Thursday, November 3, 2011

Thank you…

As Youth Pastors, there are some many things that we do that are overlooked and underappreciated.  Often times, teens and their families forget to or don’t know to say “thank you.”  It is amazing to me how deeply touching a simple heartfelt thank you means.  So, as today is National Thank A Youth Worker Day (check out more about this at, we at Youth Pastors Anonymous wanted to say thank you.  So hear these “thank yous” as if they are from your youth and their families…

Thank you for answering your call from God to go back to help those who are in high school and middle school; even if those were terrible years for you, we need help and you provide.  Thank you.

Thank you for all the times you stay up praying and struggling to find a way to help me understand faith and why it matters in my life.  Thank you.

Thank you for all the boring church meetings you sit through so that you can be a voice for us. Thank you.

Thank you for showing up to my games, concerts, plays, speeches, recitals, and so many other things; it shows you care beyond the walls of the church.  Thank you.

Thank you for all the notes you write, they really do mean so much to me and always seem to come at the right time. Thank you.

Thank you for bringing me cookies, ice cream, coffee, anything while I was recovering.  It reminded me about truly being the church to each other.  Thank you.

Thank you for planning, scheduling, setting up, running, and cleaning up for retreats and events.  I cannot image how much time you spent on this just so we can experience God in a deep and real way.  Thank you.

Thank you for spend hours preparing a lesson that I can relate to so I can learn what it means to be a disciple of Christ. Thank you.

Thank you for being with me when my world fell apart and I had nothing to live for and you were there present with me reminding me how God is with me. Thank you.

Thank you for asking me hard questions and caring about my soul, it challenges me to look beyond the shallows to the depths.  Thank you.

Thank you for being one of the few people who asks “How are you?” and stays around to listen to a real answer.  Thank you.

Thank you for always being there, week after week, and consistently showing up in my life.  Even if I seem like it doesn’t matter, it does; a lot.  Thank you.

Thank you for pointing out where God is at work in my messy life, sometimes it is so hard for me to believe that God cares; but you are a constant reminder that God does. Thank you.

Most of all, thank you for the fact that you live out faith in such a way that it makes me excited to be a Christian and one of the greatest gifts that you have given me.  Thank you.

Thank you for being such an amazing youth worker!
Chris and Joanna Cummings

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Are you walking? - A reflection from Modern Family

I love the show Modern Family!  Often times is night be the funniest show out there, mostly because it brings up things that we have all seen in one way or another in our own family.  A recent episode, Phil on Wire (Season 3: Episode 3), was one that stuck out for me as a youth worker as well.
One part of the “Modern Family” is made up of a husband, wife, senior and freshman in high school daughters, and a preteen boy.  In this episode, they are addressing how do we teach our children how to handle life choices well, a topic they cover all the time.  The thing that stuck out to me as a youth worker in this episode was how the mom and dad tried to teach a lesson to their children.

The mom, on several occasions, is telling her daughters how they should handle getting along with each other and other people.  While she is doing this, we see the mom getting frustrated with the parking lot cop as the school.
Phil, the dad, and his son are seen in wonder of a movie about tightrope walkers.  Phil then decides that he must do this.  And he and his son spend the rest of the show trying to do get Phil to successfully tightrope walk across the yard.

(Spoiler) By the end, the mom is being arrested by the parking lot cop all while still trying to teach her girls about making good choices, while the dad is walking on a tightrope.

What stood out to me was this: 
How often do we as youth workers keep telling teens how to be a follower of Christ, all the while not living it out ourselves?

Think about the last time you as you, and not as a youth worker (not just because it was part of your job), but when was the last time you served because you were living out your faith… when was the last time?

I know for me, if I am honest and look back on a given week, I spend most of my time planning how to communicate how to be a follower of Christ or complaining about how some part of the church is limiting me to do so.  Instead of living out what it means to be a follower of Christ and asking others to join in. 

