Get Off the Fence: Why Students Need You Now

I started volunteering in high school ministry because of the leaders I didn’t have. As a high school student, I couldn’t help but notice the lack of interest in the youth group, particularly from the older generation. I remember feeling like people were scared of us, and wishing that more people cared. As a senior, I started helping to plan and run events, and when our youth pastor left, it cemented the realization that students desperately need leaders to show up consistently.

Over the past decade, I’ve made it a goal not just to be a volunteer leader, but to encourage others to volunteer or continue volunteering. It’s not without its challenges, but working in student ministry is always, always worth it. If you’re on the fence about it, here are three key components to consider.

Show students that they matter

One of the biggest things volunteer leaders can do every week is often the simplest: just show up. Setting aside time from your life and schedule, arriving consistently and on time, and being present communicates something. It shows students that they are important, valuable, and that they matter. It shows that you are willing to invest the precious resource of your time into their lives.

No, you won’t always hear people saying thank you, but over time, you will build something meaningful with your students. You will build reliability, and will show that you care. You will provide stability, and show that you are available, whenever your students need you.

These students, the next generation, they’re not going to become the church once they reach adulthood. They are the church now. Students need to know that they are important co-laborers in the work that God is doing, and they need to know that they have a place. Consistent leadership helps reinforce their importance and their value.

Teach the truth

Students learn from a multitude of channels–their school, their parents, their friends, social media, and countless external sources. These channels can reinforce and teach the truth, or they can spin a tangled web of lies that can be overwhelming and impossible to navigate alone. Without a foundation of biblical truth, how can we expect students to determine what is true and what is not?

As a volunteer leader, you have an enormous opportunity and responsibility to guide students to the truth. And unfortunately, you can’t always rely on other channels. Sometimes youth group is the only place where students will hear the truth about God, humanity, and our desperate need for Jesus. And sometimes, you may be the only person speaking truth into their life. It may seem daunting, but when faced with the reality of life apart from God, the work is well worth it.

Create a legacy

As members of the church, we walk in the footsteps of those who have gone before us. The decisions and actions of older generations will always affect those who follow. As leaders within the church today, now is our time to decide what we will leave behind.

Will our season of church leadership be celebrated or mourned? Will we be known for how we led with godliness and truth, or for how we kept silent? Will we be remembered for uplifting the youth of our congregations, or will we be responsible for the loss of an entire generation within the church? It’s our decision to make, but each of us will leave behind a legacy.

As a volunteer leader and member of the church body, you are actively creating a legacy for your students and the generations that follow. This is your opportunity to contribute to the history of the church, to build up the body, and to set an example for the students you lead.

Consider this your invitation to get off the fence, care for students, teach biblical truth, and create a lasting legacy.

9 Ministry Time Management Tricks

Too often it seems like a day, then a week, then a month, flies by. If you are like me and serving in ministry, it can seem as if there are not enough hours in a day to figure out how to get everything done and still have time for yourself.

I am not a time management specialist and I am still learning how to do this effectively. But along the way I have picked up some tools and resources that have greatly benefited me, my relationships, my marriage, the ministry I work in, and ultimately my relationship with God. Some of these ideas have been around for a while, some have been given to me by men and women who have served decades longer than I, and others are my own thoughts.

Take these as you will, knowing that all do not have to apply to your life, that they aren’t a magical fix-all, but they are here to be shared and utilized as an encouragement.

1. Make time for Jesus 

This should seem like a non-issue for those of us serving in ministry. We espouse this principle on a weekly basis to those we minister too, but let’s be honest, sometimes that snooze button is all too handy. Some weeks it is easy to say “I study the Word… I prepared my lesson.” Other times we just get distracted. But how can we effectively manage our lives if we have no guiding principles or truth.

Christ offers many examples of time management and shows us what is important, but if we do not readily and daily engage with the Word, our time will be for naught.

