Youth Worker Interview: Michele Ettinger

IMG_7885Michele Ettinger is the FUEL Youth Coordinator at Clarkston United Methodist Church.

1 – How long have you been in youth ministry?

I began my official youth group career five years ago on August 1st, 2013. My original title was Children and Youth Coordinator, with the job responsibilities of leading the middle school youth activities along with assisting the current children’s coordinator with the children’s Sunday School, family programs and of course VBS. As things do in the life of the church and life itself my position and coworkers have changed and evolved over time and now I focus more whole heartily on the middle school youth and assist as a transition touch person for our children’s programs and our high school youth. Basically, I am the consistent face hanging out and helping, that the children and youth see from elementary through high school with my focus during their middle school years.

2 – Tell us about your program

FUEL, the name of our 6th through 8th grade youth group, went through a program revitalization starting in August 2013. Prior to this time there was only one youth director and that individual ran both high school and middle school programs. Now we have two part time children and family workers, and two full time youth coordinators one for middle and one for High school youth group. The four of us work as a team on sharing our program ideas and activities so that we can have as much intergenerational interaction between programs as possible. Example youth volunteers in children’s programs and young family awareness of youth activities. Our Sunday night youth groups coordinate with our church themes and programs which we carry over into our activities through a rotation of events that incorporate, fellowship, faith education, hot topic issues such as social media and mission opportunities. Our goal has been to have four to five large events on Sunday evenings that are easy for our youth to invite friends too. Example, ho down night, Community Room blow out and holiday parties. These events allow for highly hospitable activities for the churched and the unchurched youth to feel comfortable to attend and invite friends. A great entry way into the church. Our youth programs stress the importance of attending worship each Sunday. We have implemented many ideas over the past five years and currently landed on two programs that have been successful over the past two years. We offer a Sunday School for our 6th and 7th graders at 9 and 11 am and Breakfast in the Balcony for our 8th through 12th graders. Breakfast in the Balcony is a program in which our youth are encouraged to sit together in our church balcony during our services at 9 and 11 am. As an incentive for their attendance we provide breakfast that they can eat during both services. This program has shown to be very successful as an intergenerational program in that we have all ages that join us in the balcony each Sunday.

During the Summer months our FUEL Youth Group has a summer mission week that provides both overnight opportunities and day trips. Those entering sixth grade in the fall through those who just

completed 8th grade are invited to join in for all or part of the week of mission. The choice of deciding how much your youth can handle allows a nice stepping stone into the full, generally out of state mission week that is offered at the High School level. Also, during the summer our middle schoolers are invited to join us for a couple “Serve and Play Days” as well as a trip to Cedar Point. The “Serve and Play” days begin with a mission opportunity in the morning, lunch at noon and then a fun activity in the afternoon. These programs are generally helpful in keeping youth in connection with the church and each other during the summer months without over taxing their downtime during summer.

3 – What is your favorite thing about working with young people?

My favorite part about working with young people is they help keep me young. Their energy, constantly growing minds and ideas always keep me on my toes. I feel very blessed that I get to share Jesus with these amazing young people in a way that stretches me and them to venture out of our comfort zones. Plus, I get to play on all the blow-up slides, dance at Spring Hill and play laser tag and say “it’s all part of my job.”

4 – Can you talk about a challenge you faced and how you overcame it?

Much like child birth I tend to forget the challenging painful parts of working in youth ministry and remember more vividly the good parts. However, if I am forced to remember those challenges, and really that’s what makes our programs better, I would say it is getting the right ratio of male and female volunteers on our summer overnight mission trips. In the past my high school youth worker was female and her and I would both attend each other’s mission trips which generally covered our quota for female volunteers, but male volunteers were more difficult. The best way I have found to overcome this challenge was to make an in-person request directly to the potential volunteer and be as flexible as possible with how they could volunteer. For example, I needed male chaperones for our trip last year and I was able to split up the two overnights so that the two male volunteers could volunteer on opposite nights. Also, I was able to access the fact that there were male volunteers from other groups sharing the same sleeping quarters as our youth so the ratios of adults to youth in the room still worked out. I had flexibility with my program because it was local, this would not have worked on our High School Mission Trip that was out of state. The key lesson’s I learned that covers many events in youth ministry are be flexible, creative and don’t be afraid to bribe, beg and schmooze to get volunteers.

