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Youth leaders blog

March 8, 2011, 10:02 am

Shining a light on shadowing

I am convinced that one of the simplest ways to develop leaders is to invite them to shadow another leader: to watch what they do, how they do it and to ask why they do it that way. I was going to write 'one of the easiest ways' but I am not sure 'easiest' is perhaps the right word!

Shadowing can be difficult for the leader as it means we are allowing someone else to watch how we do things, and that may mean that they see the reality of our own self leadership. Will they judge me for seeing that I tend to leave my youth meeting preparation to the last minute?

The reason it is one of the simplest ways is because we do need to do the stuff anyway so having someone alongside is quite practical. So the question for me is straightforward: what do I do in my leadership that I could ask a young person to join me in? This may mean leading a service, running a game, organising an outing. All these things require skills in leadership which we can simply pass on by inviting someone to prepare it with us. Then, on future occasions we can ask them to organise a bit more, and eventually perhaps they might start to run with these things without the need for us to help them. That's when it gets exciting because you can start leading someone else, or invest in that new initiative that you've always wanted to set up.

My experience is that by letting people shadow us, I raise my own leadership game as I want to model well and not teach the bad habits I've picked up. So letting someone shadow me shines a light on my own leadership habits and in turn helps me to grow.


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February 4, 2011, 3:40 pm

Feeding your forgotten soul

As youth leaders we have many people who we are responsible for. There are the young people for starters and then the others we lead with. We may have responsible for our own family and children, not forgetting being responsible for the work that we are paid to do (whether in the church or elsewhere). And yet how easy it is to ignore the one life that we are most responsible for, our own.
We are each called by God first and foremost to 'love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength' (Deuteronomy 6:5, TNIV). This is the greatest commandment and yet how quickly I find myself changing 'love' to 'serve', serve the Lord with all your heart.....

I am an activist by nature and so love getting things done. One of my strengths I discovered (through Strengthsfinder) is achiever, so I need to get things done. But the most important thing for me is not how much can I do or how much I can achieve, but how much do I love God. I need to regularly bring myself before God and simply remain at his feet.

What does it mean to love God with all your heart, all your soul and all your strength? To me, these words certainly conjure up images of not a passive activity but a very persistent, active one.

What's your relationship with God like right now? I've had the privilege of spending some time out this week to be able to ask myself this question and to make sure that I have in place simple steps to help me grow closer to my heavenly father, and, as a result, grow deeper in my understanding of who he made me to be.

If you haven't taken time out recently, why not book in some time when you can meet with God. Don't carry an agenda, just spend time hanging out with your heavenly father. I promise you won't regret it.

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January 7, 2011, 9:43 am

Repeat, rewind, create

The Christmas TV programming schedule was filled with its now usual range of festive assortment from reality shows, movie premieres to, of course, an abundance of repeats.

Repeats are interesting, aren't they? Of course on the one hand they make for cheap television as the broadcasters roll out old material but they also do get good viewing figures generally so people do want to watch them. The massive market for DVD sales of TV shows highlights this desire to watch our favourite shows more than once.

TV schedulers are clever people. Have you noticed how some programmes seem to be repeated forever, and yet others never seem to be on? Then, after years, they bring something back for a season and we love reliving the memories from the first time around.

So what does this all have to do with youth ministry? When something goes well in our group there is a massive motivation to repeat it again immediately.

The leaders of our 11-14s group in our church organised a sleepover in the church hall last term. It was the first time that this had happened (as far as I know, anyway) and it went fantastically well. So much so that the leaders wanted to hold another sleepover the following month. But would this be the best thing to do? If we repeat things too quickly or too often, the chances are that the 'specialness' of the event wears off. It's interesting how often attendance at a once per month event has higher attendance than weekly events. One reason for this is that if I miss one week there's always next week, but if I miss a month then it's a long time to wait until the next time.

Sometimes, our memories are important drivers for helping us make decisions about the future. If the young people look back on the last sleepover with delight and affection, they are more likely to sign up for the sleepover the next time.