2. Be protective of your time

This is something I learned very quickly in ministry. I started off serving in a small church in a small town (a mile and a half squared) as the only pastor. Being young and full of energy I began to do whatever I could to serve the church. I was regularly putting in 40-50 hours a week meeting with people, crafting Bible studies, creating new member classes, counseling parishioners, engaging in local outreaches, meeting with pastors, oh and did I mention I was only part time and held a full time job down as well? This lasted for about a year until I went to the elders and explained I needed help, that I couldn’t do it all. Their response: Why didn’t you say so sooner?

The reality is that we cannot do everything on our own, and we must be protective of our time. Take time to relax, decompress, process, and enjoy life. If we don’t we will burn out, become bitter and resentful, and maybe walk away from ministry. It took me a year of healing and recharging from my first church before I even considered ministry again.

3. Have regular office hours

For some this is a no-brainer because your church requires it, for others your hours may be more flexible. But having set hours in the office allows for meetings to happen, parishioners to drop by, purposeful planning to take place, and for your congregants to see you at work. Sure the local coffee shop is a better place for you to get work done for so many reasons (like your pastoral discount, or the wi-fi that actually works) but being at your place of employment is huge because this is where people expect you to be. Our team has a monthly whiteboard calendar that we all put our hours on and mark where we will be. This has helped so much in keeping us all on the same page and knowing where we can find people if needed.

4. Be protective of your family

This is one I have to be constantly reminded of. So often on date night my phone will buzz with a text from someone, and I am ready to respond at the drop of the hat. But my wife will often remind me that “It is date night, I am your priority.” It’s true. Date night is our time. It isn’t to be interrupted or removed. Rather it is to be protected and revered, because our marriage comes before our ministry. Our families come before our ministries. Because these are to be a representation to our ministries of what God is doing in our lives. If we cannot be protective of the things God has given us charge of, how then can we lead a church or ministry?

A good couple of things to do on date nights, family nights, or vacations:
– Put your phone on airplane mode or do not disturb.
– Set up auto-replies for your email and phone.
– Turn off your cellular devices.
– Don’t check your email or social media.

5. Find out what helps you to decompress

This may sound easy, but this is hard for some people. It is difficult to find what helps you process and think through the day or week. For me I like to cook, clean, write, make candles, or watch COPS. I know it is a weird conglomerate of things. But all of them help me to decompress. Cleaning, cooking, and COPS helps me to just zone out and relax because they are fairly mindless things for me to do or watch. Writing and candle making helps me to process and think.

Decompression is necessary in any job, but especially ministry. We need to think through what we are doing, why we did it, and not get caught up on the mistakes but rejoice in the victories and what God is doing.

6. Create a Google calendar

This sounds simple enough, but in the busyness of life sometimes we fail to communicate to those in our lives that we should be communicating with (like our families). I realized this roughly a year into my current ministry position when I proudly declared to my wife that I had to work all day on a Saturday for a ministry event the Thursday before. She was shocked and bewildered that she didn’t know and further that I hadn’t told her. So from that point on we created a shared calendar on Google where it has everything that is happening.

On my end I input all my meetings, work schedules, activities, vacations, retreats. You name it I put it there because I know I will forget. My wife inputs her work schedules and important dates like vacations, birthdays, trips, etc. The point is with us working together we don’t miss much anymore and we are both on the same page.

7. Have an unplugged night

Have you noticed how technology has taken away interpersonal communication? Just people watch the next time you’re at a restaurant or maybe even around your own dinner table. Count how many people are on their phones versus how many are having an actual conversation. Our current society dictates that the majority of our conversations happen through a cellular device and as such our ability to actually engage and maintain relationships is faltering.

My wife and I have started to run with the idea of what we call “unplugged nights.” Too often we found ourselves sitting around the television while eating dinner instead of communicating. And more often than not we would do so with our phones in our hands. So we said “enough is enough” and turned one day a week into an evening where we do not use our phones unless for an emergency, we don’t check email or social media, and we do not watch television or movies. Instead we read together, we play games, go for walks, or just have conversations. For some people this may be a once a week thing, or it could be monthly, but I would definitely encourage these times!

8. Take a recharge day

Recharge days were something I had never heard of until several years ago at a previous church. Once a month we were allowed to take a paid work day to physically, mentally, and spiritually recharge. We weren’t supposed to do office work or meet with people, instead we were to do whatever we need to be recharged.

