Kitchen Floor Chats: 5 Tips for Building Relationships with Students

It was a conversation I wasn’t expecting. He had followed me into the church kitchen in hopes of getting an extra snack, but the conversation that followed tore at my heart.

Student: Hey, let me get a bag of those chips.

Me: If you come to leadership on Wednesday, you will get these snacks and more there.

Student: But I’m not on leadership… (voice trails off)

Me: Why not?

Student: I’m… I’m not sure I am a Christian. I don’t always act like it, and people that know me would probably tell you I am not a Christian and that I don’t believe in God.

So many thoughts flooded my mind that night. The first was, why is this conversation happening as I am kneeling on the floor in a kitchen frantically stuffing chips into a cabinet where hopefully they will last until Wednesday night? Then the second (after God slapped me upside my head) was, thank you Jesus for letting this conversation happen.

Ministry happens in many odd and miraculous ways. This young man was an eighth grade student who had dealt with a lot in his life and knew who Jesus was but hadn’t fully committed to letting Him rule his life. I never would have expected this conversation to happen the way it did, but it opened up a door for us to begin meeting weekly together and he agreed to answer the “hard questions” about Christianity honestly. I thank God for days where ministry just “happens” on kitchen floors and across counter tops.

The question we should ask is how do we get there? So often conversations like these happen at times and in ways we would least expect, but they happen because there has been trust built! This student was someone I had intentionally been plugging into in small but very meaningful ways, and I am convinced if we do more of this, we will indeed start having more kitchen floor conversations about Jesus. From these kitchen floor chats we will see that the next logical step is a mentoring relationship, but first we must get to the kitchen floor. The following are just some helpful and practical tips to begin the framework–the trust factor–that will lead to these conversations and more!

1. Acknowledge them

You cannot run an effective ministry if you don’t even acknowledge students when they are there. Not just on youth group or leadership nights. Acknowledge them all the time. On Sunday mornings, at the grocery store, where they work, even on date night. My wife and I bump into students all the time on date night and we love to pause and chat with them. Our priority is our time but we also love and acknowledge our students so they know that we care about them.

2. Know their name

It doesn’t seem like much but there is so much value in being known. When someone calls you by name it means they remember you and care. This is more than many students get on a daily basis. Their teachers don’t always remember them, their coaches forget them (especially if they aren’t a starter), employers see them as a number, and sometimes in families they feel forgotten.

3. Invest in their life

Go to their activities, and follow up with them! A huge thing with students is caring about what they do. I recently went to an orchestra concert for a few students and the smiles that came across their faces knowing they had an audience filled with supporters who didn’t need to be there made my day! They still tell people “my youth pastor cares enough to watch me play the bass.” Another student is into knitting (something I am not) but I ask all the time what she knits and who she knits for. She gets so excited sharing what she is passionate about and loves to come and show me gifts she makes for local widows.

4. Follow through

If you are going to do something then do it! Do not “forget,” do not “find something else to do,” but do it. Of course we will all miss things, but tell them you won’t be there, don’t leave it up to them to figure it out. Students have enough people letting them down, far be it from us to let them down also.

5. Live a life worthy of imitation

This is one we should all be doing. If we are going to call students to live like Jesus and to give their lives for Him we should be doing this as well. Students should see this in all aspects of our lives. How we speak to our spouses, how we raise our children, how we respond to frustrations (like when they talk during our messages or overflow the toilet twice in one night), how much time we spend with Jesus, how we care for others, and how we love.

This list is not exhaustive, but it is the framework for building the relationship that leads to kitchen floor conversations about Jesus. I am excited to see what God is going to do through this mentoring relationship and after that night, I am praying for many more conversations about Jesus in places and ways I would never expect!

Lord Jesus, use us to have conversations about Christianity and salvation in ways we never see coming so that many more students will enter into Your kingdom and experience Your everlasting love!

Remembering the Value of Scripture

I am so thankful for the Bible, God’s Holy Word! Through it God draws me to Himself and changes my life. In fact, as I look back on my journey with Jesus, the Bible stands out as an absolutely indispensable, hugely transformative aspect of my spiritual life.

Through the Bible, God brought me to faith in His Son, the Lord Jesus. On the night I was born again, the pastor who helped lead me to Christ read John 1:12 to me: “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” He asked me if I believed in Jesus and, when I said, “Yes,” he said, “You are a Christian.”

Fast forward now 43 years to the present. How is God at work in my life through His Word today? Let me tell you.

