Introverts and Youth Ministry

May 13, 2009 by · 4 Comments
Filed under: Religion, Youth 

Grier Booker-Richards – a friend, seminarian about to graduate (hire her now, ask me how!), and experienced youth ministry veteran – has given me another blog challenge.  “Write something about introverts and youth ministry”.

Now, I’m no expert on youth ministry.  At best I’m a somewhat gifted amateur.  So I will write about what I can clearly write about – my experiences and what that leads me to think.

Background:  I’m just over the border to the 40’s, I test clearly as an INFP (strong I, strong N), and I’ve been a camp counselor and more recently a volunteer youth advisor to a Sr. High youth group at my church.  My return to church after a long absence also marked my first journey into youth ministry as an adult.  That was about 2 years ago.  (Wow.  Only 2 years?)

I’ll divide the rest into 2 areas:  Introverts entering youth ministry, and Introvert style in youth ministry

Introverts Entering Youth Ministry

I’ll admit it – I was very nervous when I started doing youth ministry again.  The last time I had done it was when I was a youth.  I remembered it fondly, and most importantly I was invited in.  Alicia, who I knew from camp, invited me to try out the youth group for a week or two.  She told me when to arrive and how to prepare.  She was there the first evening.

I was feeling a bit worried because my youth relational skills were VERY rusty.  Carolyn and I don’t have children, and I had very little interaction with anybody under age 25 for almost 20 years.  I didn’t know if I would have anything in common with the youth.  I was feeling all of the same fears that any new member of a youth group would feel.

I overcame that, and discovered (mostly in the 2nd week, when we broke out into groups) that the youth were fantastic people.  No, I mean REALLY impressive – better than I remember being at their age.

The key for me was that I had someone who invited me in.  Without Alicia I’m not sure that I would have taken the step.  It’s really funny to think that after my experiences.  Today, as I go through my career transition, I’m told repeatedly that if possible my new career should include working with youth.  There are people saying that they believe that I have a gift for this.  And I never would have found that out without Alicia pulling me in.

If you are an introvert (or just “shy”) and are considering youth ministry, try it.  Do it on your terms – make sure that you aren’t making a permanent or long-term commitment and just try it out for a week or two.  You’ll find out very quickly that you love it or hate it or can do it but it doesn’t excite you.  See where God is calling you.  Peek out of your shell.

It’s also important to remember a few things to be more comfortable.  First, you are an adult.  You are the authority in the room (maybe not the top dog, but certainly above the youth).  You have a life outside of the group.  You can walk away if you feel that you need to.  Second – you aren’t alone.  Something like 20% of the youth AND adults in the room will be introverts, too.  Other youth workers are trained (to some degree) in working with people of different types and they’ll be able to “read” you too and help you find your place.  Third – everybody (God included) wants the best possible experience for you and the youth.  They’ve got your back.  Fourth – be yourself.  If you are considering doing this it’s likely that being yourself is good enough (or better).  Youth need different kinds of adults in their lives.  By being yourself you provide them the strong example of authenticity when interacting with others.

In short – entering any new situation is hard.  This one can be easier than most.

Introvert Style in Youth Ministry

One of the great “truths” about ministry is that its easier for those who are outgoing or extroverted.  There’s some truth to that – ministry requires you to meet many new people and understand their needs and to give your message to the world.  It’s real, but not absolute.

Youth ministry is one place where being an introvert is a double-edged sword.  On the one hand the youth minister is expected to lead a group of people in need of direction and guidance.  You can’t live completely in your shell to do that.  But on the other hand, youth ministers are expected to be able to take a deep dive into the lives of their youth – particularly those who need more guidance or help or a shoulder to cry on than the average.  This is where introverts excel.

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Youth today need breadth and depth.  Breadth is something that the extrovert large group leader is good at – energizing, motivating, teaching and entertaining a crowd.  The extrovert leader is able to communicate with the mass of youth and mold them roughly into better disciples, while gaining energy.