Recharge days will look different for each person. In my case, I like to retreat to my favorite coffee shop and get a nice French Press and read different books or write. This helps me reconnect and strengthen my relationship with God. Other people recharge by spending time with their kids and spouse. Still others go and read ancient church history and theology books. All this in the name of recharging our lives to better serve the people God has called us to.

9. Prioritize

So often our days can seem to be overwhelming. The amount of work that must be completed is daunting. Many of us take work home after hours and on weekends. The truth is that this will mentality deflate you and will lead to burnout, stress, anxiety, and performance based self-worth. This is not healthy, so we must prioritize what is important.
I suggest making two lists, one of work priorities, and one of your life priorities. For the first, categorize what needs to be done soon and work that out and then focus on what is farther out. When it comes to the second list, prioritize what is important and what should have the majority of your time. Share this with your spouse, or someone close to you, and have them honestly answer if your life reflects this.

A lot of these suggestions can be dependent upon your workplace and those who are in leadership over you. You could try to make changes but ultimately they may rebuff your suggestions and attempts. So what then? Are we to simply exist in a burdensome world where work and the stress of life are destroying us? The answer is a resounding no!

We must always find our worth and value within the love and redemption of Christ. When work becomes too much to bear, when life gives you lemons, when you have had enough, hit the pause button. Step back, reassess where you are at, check your spiritual walk, and if need be, make a decision. Take a vacation, perhaps speak to your boss about what is going on, maybe look for a new job, make sure your heart is in the right place.
The long and short of this post: make sure you are being cared for spiritually, physically, and emotionally. When your priorities flow out your relationship with Jesus then you see what is important and what can be cut back, so that you can feel more at peace with life and all it throws at you.

Learning About Success from the Life of Joseph

Success. It’s something our culture thrives off of and lives for. It consumes many of us as we struggle to achieve our vision of a successful life. It has become a necessity for earning the respect and attention of colleagues and friends.

What does success look like to you and how do you measure it? Is it reaching a goal or milestone, becoming financially stable, achieving power, or becoming well-known? Whatever it is, it always involves forward motion, personal growth, and some measure of independence or self-reliance. But what happens when we don’t see our version of success?

I struggled with feeling unsuccessful in my career when I took a part time job that had nothing to do with my field. I felt like I wasn’t doing anything worthwhile with my work, or achieving anything in my career. I wondered what God was doing, but I didn’t feel like putting in the effort to find out. I just wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible and find something that would feel more fulfilling.

In church, I spent most Sundays sulking in my seat, thinking about all the great things people around me were doing while my life was at a standstill. Then one Sunday there was a message on Joseph and my entire perspective changed. God completely transformed my view of success through the life of Joseph (chronicled in Genesis 37-50), teaching me that His definition of success is much different than mine.

Work for the Lord

The first lesson that the life of Joseph taught me was to work for the Lord wherever I am, no matter where that might be, no matter what I am doing. Regardless of where Joseph was, he was constantly focused on honoring God and working for Him. He spent time in slavery and in prison—places far worse than a frustrating job—but didn’t let that detract him from the Lord’s work.

As followers of Jesus, the Bible calls us to work as though we’re working for Him, not for men, because we are ultimately serving Christ (Colossians 3:23-24). This sounds simple, but it should affect every aspect of what we do. This truth calls me to examine whether or not my work is honoring to the Lord. Am I diligently and thoroughly completing each task in a way that represents my love for Him? Or am I doing the minimum to simply get the job done? Joseph challenges me to do more and be more for the Lord.

Don’t get distracted by circumstances

Sometimes the circumstances of our lives cause us to question where God is and what He is doing. No doubt Joseph wondered this as he was being sold as a slave to the Ishmaelites by his brothers. Or when Potiphar’s wife lied about him attempting to rape her, which got him thrown into prison. Or when his fellow prisoner, the chief cupbearer, forgot about him when he was restored to his post by Pharaoh. But when we look at Joseph’s life as a whole, God allows us to see how He was working through each circumstance to bring about His divine plan.