I use The One Year Bible for my daily Bible reading program and as I read through it, God has used specific verses to encourage my heart. I am very grateful to our heavenly Father for that. He knows what is going on in my life and what I need. And He is kind enough to speak to me in my need. He is good.

The Lord is helping me in another way through His Word besides pointing out passages that help me in the moment. What I have been noticing, and thinking about lately, is how reading the Bible shapes the way I think.

Let’s face the facts: we are engaged in a spiritual war. To a large extent, the battle is for our minds. Thoughts can lead to beliefs, and beliefs do lead to behavior. This is quite clear in the way God put together many of the letters in the New Testament, such as Ephesians and Colossians. The first halves of these books reveal to us truths to believe; the latter halves of the books give specific instructions about how we are to live. Beliefs lead to behavior.

Satan is working hard to fill our minds with God-less thoughts. He is very effective in tempting people to believe things that are not true. And he has many slick ways to get his evil thoughts into our minds. The world around us, the culture in which we live is under his influence. And he uses all possible avenues—the internet, social media, TV, movies, news outlets, books, classrooms, advertisements… anything.

We live in a world of ideas. We are being constantly influenced by what we see and hear. If we are passively, absent-mindedly absorbing the thoughts and ideas that swirl around us, we will end up having the worldview of our culture. We will actually have a God-less mindset.

This is where God’s Word is so absolutely vital.  We can combat Satan’s falsehoods with God’s truth… if we are immersing ourselves in the Bible, God’s true Word to us.

So this is what I have been noticing, and appreciating lately: God’s Word guards my mind, strengthens me in the battle, and cultivates in me a God-filled mindset. Regularly reading the Bible is a slow-drip way of infusing a biblical worldview into my mind and of resisting the God-less worldview Satan wants me to have.

Each morning I sit down with my bowl of cereal and cup of freshly brewed loose-leaf tea, and I read The One Year Bible. I am enjoying it! As you likely know from experience, reading the Bible is not always enjoyable or fun or easy. Sometimes it’s something you just have to make yourself do… like taking your prescription medication. It’s a discipline. However, there are times when God gives you a special word of encouragement. And, what I’ve been noticing lately is that God is using this regular reading to protect my mind and to build and reinforce a God-centered way of thinking.

Thank God for the Bible!

Tom Loyola is a senior pastor at an Evangelical Free Church in Iowa. He and his wife Sue Ann have partnered together in pastoral ministry since 1984 and are the parents of two children. Tom received his Master of Theology and Doctor of Ministry degrees from Dallas Theological Seminary and enjoys reading, running, oil painting, and a good movie.

Balancing Marriage and Ministry: Why it Matters

We all know that maintaining a healthy marriage is important. We’ve probably all read enough how-to books and articles that we could write our own. But in the shuffle of everyday life—between church activities, Bible studies and meeting with broken students—it can become easy to forget why.

We feel torn in so many different directions, torn between our marriage and the needs of our ministry. It can feel selfish to set aside a night each week for date night. It can feel selfish to turn down activities and time with students or to screen calls and text messages. We feel like we can and should do more for our ministry and that those we serve should receive the best of what we have to offer. But the truth is, for married couples, a healthy marriage is the best we can offer to the church.

I know we forget this. Growing up in the church has given me a front-row seat to the heart-wrenching ending of too many marriages. I’ve been a sideline viewer for most of my life and it wasn’t until I got married that I learned the enormous responsibility I had shouldered by entering into marriage.

The world tells us that marriage is just about two people in love, and if they fall out of love, it’s okay to end a marriage and move on. But the reality is there is so much more at stake. The responsibility we assume is this: by entering into marriage, we have agreed to exemplify the relationship between Christ and the church (see Ephesians 5:22-33)—a commitment that will not be broken. Because of this, a strong and lasting marriage is not only essential to the two people in it, but to the entire church.

The church is longing for and strengthened by healthy marriages. Healthy marriages reinforce what is preached from the pulpit. Healthy marriages have the privilege of displaying the life-giving love of Christ for His bride. And healthy marriages help pave the way for the next generation.

This reality is especially true for youth ministry leaders and volunteers. Students are watching and learning from the marriages lived out in front of them and unfortunately in too many cases, what they see and learn at home or school does not exemplify a biblical marriage. Married youth leaders have a unique opportunity to model a healthy, Christ-centered relationship for each student they encounter.

In a culture where divorce is normal and common, young people need examples of strong, loving, godly marriages. What they see and learn will influence their view of marriage and their treatment of and response to the opposite gender.

