotional “roller coaster.” Socrates profoundly said, “Know thyself.” So, let’s spend a few minutes becoming a little more self-aware.

Roller Coaster

  1. Like almost no other pursuit or career field, authentic youth ministry requires almost constant emotional energy. And like any good roller coaster, there are fast-paced highs and lows. In a 10-minute span, we can go from rejoicing with a girl because she made the cheerleading squad to listening to a guy brokenly share news of his parents’ impending divorce. (That was my reality yesterday.) So the constancy of the emotional energy needed makes us great candidates for what counselors call “compassion fatigue.”
  2. The emotional expectations of those around you will often be agonizingly unrealistic. Christian counselors tell us that most ministry “burn-out” isn’t “spiritual” in nature. Instead, it comes oftener from the constant emotional demands. Those demands often pivot back to either spoken or unspoken expectations. We all understand the drill. People will always encourage you to “take some time off” – until, that is, they need you.
  3. Beautifully and yet painfully in youth ministry, we can’t change hearts without giving heart. So to refuse to give your emotions and heart away is to also refuse to be a Christ-honoring change-agent in a teenager’s life. I call it “putting your heart out on a stick.” So if at least one teenager hasn’t bruised your heart or depleted you emotionally in recent days, you’re probably doing something wrong!

What am I trying to say? In short, don’t be surprised if youth ministry occasionally leaves you feeling a little drained and sometimes even emotionally schizophrenic. Develop your own set of boundaries and coping skills for the journey. And remind yourself often what your old Granny probably used to say: “If something is worth doing at all, it’s worth pouring your heart into!” Besides that, who wants to spend their life riding the boring merry-go-round? Roller coasters can be scary; but they’re a whole lot more fun!


How Old Is “Too Old” In Youth Ministry?

It’s the secret, unspoken fear of many of youth ministry’s finest and most experienced leaders…they are concerned that they are getting “too old.” Since I myself am a part of the Baby Boomer crowd who remains actively involved in local youth ministry, allow me to give you a few thoughts on this important question. I’ve wrestled with this mind game often, but in the last few years, I’ve come to some encouraging conclusions:5-28-15

  •  The typical stereotype of effective youth leaders is blatantly wrong. You know the model I’m talking about…young, cool, athletic, funny, and good looking. Lots of years in youth ministry have affirmed over and over that many of the very BEST leaders are none of the above. They are often anywhere between 40 to 60 years of age and are fun-loving but not necessarily funny. In fact, they are often a few pounds overweight and not exactly a retired football pro. They just love Jesus and teenagers.
  • Today’s fractured families and lack of caring adult role models actually makes age an advantage…as long as you remain flexible on the ever-changing “little things” in youth ministry. We all know how few American families have the “model mom and dad” at the helm. So because of that, an older youth leader who sincerely cares about a teenager meets a deep, God-given need for adult nurturing. In my own experience, I feel like students bond to me even quicker now than 25 years ago. The only “catch” is that you remain flexible on debatable things like loud music and body piercings! I remind myself often, “Jeanne, keep the main thing…the main thing.”

 

  • The only indispensable quality for being an effective youth leader has nothing to do with age. It’s a genuine love for a few teenagers. This is the only “dividing line,” plain and simple. If you care about a student and make the effort to care about “their world,” you will win their trust and friendship. Granted, some students may take a little longer to “come around.” But like 1 Corinthians 13 reminds all of us, authentic, consistent love is the “trump card” in most all situations. In “Mayo language,” attempt to be “Jesus with skin on.”

 

Just a couple of weeks ago, one of my best volunteers sheepishly attempted to resign. His reason? He had just turned 50 and felt like “the kids won’t relate to someone my age.” Let me wrap up by sharing with you what I told that awesome guy: “About the time you have enough experience in youth ministry to have a clue as to what you’re doing, the Enemy usually starts to make you feel ‘too old.’ Please don’t quit now. Your most effective days are just ahead, if you’ll fight through the mind games.” So no matter how old you are, remember that age is far more an issue of ATTITUDE than it is of YEARS. I’m 64 now and still going strong. Adult ministry looks pretty boring!


ATTENTION: Thoughts for Every Female in Youth Ministry…

I share with youth leaders all over the world on a pretty regular basis.  But there’s one question that invariably surfaces over and over again.  It usually is posed by a sharp female leader—one who seems a little awkward to bring the subject up.  It goes pretty much like this:

“Jeanne, talk to the women leaders in the crowd.  What advice would you give to us about being our most effective in youth ministry?  It’s a little bumpy for several of us.”   A nervous laugh usually comes up from the crowd.

So let me share with the gals what over four decades in youth ministry as a woman have most taught me.  These simple thoughts have been life-saving and soul-keeping on more occasions than one:

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1)  Remember that Jesus is your #1 Fan, Cheerleader, Coach, and Friend.  Though it’s easy for us ladies to take ourselves too seriously or to feel sometimes deeply misunderstood by the other gender, Jesus always “has your back.”  As simple as that statement is, that deep awareness has anchored my heart over and over again.