But we must not underestimate how important space to live off the last event is to young people, to relive the memories and part of this experience is when we leave enough time between repeating events. So maybe instead of repeating the sleepover the following month, leave it a term and then as we promote it next time the memories from the last event come flooding back, and so do the stories (often embelished!) and so creating an expectation and excitement for the new event.

Conversely, one evening the leaders of our 14-18s group asked a couple of young people if they would lead some sung worship as part of their group meeting. It went really well and as a result they have introduced sung worship on a fortnightly basis. This was essential to create enough momentum for this to become the norm in the group. If they had left this longer it would be much harder to develop this aspect of the ministry.

I think the difference between these two examples is one is a memory maker, the other develops a core value. For memories to be most beneficial, they need time to develop and lodge in our memory banks, for values to grow they need to repeated often so it becomes the accepted norm.

Finally, sometimes it is easier to live off what worked well last time rather than create new things. Sometimes we need to look at what worked well and see what can be learnt from it rather than simply repeating. So in the end we are not repeating the sleepover this term. We are taking all the young people, 11-18, away for a whole weekend instead!


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November 18, 2010, 3:30 pm

The Cube - a youth leader's dream

The second series of 'The Cube' has been on Sunday nights for a few weeks now and proves compulsive viewing as Phillip Schofield tries to encourage contestants to take it in turns to try and 'beat the cube' and win £250,000 (so far unsuccessfully).

The game is simple. Complete a number of challenges, each one taking them nearer to that jackpot. The challenges are made up of different games to test the challenger and they have to decide whether or not to walk away with the money they've earned or to risk everything to 'beat the cube'.

As I sit and watch this most weeks with my family, I can't help thinking two things:

1. Was the programme written by youth leaders? I've certainly tried many of these challenges with different young people over the years.

2. If we haven't done so already, we should be using these games! The challenges are perfect for fun ways of engaging young people who attend youth groups and clubs each week.

As someone who is always looking for new ways of engaging teenagers, this format is great. I am sure I will not be the first leader to stage a 'The Cube' night, as we invite the young people to take the different challenges including emptying a box of balls in 10 seconds and stepping over a series of beams while blindfolded.

The great thing about these challenges are that they are mostly very simple, which makes them simple to emulate.

The games also could be adapted to make them team challenges and so foster an atmosphere of co-operation and cheering each other on.

As a close for such an evening, it would be great to get the young people to think about the risks they take and how this can be motivated by greed if we're not careful.

Well that's just a few of my thoughts on this ready-to-use resource from ITV!

Do let me know how you use it.


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October 13, 2010, 10:32 am

The X Factor

Our television screens are loaded once again with competitions: have you got the X factor come dancing you're fired?

We're told the competition has never been stronger, that this year is better than ever, that only one can win. The desperation in each of the contestants heart-felt stories and testimonies show that 'this is it' for them as they express how they have 'waited my entire life' for this moment. Life is left hanging on a score or an opinion or a wave of a finger fired. The reality is only one can win; the rest, by default, fail.

Whilst fun to watch, I can't help wondering whether these kinds of programmes make us more judgemental as a nation. How quickly I find myself watching and deciding that an act is no good before they've even really started.

All too often I meet people who feel they don't measure up to much, that they wish they were more like someone else they know. We do young people a disservice if we tell them they can be anyone they want to be. The reality is all too clear from these programmes - you can't. What you can be is all that God created you to be and the promise of life in all its fullness if we follow His path for our lives.

Now that's an exciting route to take, where there's no fear of being judged, of not measuring up because each of us is unique and so is God's plan for each of us.

As we disciple young people, we need to be helping them to discover God's blueprint for their life. There's something very special about those moments when a young person discovers a bit more of why God made them they way they are, and they are given a fresh boost of life as a result.

Competition is good, indeed research suggests that boys in particular need it to help stimulate growth, but not when it is at the cost of self esteem.

The reality is that there is the X factor in each of us, if the X factor is something special that sets us apart from everyone else. The challenge is to realise that this special something is no better or worse than the next person's, as it's always unique and personal. It is exactly this X factor that shows us why God made us. We are His gift to the world, at this time, in this place and there is no one like us.
You're hired!

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