In the midst of a challenging circumstance, it’s difficult or even impossible to see the big picture. At times God gives us a glimpse into what He is doing and how He is working, but even when He doesn’t, we can know for certain that He is working (Romans 8:28). Difficult circumstances are an exercise in trust and obedience as we make ourselves available for the Lord’s work and watch to see where He will move.

Don’t worry about direction

When I look at the life of Joseph, I see that God’s way of working doesn’t always make sense and sometimes feels backward. Instead of building from a slave to free man to a leader, Joseph went from being a slave to a prisoner and then to a leader. Going from a slave to a prisoner sounds like a backward move and I’m sure at the time it felt like things were going from bad to worse. Where’s the success in becoming a prisoner? But God used this as a critical step to get Joseph where He ultimately wanted him, in Pharaoh’s court.

When I went from having a great full-time job in my career field to that part time job, it absolutely felt like a backward move. The forward momentum of my career suddenly stopped and I felt like I lost all that I had gained. It was important for me to learn that a “backward” move didn’t really mean anything to the whole picture of my life because God was using it to put me where He wanted me. This was a step in a direction that only He knew and I needed to trust Him in it.

God is always with you

This is the greatest, most amazing truth for followers of Jesus: the God of the universe is with us (Matthew 28:20)! And God was with Joseph, as Genesis 39 states multiple times (verses 2, 21 and 23). We, like Joseph, never have to face the challenges of life alone. We have a constant source of strength, help and guidance throughout our lives. And this brings me to my next lesson from Joseph.

Success is from the Lord

Not only does the account of Joseph’s life make it clear that God was with him, but it also clearly states that the Lord gave him the success he experienced (Genesis 39:2, 23). This is a convicting reminder for my selfish pride; when I think I am successful, I’m not. Only the Lord can generate success and He grants it to whomever He wills whenever He wants.

This should cause us to question, the next time I am praised for a job well done, to whom do I credit my success? Do I build myself up or do I give credit to the only Reason for my achievement? It’s important to mentally make the shift from thinking of success as me-centric to God-centric as He is the one deserving of all glory and praise.

Learn God’s definition of success

Finally, and most importantly, we need to adopt God’s definition of success, which is extremely counter-cultural. He isn’t looking for His followers to get rich quick or achieve fame status, though at times He does grant those things and more. His definition of success results in the saving of lives.

In Joseph’s story, God used all the circumstances—good and bad—to bring about His ultimate plan to save His people from seven years of famine (Genesis 41-47). In our story, God wants to use us to save lives not just temporarily, but eternally. He moves us, through our circumstances, to lost and hurting people, in desperate need of salvation. Our job is to look for and take advantage of those opportunities, sharing the good news of Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:19-20).

Dealing with Cynicism

Have you ever found yourself to be in a complaining rut? Do you come home and talk about how poor your day was, or how horrible your co-workers are? Are you noticing you are overly pessimistic? Do you ever feel like you’re overly cynical? Or do you feel like everything around you is just horrible?

I find that sometimes I hit a rut of cynicism due to stress, work, or life in general and I tend to have a pessimistic attitude. Usually I am fairly happy and jovial but sometimes I hit a point where, for a little while, I think, act, and talk like life is horrible. I can have a dismal attitude toward life in general, but unfortunately people become my target and I complain about them a lot.

Perhaps it is because, in constantly interacting with others, my perfectionist side can easily recognize their faults and then my sinful nature tears them apart. I will be the first to admit that is wrong, but I don’t think that I or we should simply chalk up shortcomings to our sinful nature. Yes we are sinful, but that cannot be our cop out. We cannot allow it!

I have felt God crying out to me saying, “Stop! Stop talking about people. Stop seeing their faults. Stop believing you are better then they are. Stop complaining. Just stop.” But then I heard Him say something else… Start. “Start loving people. Start seeing people as I see them. Start serving as I serve. Start being my hands and feet. Start!”

If I had to be perfectly honest, I don’t like conviction. I already said I am a perfectionist so when I hear “stop” or feel in the wrong it hurts because I know I didn’t meet the requirements. I didn’t meet the standard that was set. I fell short. But then that is when I look to Scripture. Scripture tells us we all fall short, but that it is God who does the work within us and helps us to change!