2)   Your key problems will come from two distinct groups of people:  Jealous women and insecure men.  Read that sentence again.  It’s a huge one.  Jealous, gossiping women have caused more anguish in my ministry journey than I dare to remember.  And insecure men (who are somehow threatened by any small success I might have) come in as a “close second place.”  So occasionally take a moment to mentally see if some of your challenges arise from one of those two categories.  Your understanding will make it easier to ride out the storms.

3)  Capitalize on your God-given female strengths – especially sensitivity and encouragement.  Jesus wired many of us ladies to be “feelers.”   We can often sense the “vibe” of a room or sense what someone is internally feeling.  Christ has also given us the skill-set to verbally encourage others in meaningful ways.  (Granted, lots of guys can do both of these things significantly well too.)  But instead of trying to be someone or something you are NOT, choose to harness the strengths Christ has already placed inside of you as a woman.  They’re dynamite!

4)  Avoid at all price becoming a negative, bossy female leader.  Remain a LADY; and remember that Jesus is your PR Agent.  You don’t need to fight and claw your way to the top.  Proverbs promises you clearly that a “man’s gift makes room for him.”  And so does a woman’s!  Keep your attitude punctuated by the Fruit of the Spirit and people (especially guys) will find it much easier to follow you.

5)  Lastly, remember that your #1 enemy will always be the voices in your own mind.  So own your mental self-talk and bring your thoughts into alignment with God’s Word and His Truth about you.  If we all truly knew how powerful our thoughts are, we’d probably never allow another negative one to set up residence in our own thought-lives.

 

Women in any career field can encounter their own unique challenges.  But trust me, girls:  You’ll never regret navigating those challenging waters to make a difference in today’s youth culture.  It’s a price that is MORE than worth paying.


How To Get Better Counseling Results

If you’re in youth ministry, you know counseling is a significant part of the job description and can be one of the most rewarding things you do. All too often, however, it can feel like a huge black hole…a total waste of time due to the lack of results. But it doesn’t have to be that way!

While one of my college degrees was in counseling, allow me to share with you 12 things they never taught to me in the classroom. The wisdom I’ve gained through my ministry run will not only help you crawl out of the black hole and get some decent results, it will also save you time…something there never seems to be enough of.

Counseling

  1. Assume that the person coming to you with the problem is usually the KEY to the SOLUTION. No one can change anything unless they’re willing to be a key part of the solution.
  2. Don’t feel GUILTY for not giving the EGRs (Extra Grace Required students) all the time they want. Your kids with potential leadership have challenges too, but they won’t wait in your line. They’re the ones you’re going to have to pay some extra dues with. You’re going to have to go after them.
  3. If possible, avoid trying to counsel when a person is SUPER EMOTIONAL. There are times to counsel and times to listen and comfort. It’s important to know the difference.
  4. Expect two levels of problems when you’re counseling with people: a SURFACE problem and a ROOT. They first need to be more comfortable with you and see your response before they let you know the big problem.
  5. Be aware of your BODY LANGUAGE, your facial expressions, your voice tone and sometimes your environment. 70% of your communication is done by your body language.
  6. If the problem that you’re counseling involves SEXUALITY, softly stop any discussion of unnecessary sensual details. When appropriate, rather than tell you, encourage them to journal the details to the Lord, then bring in the paper to pray over it and destroy it with you.
  7. The more SENSITIVE the topic, the more you need to train yourself to act like you’ve heard it a million times before. If you react, it communicates fear to them.
  8. If you’re counseling a sin pattern, go for the FUSE SHORTENER. Fuse shorteners are those simple things that may not cause the whole problem, but slowly “shorten the fuse” and make the problem more likely to happen.
  9. When you’re counseling watch and guard against strong OUT-OF-BALANCE emotional attachments to you. You have to be a bridge that develops their dependency on the Lord Himself.
  10. Teach yourself to turn direct statements into QUESTIONS. The stronger the statements you have to make, the longer you have to listen before you make them.
  11. When you’re counseling, help a person eventually see the problem from GOD’S PERSPECTIVE.
  12. Help that person turn those problems into a significant LIFE MESSAGE.

 

Youth Leaders CoachI did an entire Youth Leader’s Coach on this subject.  You’ll find it in the Youth Leader’s Coach PLAYBOOK.


Trying to be EVERYTHING for EVERYONE?

This blog entry is probably destined to be one of your favorites. Let me share candidly with you on burnout. After 40+ years in full-time youth ministry, I’ve obviously experienced my share of this. So, I wanted to share with you some of the pragmatic and medical things I have learned through the journey that can help you in this crucial area.

Let’s define BURNOUT. It’s an emotional response we can all feel when we are carrying a large amount of weight. It’s like the more we GIVE, the less fulfilled we FEEL. I would say the key word that explains burnout is demoralizing. You are just worn out. You don’t want to give another ounce of yourself.189227_10150158482055406_711280405_8745367_2954497_n

So what the ROOT CAUSE here? I think it comes down to one thing. We are trying to be EVERYTHING to EVERYONE.  This is the fast track to burnout. We have to come to the point where we realize we can’t do it all. So here are my simple thoughts to manage burnout in youth ministry.