5 – What do you know now that you wish you had always known about youth ministry?

Have you ever said something and then a year or two later looked back at yourself and laughed at how your life had changed? I remember back before I took my position in the church saying to my Pastor, soon to be my co-worker a short year later, that I would never want to work in a church because you work so many nights and weekends. Oh fate!!!! I would have loved to understand beforehand that the three weeks’ vacation, the sick days, the vacation days on holiday’s etc. is just an on-paper thing and not a reality of how your real schedule works out in youth ministry. However, it is probably good that I did not find out the true work schedule until after I fell in love with all the good parts of the job. It is true that I have a wonderfully flexible schedule especially during the day on weekdays, not so much on evenings, weekends and holidays.

If I could give a new youth ministry worker a list of 10 things you should know before you start this job it would be the following:

1. Enjoy your weekdays

2. Make sure to schedule some adult time for yourself including adult Bible studies, book clubs and exercise

3. Youth at some point will not like you. Not because of anything you do or say but just because that is their age and developmental state that requires them to challenge adults. This can pass in a few years or a few seconds depending on the situation.

4. Learn everything you can about issues that impact your youth, drugs, alcohol, mental health emotional development, social media, the latest heart throb, slang words. Share this information with parents and youth and always lead with listening and love.

5. Embrace your inner child and make sure to play, be silly and be able to laugh at yourself

6. Education-Certification in Youth Mistry, Read, Read, Read, Educate yourself, your youth, your parents, your clergy, your congregation and the neighbor in the yellow house across the street

7. Keep your youth involved with the whole church, help them to be a part of the congregation

8. Be prepared to advocate for your youth. Make connections with adults that can help you with volunteering and meeting the needs of your youth and the program.

9. Be flexible and let God lead your program. Set down your preconceived ideas of what things must look like. You will be fighting a losing battle. P.S. This can be very difficult especially for people like me who like to plan. The one thing you can count on is that things will change.

10. Build your support network, God, co-workers, friends, family, Youth Networking Groups don’t be a loan wolf, burn out comes much to fast and you lose out on so many God moments.

11. Bonus point: Learn to budget your money and be a bargain shopper. You will never become financially rich in this job but spiritually you will be a millionaire!

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Learning to Pray Together

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At our Youth Worker Network meeting in March, we talked about praying with and for our youth. One of the topics we discussed was how we help our youth group learn to pray together – here are the suggestions…

  1. Ease prayer into your routine. At first, even one minute of silence can feel like an eternity to a fidgety 13 year old. Start slow and have your group try out quiet prayer a little bit at a time. When you first try a prayer circle, let it be brief. It’s a new skill set and young people need to learn it gradually.
  2. Let prayer be superficial if that’s where they are. I have spent my fair share of time praying with kids for the Kardashian that is having a baby or for a football game outcome. There is no reason to reject these prayers – maybe a young person is seeing how you’ll react, but the important thing is that we are willing to pray for the things that are on their mind. This won’t last forever.
  3. Teach students to hold the space even if they don’t need it. At the beginning of every prayer circle, I tell students that they might not need this right now but someone in this circle does. People of faith hold that space for each other and respect the needs of others. We can honor the time even if we don’t personally need it right now.
  4. Eventually, your most mature students will trust the space. Older students, or more mature ones, that are willing to share in the prayer time are an incredible gift to the whole group. That student can really set a tone for the rest of the group to follow and can bring depth to your group prayer.
  5. Model, model, model. I sometimes have to do some major self talk to stay present to the circle myself (when I can hear distractions happening) but I try to stay focused on the prayer so that students can see what that looks like. I hope if I am not distracted they will be less distracted. This has varying degrees of success.
  6. Be consistent and be spontaneous. Make group prayer a regular and predictable part of your routine so that your young people will come to expect it and even rely on it. And don’t be afraid to be spontaneous! Change up where you pray, who prays, if its off the cuff or read off a page. Hold hands or don’t, sing a song or don’t, have silence or don’t. Try new things, see what captures your groups attention.