Now I say all this and I know there has to be practicality. It is one thing to say “I will stop being cynical” or “I will stop complaining” but we all know that isn’t how it works. We must have some ways to combat sin. So after some prayer and searching Scripture, these are some ways I found that can be very helpful in overcoming our cynical mentality.

Pray for those you complain about.

Scripture makes it abundantly clear that prayer is important, but it also tells that we are to pray for our enemies. This doesn’t just mean someone who is your mortal enemy, but anyone who rubs you the wrong way. If you find you come home and you complain about your boss, your professor, the other company, a friend, random drivers on the road, try stopping and praying for them. Not that God would change them and their heart, but that He would change yours. Pray that God shows you their good qualities. Thank God for them. List three things that they do well.

Be mindful of what you say.

This is a big one for me. I don’t always think before I speak. I am from the Northeast originally and I tend to blame it on growing up in a fast paced lifestyle, but let’s be honest: sometimes I don’t care about what I say, I just want to say something for the sake of saying it. The Bible tells us that we need to be slow to speak but also quick to listen. So often I believe the source of conflict and a cynical attitude comes from a misunderstanding of a situation that, when we only see it our way, we are quick to criticize or complain about.

For instance: the person you are scheduled to meet weekly with has been consistently late and is always distracted during your meeting leaving you feeling undervalued, frustrated, and unaccomplished. You hear them talking about issues at home but you tell yourself when they are at work they should be focused on work and on their co-workers. But what you missed was that their mother was seriously injured and they are caring for her at their home, their car died and they have to walk to work, and their spouse lost their job. And all we could do was complain about how they were distracted or late or left us feeling unfulfilled. When we begin to listen and care about people more, we begin to be more mindful of what we say because we become invested in their life.

Check your heart.

Sometimes I have found that it isn’t the people around me who have changed, it is me. Usually I am getting overwhelmed and because I hold myself to a very high standard, I impart that onto other people without telling them. That isn’t right because who am I to tell them that they need to match my way of doing things? But it gets worse because if they fail, I hold it against them and they have no idea why I seem angry, or frustrated, or annoyed. That is a heart issue. It is pride. We cannot allow ourselves to transfer our sin issues onto others. Instead, ask God to change your heart. Ask Him to make you a better servant. Ask Him to show you where you need to grow. Ask Him for people who can honestly and openly speak into your life and challenge you.

Start a service jar.

This is along the lines of a swear jar, but you aren’t adding money to it, you are adding acts of service. There are a couple different ways to go about this. One, you could make up a bunch of service acts beforehand and stick them in a jar. Then whenever you complain, have a bad attitude, or are cynical you need to take one act of service out and complete it within 24 hours.

Or two, whenever you are critical about someone or something (like your boss or job), you complete an act of service toward that person or thing within 24 hours. Then place a piece of paper describing what you did in your service jar. How can you serve your job you ask? Maybe you bring in donuts for your team. Perhaps you show up early and empty the trash cans. Maybe you take some people out to lunch. Or maybe you find ways to thank everyone for what they do.

Serve those you are cynical toward for thirty days.

This is a big challenge, and not one for the faint of heart. It takes the service jar idea, caters it specifically toward people, and magnifies it. If there is someone you find yourself complaining about all the time, commit to serving that person for 30 days straight. Now I know I would probably find something to complain about while serving them, so I would say the service jar rules still apply as well. Kind of a double whammy, but let’s be real, a lot of us need that! So my challenge would be find a way to serve them that isn’t self-serving, or out of contempt. Don’t give them a watch to help them be on time. Instead, ask how you can help them with their workload. Inevitably this will lead to you actually caring about and getting to know that person. And what you will come to realize is that through this you have started to change.

I know this isn’t easy. It is a lot easier to wallow in our own self-pity and frustrations, to give in to complaining and bad attitudes. But is the easiest way truly the right way? Is it the best way? No, it isn’t. We cannot give in to this mentality. We are called to be different. We are set apart for something greater. Who will stand with me as we stand above reproach and strive to honor others and Christ through our words, actions, and thoughts? God, help us to be different and more like you!