Where the introvert excels is depth.  Introverts are very comfortable delving into the deep corners of the soul, and often make very good listeners.  Introverts who trust others can build relationships that are long-term, deep, and very meaningful to both parties.  The introvert in youth ministry is less a sunny day or a thunderstorm than a rock or a tree – a solid (but not unchanging) structure that a youth can choose to linger near or cling to.

Please note first that these are gross generalizations and not true in all cases.  Sara Ferguson, one of my fellow youth advisors, is an extrovert with a capital E, and a capital X, and a capital T … you get the idea.  Yet she has formed the deepest relationships with our youth and is a strong and deep presence in their lives.  I’m getting better at working the group instead of working with individuals myself.  It’s an experience thing.

Also please note that breadth and depth are not the same things as quantity and quality.  Breadth and depth in youth ministry work are different kinds of quality.  Quantity does influence style – the extrovert is somewhat better with large groups and the introvert may be better with an individual.  But quality is in my opinion more important than quantity.  Breadth and depth are both different and non-contradictory measures of quality.

I also firmly believe that anybody can love anybody else (that’s what we’re doing – loving the youth).  Some relationships are natural and a few are almost automatic.  There’s no truth to the idea that introverted leaders work best with introverted youth, or the opposite.  It’s just a matter of style.

I do have a few tips for introverts in youth ministry, particularly those new to it:

Sitting on the Couch – Grier (remember Grier – she asked for this) taught me in an e-mail message that I received on the way to my first Montreat Youth Conference a ministry style that works well for me.  It’s called “Ministry by sitting on the couch”.  The idea is to simply be there, be available, and the youth will come to you.  At Montreat that took the form of sitting on the couch at First House (often recovering strength) and being open to speaking with the youth.  At my church youth group it means being loose and approachable – being there for someone to talk to.  If a youth wants to speak with you, they will find you.  This really works!  I had a few youth approach me at Montreat and we had some really deep conversations.  The same happens back at home – particularly with the youth who arrive early for events.  A few other thoughts on this – boundaries are important.  Don’t get hounded into giving up all of your free time.  When you are there for them, you have to give them your FULL attention.  Introverts are generally good at this unless socially exhausted.  Also, a little bit of followup privately (as opposed to in the middle of the room in a crowd) is important.

You Won’t Connect With All of Them – One thing that I find periodically frustrating is an inability to connect with all of my youth.  I truly love each of them in a way unique to the individual.  Realize this – you couldn’t possibly connect with each youth even if you wanted to, unless your group is VERY small.  And there’s no reason to expect to either.  This is why having multiple volunteers is important – different people click with different youth.  Don’t be upset if you fail to make a strong connection with any given youth – it’s more important that the youth connect with SOME adult.  Just be there for the youth that you do connect with.

One related issue common to INFP’s is the typical inability to accept yourself.  INFP’s are never satisfied with themselves – there is always a way to improve.  For me this means that the way that other people see me is a blind spot – I have trouble seeing myself as others see me.  Seek a safe person to check your assumptions with – they may see your interactions with others differently (and more accurately) than you do.

Help the introverted youth – You know what it’s like to be new in a group, and what it’s like to be an introvert in a crowd.  Be on the lookout for youth going through the same things.  Sit next to the new kid and just be there.  You don’t have to make endless small talk.  Just be there.  And if a youth reaches the “people overload” point and has to leave the room for a while, be the person who follows them for safety reasons.  Find a reason to go in the same direction (cleaning up dishes often works) and just bump into them in the hall.  Give them the space that they need without needing to round them up to rejoin the group.  You’ll need to bring them back at some point, but you’ll have some idea of when their batteries are recharged enough.  This requires some trust of both the leaders and the youth, but you’ll reach the “it’s OK – Mark is handling it” point pretty quickly.

You are not just an introvert – Everybody is different.  Everybody has different talents.  You will form relationships with all types of youth – both the introverted and the extroverted.  That’s a good thing.  You may have to extend yourself a little more than you’re used to, but it’s totally worth it.  You have something to give to the group that is unique, and you need to share it with all.  For me, it’s a love of sci-fi and anime, drumming, and flying.  For you it is probably something else.  Share yourself with all.