There are two inspiring points to leave you with from the episode that I hope challenge and encourage you: son challenges Phil, who was trying to tightrope 6 inches off the ground and failing: “Maybe that’s the problem, maybe you keep falling is because part of you knows you can fall; maybe if the wire was much, much higher you wouldn’t fall…”

After this, the mom and daughters come home to the son cheering on dad, as he walks a much higher rope, and the mom reflects: “All week long I have been telling my girls how to act instead of showing them. But not Phil, Phil could have said Alex relax don’t take everything so seriously or Hailey challenge yourself, don’t give up so easily.  But instead of talking the talk, Phil walked the walk (literally).  And isn’t that what we are supposed to do for the people we love?”

May we stop spending so much of our lives talking about faith, and raise the wire for how we live out our faith, so that those watching might be inspired to join in on the greatest story ever…

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


Last gathering of YPA, we discussed Youth Leadership: What do we do to train, equip, and let youth be leaders in our churches and groups? The range of answers was from "nothing, it is easier to do myself" to "we let them have enough leadership that they might fail from time to time."

I got me thinking, not just about youth leadership though, but about who is helping to lead us as youth pastors.

I know that in the perfect world everyone would get along great with their pastors and they would guide us in leadership and faith, but let's face it; this just isn't always the case.  And even if you do have a great relationship, the pastor is so busy with the other staff and rest of the church; the focus on you is minimal.

So I ask: Who is helping you develop into a leader of student and adult leaders?

It seems like often times we just wing it, it might work and it might not.  But what if we could have other leaders come along side us and help give us guidance, encouragement, and challenge our thinking and practice to make us better at what we do?

If we are honest, we all need people in our live who will help push us to keep growing. Sometimes this happens naturally, sometimes you need to create it.  

For me, I am currently part of a program Center for Youth Ministry Training, in which thier four priciples are Classroom, Church, Coaching, and Cohort.  Essentially pairing a seminary student with a church while support both with a coach to guide the youth worker and provide a place for thier peers to gather and grow.

I believe that YPA can help provide the cohort aspect in any context, but you must seek out mentors, coaches, in you life.  Mentors who will challenge you to become the leader you were created to be!

Be inspired today that the mentors are out there, you just need to be active in finding them and setting out time to meet.

Who are you going to sit down to coffee with?

Monday, August 15, 2011

Who is pouring into you...

We had a great YPA gathering this month!  It was amazing to be back together after taking the summer off.  I cannot describe how uplifting it is to be together with the community!  We spent the time sharing stories of how we witnessed God working this summer, one by one we shared great stories of how we saw God at work in our teens, through our teens, and even in us.  They were all amazing storied, but there was one story that got me thinking...

The story was about how she was invited to go on a mission trip with some people from her church, and although there were youth on the trip, she was not really expected to lead in any way; and they were paying for her to go.  

Through the trip she was able to experience again what it is like to go on a mission trip and experience God at work, without needing to worry about the next thing or what that kid is doing over there.

She described it as a truly refreshing and refueling.  She then described, how many of us feel, that it seems like she was always, and never being pour into herself, and she looked up and said to the group of youth ministers: "Do you every feel like that? Where you are always pouring out and no one is pouring into you?"

And you could see on everyone's face, including my own, that we all felt that way in one way or another.

It does seem like we find ourselves in this place more often than not, if we are honest.  As ministers, too often we find that no one is there or even thinks of ministering to us.  And we know that it is not just some devotional that is going to fill us.

For me, at each church I have been at as a youth pastor, I have always found a family or two who recognizes this and in their own way pours into our life and is there for us, without trying to push an agenda. And second, it is relationships with peers, fellow youth pastors, those in the same boat, that I also find refueling in.  It is these relationships that you can find refueling, rest, and God.

May you find these kind of relationships in your context, so that you may find rest...

Friday, July 15, 2011

A letter to student's parents...

Click here for a letter written by a former youth minister who now works with youth pastors, Brian Abby from YouthMark.

I like the things that he says in the letter, but here the question:
Have you ever had "the look?"  Do you now?
I know for me, often times I can feel alone on an island, as a minister.  I can't talk to anyone in church because it could come back to bite me. I can't always share with others on staff; friends don't understand.  I feel alone.

I have seen too many great youth ministers be beaten by the system, the church, and because they felt alone walked away from youth ministry. This brings me so much sadness to me.