  1. Aggressively build a FRIENDSHIP CIRCLE you can be honest with.

According to surveys done by the Fuller Institute of Church Growth, 70% of pastors have no one they consider to be a close friend and 50% have considered leaving the ministry in the last 3 months. Those are staggering statistics and I suspect that the numbers aren’t too different for youth pastors and leaders. Youth ministry can be agonizingly lonely. Without someone to turn to, to share honest feelings with, we can all become victims of burnout.

  1. Take care of any unfinished EMOTIONAL business. 

Burnout can creep into the heart that holds resentment. Without honestly confronting emotional issues with someone, you can be weighed down with bitterness, hurt, pain and resentment. I often say, “Unforgiveness is allowing a person to live rent-free in your mind.” We must all handle our unfinished emotional business with care.

  1. Learn to honor a youth leader’s Sabbath and to create your own seasons of rest. 

I won’t say much about this one, but I will add a word of encouragement. Do this one GUILT FREE, which can be especially hard if you have the disease to please like I do. However, I have to tell myself, no one can put me on a trip, unless I’m willing to buy the ticket.

Most of all, I wanted you to realize that when you feel pretty seriously stressed and even burned out, you are understood and not crazy! We all walk through seasons like this. My prayer is that these simple thoughts will help you the next time life feels like it’s closing in on you.

I love you, my friends.

 

 

 


Kingdom Promotion

I’ve recently been studying promotion and how some people reach their goals in the church world.  For all of us, promotion looks a little different.  Some of us in the Kingdom of God leadership, can let our hearts go bad.  So let me ask a rare question, “How do you let yourself be promoted without sacrificing your heart?”

Kingdom Promotion

Here are some of my thoughts to help navigate the world of Kingdom promotion.

 
  • Don’t believe your own PRESS RELEASES. 

The right kind of leadership walks in humility.  All of God’s greats understood that He wanted to be their PRESS AGENT.  For me, people always asks me what I did that gave me a little bit of acclaim and credibility.  I think it was that I chose not to believe my own PRESS RELEASE.  Instead, I just trusted the Lord that He knew the right moves for me.

  •  Be faithful with what you are doing now.  Be faithful in the little things. 

You never outgrow the small moments of cleaning bathrooms, wiping down toilets and picking up after people.  Leadership in the Kingdom will require simple acts of service and servant-hood.  Remember, “he who is trusted with little, can be trusted with much.”

When I feel in my own heart that my attitude goes south in the small things, then I realize that the issue is not with the THING, the issue is with me.  Many people think leadership is talking.  Leadership is not talking.  Leadership is example.  It’s not about holding a microphone, but being faithful in the small things.

  • Galatians 1:16-17, “When the Lord called me, I went to be with the Lord myself.” 

Choose to have a regular Arabia:  your own time with the Lord.  This is what keeps you grounded and centered the higher up the leadership ladder you go.  Let the Lord anoint you for what He has called you to, and in DUE SEASON, He will exalt you.


The Future Is With The Disciplined

My phone just rang again with another agonizing report of a leader who’s out of the game due to some agonizing personal choices. My mind races with other names who’ve joined that sad list—people who could’ve given so much to kids. Allow me to briefly “preach to the choir” with the reminder that it’s far too easy for our charisma to outstrip our character.

Oswald Chambers said, “The future is with the disciplined. And without discipline, the gifts of a leader, no matter how great, will never reach their maximum potential.” Let’s take his wise advice one step further. Without discipline, the gifts of a leader can become highly dangerous. We can become so verbal that we begin talking rings around the people we should be listening to. We can become so influential that our influence slowly erodes into manipulation. We can become so much a public representative of God that our private relationship with Him becomes past tense.

Some simple warning signs let me know when I’m getting out of touch with Christ in my personal life. See if any resonate with you:

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• I speak often from my head but rarely from my heart.

• I speak about yesterday and have nothing fresh from today.

• I speak about what I’ve learned rather than what I’m learning.

• I cease to answer my own altar calls.

• I long more for the approval of people than of God.

• I internally resent those around me who question my decisions or authority.

 

The ultimate bottom line for me is the stark realization that it’s much easier to get followers than it is to be worthy of being followed. Our talent can become deadly—kind of like an octopus on roller skates. From the outside, we produce plenty of movement but never know which direction we’re really going.

Recently, I received a sincere compliment. “Jeanne, your character is so consistent that predicting you is a little boring,” someone said laughingly. I paused and then said thanks. I’m not sure I’ve ever been called boring before, but in that context, I celebrated. By God’s grace, I’m determined to be better at leading myself than at leading others.

So here’s a new goal: Aspire to be consistent enough in your character that people will someday call you a little boring. While they may be yawning, Jesus will be smiling.