To sum up – introverts are a bit of a special case in youth ministry, but it is not a negative.  Introverts bring unique skills and viewpoint to any group, and can balance things.  Introverts can minister to other introverts, but are most effective when providing a quiet but strong presence to all.

Busy Week

May 12, 2009 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Job Search, Life, Religion, Young Adult, Youth 

This is gonna be a very busy week.  I’m going to be out and about in several communities with lots of activities.  Perhaps I’ll meet you at one of them.

Yesterday the ball started rolling with the God Complex radio show at noon EDT.  That went very well.  Later in the evening I had the Board of Deacons meeting at church which also went very well and very fast.

This morning I’m going to have to mow the lawn due to the impending days of rain (again).

This afternoon I’m going to the Presbytery of New Brunswick meeting, and assisting in the pre-presbytery event on “Working with Facebook”.  Before the meeting I have a networking meeting with someone in New Brunswick.

Tomorrow is relatively quiet.  A networking meeting in the morning, and the DVRA ham radio club meeting in the evening.  I may go get my driver’s license renewed during the day – it’s time again.
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Thursday afternoon begins the Princeton Seminary Institute for Youth Ministry Conference on Emerging Adulthood.  That runs Thursday afternoon and evening, all day Friday, and Saturday morning.  Friday evening, I’ll miss dinner and the recreation to attend a fundraising dinner “Southern Hospitality on the Lawn” related to my church.

Saturday morning I’ll miss rehearsal for Deacon Sunday.  Saturday evening my church youth group is holding a Cabaret and Silent Auction fundraiser for the summer trips.

Sunday morning is Deacon Sunday (I’m doing the Call to Worship), grocery delivery for Crisis Ministry in Trenton and the end of year party for our customers, and the Worship in a New Key service.

Monday I may get to see Carolyn again.  This is really a nutty week.

Staying Busy

Recently I have been thinking about what I do with my “non-work” time.  With my career transition, I’m able to use time for “non-work” activities during the day, hopefully to the benefit of others.  Someday I hope that I can combine my vocation and avocations.

This led me to thinking about listing all of the various things that I do.  Some people put them on their resumes, but mine is already too long and I’m not sure what it would add.  So I’ll list my “sideline” things here for your interest/amusement.  I know that once I find a job I may have to cut back on some of these (indeed – several of them have been started since my career transition started with the caveat that I may have to stop at some point).


Recently I’ve been providing computer services to others as a sideline.  Mostly this consists of PC maintenance, including some hardware work, installing software updates, and a lot of fixes to things like “my computer does X when I do Y – can you fix that?”.  This is done for various forms of renumeration including lunch and good will.

I’m also going to be helping another church do some brainstorming of what they want on their church’s website.  And yet another church has asked for help with their website, but I don’t know the specifics yet.

Local Church

I have a lot of roles at church:

  • Deacon – currently serving on the Board of Deacons, assigned to the Prayer Team and enjoying serving Communion on occasion.  I’m also the designated “e-mail reminder” person who sends a note to the people assigned to jobs each Sunday.
  • Open Door – recently completed a stint as co-chair of a task force studying issues of hospitality to visitors and the community.  I’m likely to serve as a member of the new Session committee being created to continue this work.
  • Webmaster – of the church website and the weekly e-mail that goes to almost 400 people.  This role also has me serving as the social networking expert surrounding our presence on Facebook and such.
  • Youth Advisor and member of Youth and Young Adult Council – nothing that I do at church brings me more joy than my work with the Senior High youth group.  I’ve also been involved in supporting the youth director with strategic planning for the youth council lately.
  • Percussion – most members of the church have been surprised to learn that I was classically trained as  a percussionist in high school.  I’ve been using those skills on snare and cymbal, djembe, congas, and other instruments in both the alternative and regular service.  Apparently I’m not as rusty as I think that I am.