I want you to know you are not alone, and I encourage you in these moments...before these moments; find other youth workers, others in your shoes and build a community you can turn to.

If you can't find anyone, contact me.

You are not alone!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Sabbath for Pastors...

There was a new article out in the United Methodist Portal about the struggle of pastors trying to find Sabbath. It obviously works well for all those in full or part-time ministry as well.

Here is the Link

Friday, March 25, 2011

Epic Fail Pastors Conference...

I stumbled upon this and was excited there was at least something out there for pastors.  Looks interesting.

Find out more here

Epic Fail Pastors Conference from Epic Fail Pastors Conference on Vimeo.

Monday, March 21, 2011

A safe place for us as ministers...

Hi, I’m Chris and I’m a Youth Pastor…

We often joke that YPA is a support group for youth pastors, but the more we build community and relationships, the more and more it is true.  YPA is a support group, and perhaps it is exactly what we as ministers need. 

I have been reading “In the Name of Jesus” by Henri Nouwen - If you have not ever read Nouwen you need too!  Anyway, Nouwen was a priest who after years in ministry ended up moving to a community of people with special needs called L’Arche.  He writes out of the wisdom he gains from this community that truly shares life, pain, joys, hopes…everything. 

In one part of his book “In the Name of Jesus,” Nouwen shares his wisdom about a communal ministry as opposed to individual super star ministry.  He shares about how before he moved to this community, he did ministry alone.  He put on a show, and hoped people applauded, and how his new community made him realize it.

“Living in a community with very wounded people, I came to see that I had lived most of my life as a tightrope artist trying to walk on a high, thin cable from one tower to another, always waiting for the applause when I had not fallen and broken my leg.”

I know I feel like a circus performer…more than I would like to admit; walking the thin line, between entertaining enough that people come and pay attention and then maybe sharing God.  Between what the parents want, the youth want, the church wants, the pastor wants, the random lady who tells me what I am doing wrong wants, and the other random guy who thinks that youth should do this this and this wants …I am just trying to walk on the wire.

“Jesus refused to be a stunt man.  He did not come to walk on hot coals, swallow fire, or put his head in the lion’s mouth to demonstrate that he had something worthwhile to say.”

Sounds like youth ministry – we must have brightest lights, newest media, nicest hippest threads ...yes hippest, and messiest games.  My temptation in all this is to show how good I am at walking the tightrope.  To show all of them, I can do it.  I can be perfect in the eye of everyone…and all the while hoping that it ends in applause.  But it seems like it almost never does…so I try harder, walking on a thinner line while carrying more things…

I know deep within me this isn’t how it is supposed to be.  It can’t be. We were all created to live, worship, and be in community with God and others.  Yes, even those in the ministry.  As Nouwen points out, it is in us honestly sharing life together that we are truly ministers; but too often we as ministers don’t do this.  We keep a safe distance from those we minister to just to make sure they don’t know we mess up too.  We know that our churches demand perfection from imperfect people, so we just don’t share that side with them…

“But how can we lay down our life for those with whom we are not even allowed to enter into deep personal relationship?  Laying down your life means making your own faith and doubt, hope and despair, joy and sadness, courage and fear available to others as ways of getting in touch with the Lord of life.”

We are called be willing to share our pains, hurts, and brokenness as an example to our churches.  Through it we teach them that God calls the broken into healing, the hurt into comfort, and the empty into fullness. 

One last point Nouwen makes is that he prays that ministers all find safe places for them to be broken. I don’t think that he is under the disillusion that our churches are the perfect place for all of this; we need to be vulnerable with our churches, but maybe not completely. 

“I am convinced that priests and ministers, especially those who relate to many anguishing people, need a truly safe place for themselves.  They need a place where they can share their deep pain and struggles with people who do not need them, but who can guide them even deeper into the mystery of God’s love.”

For Nouwen L’Arche was this place for him.   I know that YPA has become this place for me and many others.  It is a place where I can be open about struggles in my call and ministry, knowing everyone in the room has or will be in this same place at some time.  I can be vulnerable because I know they don’t depend on me, we depend on the community of ministers.  We must be have those we rely on and they on us, just like an archway each needing the others help. 