What rituals or traditions does your group have around prayer? What has worked for you?

Policy for the Protection of Children, Youth and Vulnerable Adults

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If you are keeping track of the news around Michigan lately, you know that we are in the midst of a heartbreaking abuse trial surrounding the actions of Larry Nassar, a sports doctor connected to Michigan State, United States Gymnastics Association, the Olympic gymnastics program and Twistars gym in Dimondale, Michigan. The stories are sad and troubling and the courage of these young women is inspiring.

I have found myself drawn to the story, for a number of reasons. First, I have a son who is in his first year as a competitive gymnast so I spend a fair amount of time at his gym and am learning a lot about this sport. Second, I have spent a lot of time around teenagers over the last 15 years and care deeply about their physical and emotional safety. And third, as Michigan United Methodists we are getting closer to being able to offer our new training for our newly merged Policy for the Protection of Children, Youth and Vulnerable Adults. Trainers are being trained and in 2018, it is the goal of the conference to get all adults working with children and youth and vulnerable adults authorized to serve in compliance with our new policy.

If you have been certified before in either conference, the policy will look pretty familiar. We are updating some language (authorized, instead of certified, for example) and using the policies previously adopted by the West Michigan Conference and the Detroit Annual Conference to craft the Michigan Conference policy.

Many of you have contacted me about getting a training set up for your volunteers and I hope to be able to get trainings in every District before too long. Currently I am waiting for a list of the available trainers. Once I have that, we will get started getting these set up and publicized. Thank you for your patience!

As you know, our policies are in place to protect both young and vulnerable people and the adults that work with them. The policy also guides our actions if someone should report abuse, so that appropriate follow up and reporting can take place to ensure incidents are taken seriously and not allowed to become patterns. Let us learn from the current headlines to put our children youth and vulnerable adults safety above all else.

Thank you for all you do to provide safe, fun and meaningful experiences for young people!

Nominate a Student for THRIVE 2018

Thrive logo final-2It’s that time of year again! As soon as we start a new year we start figuring out the summer calendar!

Nominate a student or two from your youth group to attend THRIVE Youth Leadership Academy in July at Lake Louise! This is an experience for high school youth that are ready for the next step in leadership and discipleship.

This will be our fourth year, so we are starting to get this figured out 🙂 Students spend time in classes on leadership topics as well as Bible Study, do projects, have time for self reflection, and also go to the beach and kayaking. The group is 12-18 students and the friendships formed are rooted in United Methodist fellowship and values.

I hope you will consider sending a student from your congregation to join us!

Details:

Nominate a student by using this form

Churches are asked to cover, or help cover, the students coast of $260

THRIVE starts late afternoon Sunday July 15 and ends in the morning on Thursday July 19

Ideally students would be completing 9th, 10th or 11th grade but incoming freshmen or graduated seniors are welcome.

Let me know if you have any questions!

Youth Worker Network 3.0

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Registration is open! Youth Worker Network 3.0 will meet January – June and September and October in 2018. We meet on the second Tuesday of the month from 10 am to 2 pm. People from 2016 and 2017 are welcome to return, although some content will be repeated. The meeting location will be determined by who signs up – I will attempt to find a central, or rotating location.

Registration is $300 per church and you can bring as many people as you like on that one registration. Be in touch with me about numbers so I have enough lunch!

Here is the registration link 

I hope you will consider joining us!!

Connection 17

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Thank you to all the adult leaders that brought youth to Connection 17 in Mt Pleasant last weekend! We had about 170 youth and adults gathered for worship, teen talks, workshops and a concert, as well as great food and fellowship! We had a great time.

We were grateful that Bishop Bard was able to come and join us for lunch as well as a group photo.

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