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Greater Church

  • The God Complex – serving as Webmaster for the new weekly Internet radio show that is hosted by Bruce Reyes-Chow and Carol Howard Merritt.  This involves blogs, web hosting, e-mail and other stuff that I don’t even know about yet.
  • I will be assisting my local Youth Director with the Small Group manual for the next Youth Triennium.  Not in a major way – just reading and editing.  I hope to turn that into a trip next summer, but that would require some creative planning (anybody need someone to man a booth or serve as a chaperone?).
  • This blog seems to provide value to some.  I’m also on Twitter and most of my friends there are church-related

Other Stuff

  • I’m a member of the Delaware Valley Ham Radio club.  I’m a general-class ham – KC2SMS.
  • I’m one of the keyholders for the ham radio emergency equipment for the local Red Cross office.  The Princeton Red Cross chapter is the “center” for ham radio for the state’s Red Cross groups, mainly because we are centrally located.  Monday night will be the monthly equipment test for the Red Cross and the NJ State RACES/ARES folks.

So, I’m keeping busy.  If I were being paid for all of that at a reasonable salary I’d have a full-time job.  As it is, it’s more like 1/2 to 2/3 of my days and some of my non-work hours.  I like to help people, and I usually don’t care whether I get paid or not (though getting paid is important for other reasons).  My hope is that someday I can use these skills for a paying position with some meaning to the world.

Project Open Door news

February 5, 2009 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Church New Member Process, Religion 

A while ago (perhaps 18 months ago) I wrote about my new committee studying hospitality at my church.

That team chose to call itself Project Open Door.  We were charged with studying hospitality to visitors, the community around us, and inactive members.

We completed the majority of our work last night.  We’ve produced a 44-page report which will be given to the Session in 2 weeks.  We were unable to complete our work on inactive members (due to personal issues of several team members at a critical time) and have suggested that this task be forwarded to a successor committee.
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Several of you have expressed an interest in hearing what we’ve learned.  We intend to ask the Session for permission to release our report.  If I am able to do so, I’ll post it here.

Thank you for your thoughts and prayers over the last 18 months.

An interesting observation

January 13, 2009 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Religion 

On the way to the Board of Deacons meeting last night, I made an interesting observation.

I’ve been heavily involved in church twice in my life – once as a teenager through early college, and now.

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I’m not sure what the causal chain looks like there.  Was the bad time caused by my church involvement?  Was the church involvement needed to sustain me?  Is it just coincidence?

2008: My personal year in review

December 31, 2008 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Admin, Job Search, Life, Religion, Work, Young Adult, Youth 

Good riddance.

It’s not that the year was all bad.  Some of it was really very good.  It’s just that the bad outweighed the good.  Most of this was due to one very bad thing.

This was a particularly bad year.  I’m not going to go into details, but you should assume that life at my former employer wasn’t particularly fun before August.  In August, I was laid off from a job that I’d held for 13 1/2 of the last 15 years.  It only helps slightly that this employer ultimately filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy in November.

And if that wasn’t enough – the economy tanked at the same time.  The cause of the company’s failure wasn’t solely the economy, but it was a big part of it.  Jobs just plain dried up from September through early December.  There are signs that things are easing now.

If it weren’t for positive things and positive people in the rest of my life, I don’t know how I would have handled this.

The good:
I LOVE my youth group.  The young men and women that I work with more or less every week are all wonderful, and I learned a lot about myself, them, life and God over the last year.  Sunday afternoon/evening is the high point of my week.

The summer trip to the Montreat Youth Conference was one of the top 10 experiences of my life.  I truly feel that God spoke to me that week in some fashion.  I know that my faith deepened, and that the same happened to most if not all of the group from our church that went on the trip.  I also feel that I grew outside of the religious aspects.  (Of course, this high leaves me wondering where God is in my life now, when things are not so good.)  The biggest thing that I learned this year – while I care a lot about our youth, they care about me too.

Putting together the Moderator Meet and Greet event in April was a lot of fun as well as being a lot of work.  I met a lot of new and wonderful people.  The event was well attended, and I hear that it helped commissioners make a decision at General Assembly.