If you work in ministry, I pray that you have or find a community like this.  May this website help you create one if there is nothing like this around you… not because we have all the answers, but maybe it will make it easier to start.

I will leave you with one last hope from Nouwen, a passionate plea to God and us.

“Would that all priests and ministers could have such a safe place for themselves.”

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Rights of Passage...Milestone Ministry

At our last YPA gathering, we discussed what were some memory makers or traditions that our groups had that really helped bring youth to God.  I will add more about what we talked about soon, but one of the things I thought was interesting that we discussed we the idea of implementing "rights of passage" or "a milestone ministry."  The idea is simple, when a youth or group of youth attain a certain goal, achievement, or big life milestone; we celebrate it and honor it.

As my wife, Joanna, is a children's minister; I have heard her talk about this a lot as a place that it looks like children's ministry may try to really go to.  I think in many ways it could be a good thing where we help celebrate our children as the continue on their faith journey into adolescence.

So the question came up "What faith/life stages happen that would we would be able to celebrate within a youth ministry?"
Some of what we came up with:
Getting your drivers license

I think what I really got thinking about was "Bibles."  How does the church encourage its young people throughout children's ministry to adulthood to read, breath, and live the scriptures? Does it?

At our church right now, we present the first Bibles to children in 3rd grade because they can now read well enough to be able to read it on their own.
The second time we present Bibles is for confirmation which happens around the 6th or 7th grade year.
The final time we present Bibles is for high school graduation.
I think that this can be a good flow to help them always have a relevant Bible for their age level.

At our YPA gathering, the idea was brought up: Is it better for the church or the parents to give the Bible?
I think that this is a great question because we want the home to be a place that encourages faith, but we also want the church to be a place for that as well.  Could somehow both give it?

My wife, in her great wisdom, this past year had the church buy Bibles for the 3rd graders, but she had everyone on staff go through each Bible and highlight and sign by their favorite verse(s), she also had the parents write a note in the front of the Bible for their child and highlight their own favorite scripture verse(s).  I think it is something that would be great to do at every milestone.

What if we could pick a few mile markers to celebrate with young people in our church? And what if we figured out how to have the church and home work together in that celebration?  How would it help the youth, the home, and the church?


Tuesday, February 22, 2011

YPA Webinar! This Thursday!


February 24, 2011
Youth Pastors Anonymous Hank Hilliard in conversation with Chris Cummings the founder of Youth Pastors Anonymous.  YPA is a ecumenical group of youth pastors in the Nashville area that meets monthly for support, encouragement, and to be challenged to grow in their faith and ministry.  Chris says the power of YPA lies in the sharing of our lives and stories.  This is not group counseling, but a community of co-journeyers.  YPA enables relationships and fellowship to expand way beyond the monthly meetings.  Come hear the story of YPA, be encouraged, and discover how you might find or start your own group.

Click here to register for the webinar.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Great moment in Youth Ministry...

A couple of YPA gatherings ago, we shared our great moments in youth ministry, the ones that keep us all going. 

The one that I shared was one that happened very recently.
I have been at my church for about a year and a half and we have a family who has a high school daughter who has physical handicaps.  Josie is an amazing girl, but she is unable to walk very far so she is usually in a wheel chair, and she struggles to communicate only with her eyes and smile, because she is also unable to talk.

Since, we have been at this church, my wife and I have been trying hard to make it possible for them to feel comfortable for Josie to come to youth.  She had stopped coming because it was too hard. 

She now comes to youth once a week during our Wednesday night programming, but I don't think I remember her ever being at church on Sunday mornings because it is just too hard to get her ready in time. 

But the other day, when it was time for communion at our Sunday morning worship, Josie's family and Josie came up!  She was walking the whole way up and took communion!!!

I have to say, it was one of the most amazing visuals of redemption!

I think that in sharing our stories or great moments in youth ministry, we can all be encouraged and healed from the many times we are beaten down and broken from all the small things that add up.

So hear this story as yours.... and add your own!