Meeting in person and working online with other church leaders has been mostly positive.  I’m amazed at how strong the online Presbyterian-and-beyond religious community is.  I’ve felt support when I needed it and given and watched it flow the other way when others needed it.

Serving as a deacon has been rewarding.  This is work that I know that I can do and do well, and that is relatively easy, and that aids the church.  That’s sort of the point, isn’t it?  I just have to be careful not to schedule myself too heavily (like the Sunday that I had coffee service AND served communion AND agreed to set up tables for a later event).

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Serving as the new webmaster for the church’s website and weekly e-mailed newsletter has been a growth experience for me.  It has forced me to learn new technical skills and also to generate a little content independently.

The bad:
The worst has to have been the controversy over my blog in March/April/May/June of this year.  I don’t know if people realize it, but the church was about 12 hours from losing me in April – the only things keeping me were the facts that Youth Sunday and the Moderator Meet and Greet were imminent responsibilities of mine.  This event only took 2nd to the loss of my job in how poorly I felt while in the middle of it.

I am also continually dismayed by the negative tones in some conversations/fights/battle-royales in the church community over the hot button issues of today.  Those of us within the church fight harder and with less love than we do with our colleagues in other denominations or religions, even though the points of disagreement are far smaller and unimportant.

Home life continues to be solid.  Carolyn and I have ridden out the very rough patches of the 2nd half of the year with no negative effect on our relationship.  Most of this is due to Carolyn’s very conservative nature when it comes to money, and the strong planning ability that both of us have.  She continues to be supportive at a very difficult time in my life and it has brought us if anything closer together.

The cats are still fine.  They turn 13 tomorrow.  Isaac is still suffering from a bit of arthritis in his hips, but the daily Cosequin is helping.  Both of them still have a fair amount of kitten left and still go running around like crazy animals occasionally.  Albert has had no recurrence of his kidney issues.

The house is fine.  We have had to put off a bit of home repair work (mainly fixing the fireplace chimney that failed a while back) for economic reasons.  Nothing important is wrong, and we continue to love living here.  It’s a great neighborhood – not too noisy, not too quiet, and plenty of kids running around.
My car has had a rough year.  I was rear-ended in July and minor damage was done to my rear bumper.  It was fixed pretty quickly, but it took about 4-5 months before the insurance companies paid my deductible.  Here’s a tip – no matter how late you are, don’t pass on the right on a one-lane on-ramp.


No major changes.  On the Montreat trip I lost a number of pounds due to the stairmaster-like qualities of the village of Montreat (to get anywhere you have to walk down a big hill and up a big hill).  The emotional strain of being out of work took off some more.  I’ve managed to end the year a net 10 pounds down.  Otherwise, my health remains the same.

I’m hoping that 2009 will be a combination of the continuance of good things, and an end to the bad things that are happening now.  I see new hope in the elections of both our PC(USA) Moderator and the new President of the USA.  It remains to be seen if that hope turns into a better reality for the country, church, and me.

Happy New Year!

I am 39 and 366/366ths

July 16, 2008 by · 3 Comments
Filed under: Life 

Yep, it’s that day.

This year my birthday is a day for reflection.

This is the first year that my body is starting to get creaky.  In the last 2 years I’ve gotten reading glasses and I’ve learned how NOT to move my muscles suddenly when I’m just waking up.  I’m aging, but generally healthy.  It could be worse.

This is also the year that I realize that some doors have closed.  There are just some things that I could have done, but which I can no longer do because I didn’t take that side of the fork in the road.  There are things that I never could have done (I was never going to be an NBA star).  There are things that I have done.  This is the year that I realize that there are things that I didn’t do, and the opportunity is gone.  I don’t regret the decisions but it’s sad to see the closed doors.

This past year has also been a rough but fruitful year.  I spent a LOT of time outside of my comfort zone.  In some ways that has paid off.  In other ways I’ve bounced off some metaphorical walls at high speed.  Some of this has produced personal growth and a lot hasn’t.  Ironically, most of the “new” things in my life are actually a return to a part of my past.

I have made a number of new friends in the past year both locally and nationally.  I cherish those friendships.  I have been able to help a few of these new friends with their lives and goals and that is gratifying.
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Probably the most rewarding part of my life in the last year has been my work with the youth group at church.  I love our kids, and watching them grow has been wonderful.  Sunday evenings have been a very bright spot in my life.

Life with Carolyn continues to be wonderful.  I think we’ve reached the beginning of the “growing old together” stage of life.  It’s good.  Every day I learn something new about her (or gain a new story – there are LOTS of those) and yet we know each other so well that we’ve reached the point one or two words speak volumes.  (“Do you know where …” – “Here you go” – and it’s exactly what she was looking for.)

And our cats are still as snuggly as ever.

It could have been better, and it could have been worse.  One more year in the books.

p.s. –  Happy Birthday, Harry!

Support – does it have to be for everything?

July 1, 2008 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Religion 

In an off-blog discussion about churchy things and blogs, the following question came up.

Can you support the church, but not support absolutely everything the church believes or does?  Can you be critical of the church on a specific issue while still supporting it in general?

This has implications at all levels.

The concept is central to my personal blogging dilemma – can you criticize the local congregation on a blog?  Are you being unsupportive by being critical on one issue, or do you have to evaluate the entirety of your reactions/words/writings about the congregation?

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Or are we stuck with absolutes:  Never criticize your congregation in public.  Never criticize the denomination.  If the church or even one member does or says something that you disagree with, you have to either leave or force the member or church to stop.

This reminds me of an old story.  A woman was talking about her husband to their children.  This man, living in the St. Louis area, was subscribing by mail to the Mountain Mail newspaper of Socorro, New Mexico.  When she was asked why, she explained that he used to subscribe to the St. Louis Post Dispatch, but then they printed something he didn’t like in an editorial and he canceled his subscription.  He tried the New York Times, the Chicago Times, the Washington Post, but canceled them all when he read something he didn’t like.  He was now forced to get his news from this tiny newspaper many states away.  And she wasn’t even sure how long this paper would survive with him.

What do you think?  Is forbearance required?  Do we have to put up with hearing a certain amount of criticism of ourselves and our institutions?  Or are we supposed to unquestioningly support our church?


June 25, 2008 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Religion 

One of the first rules that doctors are taught is “First, Do no harm.”  In tension is the fact that a doctor is clearly expected to do something to help the patient – watching them die is not usually an option.

There is a school of thought that teaches people to make a list of Pros and Cons for a major decision.  You list the Pros in one column and the Cons in another.  If you have more (or more important) Pros you do X.  If you have more Cons, don’t do X.

My wife and other family members have a similar principle for participating in voluntary activities – do you get more good out of it than the annoyances that it causes?

I find myself wondering how this idea – more good than bad – plays out when it comes to God’s call to each of us.  Does God call us to do things that will end up being more painful than enjoyable in the end, but which we should do anyway?

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When you are deciding to take on a new role in your church, do you use this method of deciding?  Do congregations use it to reexamine the things that they do – especially the things that “we’ve always done this way”?  Does our denomination need to make a list when it comes to the upsides and downsides of changing theology?

Is prayer the way to let God help you make the list?

These are just some random thoughts that hit me today.

Busy Weekend

June 12, 2008 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Ham Radio, Life, Religion 

This is going to be a busy weekend.

On Saturday, I have to be at ETS in Princeton by 6:30am in order to work with my fellow ham radio operators to support the American Diabetes Association Tour de Cure bike race.  We’ll be providing radio support to handle bike rider problems, such as needing the sag wagon to get taken back to the start/finish line, needing repairs, or getting into accidents and needing medical attention.  There are 3 races occurring simultaneously and it should be complicated.  Right now I’m scheduled to be a “net control”, roughly equivalent to a central dispatcher.
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Sunday I’ll be at church for worship, followed by the Annual Congregational Meeting.  That meeting will take a while because this is the meeting where organizations make their annual reports.  There is also the election of elders and deacons.  In the afternoon I’ll need to get the lawn cut and get bills paid and such.

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