The reality is that marriage is about so much more than two people. The next time you’re struggling to make time for your spouse, I encourage you to remember why it’s important. Remind yourself of why you are doing what you’re doing, and how many people are relying on you to do it well.

13: Caring for Students Experiencing Abuse

Disclaimer: What follows is a raw and emotional retelling of the trauma I walked through as a child. This is in no way written to impart blame or anger upon anyone involved. I have made my peace with this. I have asked for forgiveness for my actions and thoughts. I have forgiven others for what I was put through. Please note I am intentionally leaving names out, but know that my parents are innocent in this. They had no idea what was happening and are fully absolved from any guilt real or imparted.

Thirteen, to some it’s just a number, to others it’s a time of coming of age. But to me, 13 signified so much more.

13: The number of years the abuse went on for.

13: The age I was freed from the abuse.

13: The years I would never have back.

13: The age that I became angry and turned my back on God.

13: The day I turned into a statistic because I was abused and I survived.


No one would ever have guessed that I was abused. If you had seen my family when I was a kid, we were the typical church family. Five kids, two parents, all went to church and participated. All the kids were homeschooled. Everything seemed fine. Everyone from the outside looking in thought that it was the perfect Christian family.

If only they could have seen the truth. The truth that in the midst of perceived perfection lay broken people grappling with a horror few would ever want to counsel.

The abuse started when I was young. In fact, I don’t remember a day without it. For thirteen years I was abused emotionally, verbally, mentally, and physically. I remember being told I was worthless. I remember being beaten for angering someone. I remember living in fear that if I breathed wrong I would be hurt and hunted for what I had done.

Each day, I tried to steel myself towards the very real pain I would endure. I found ways to remove myself when it would happen. I would think about life outside of who I was. I would imagine myself in a world free from pain and hurt. I would immerse myself in the fairy tale worlds of the books I so sought to be a part of. I would run and hide. At times I ran away. I tried to tell people at different times but recanted my testimony soon after because I would be abused even worse. Each day I would tell myself to “just survive”.

The hell that I endured seemed to be never ending. The physicality of the abuse left very tangible scars. My hands still shake to this day. I have little feeling in parts of my body. The emotional wounds run deep. When I see people abused and hurt, I grieve and weep. The depth of their pain I feel and it takes me back. Back to when I was young, innocent, defenseless, and a different person. The images of what happened still flash through my mind periodically and invoke various emotions.

13: I remember the day when the abuse was no more.

The person responsible was arrested that day. An episode of COPS played out at our home as the person was tackled by multiple police officers after threatening harm to someone else. I stood there watching as a thirteen-year-old boy mesmerized by how quickly it was over. The threat was gone. Removed for good. I should have rejoiced. I should have come clean. But like many who have experienced trauma my response was quite the opposite.

13: The age at which I became a radically different person.

I lashed out. At family, specifically my parents. At siblings who weren’t abused. I alienated friends. I didn’t trust anyone. I cursed God for the hell He had put me through. I cursed my abuser. In fact, I went so far as to not only curse that person, I vowed to hurt them and to kill them.

This was not an idle threat. I had planned it out and knew exactly what I would do if I could just get close enough. Even typing this out sickens me to think of how hurt and lost I was then. For years, I allowed the hate and anger to control who I was. It dictated how I responded to those around me. How I maligned those I perceived as weak. How I became the bully. How I became the person I had hated.

18: The year that all changed.

I had gone through thirteen years of abuse and five years of anger-fueled rebellion and reaction. I had also put on the easily-seen-through facade of the “good youth group kid.” I will never forget the night when our youth pastor spoke about forgiveness and loving those who hurt us. I laughed. Out loud. I was that kid. I couldn’t stand hearing such hypocrisy and blatant disregard for the hurt and broken. Love one another? Love those who persecute you? I laughed and screamed at God. I got into my car and drove home at speeds that could have killed me if I took one turn incorrectly.

The entire way home I yelled at God. Screamed at Him. “HOW COULD YOU LET THIS HAPPEN TO ME?!” “YOU DID THIS! I WAS innocent…” The words just stopped. I was wrecked with sobs. All the hurt and pain came rushing out of me. I felt God say in that moment, “Nick, so was I. I walked through that with you. I sustained you. I brought you here.” I tried to argue back, “But you don’t understand the pain, the hurt. I am used and broken.” God replied, “You are not broken, you are MY child. MY son. MINE.”

God convicted my heart that night. I confessed my anger and hate. I apologized for my evil thoughts of murder. I asked God to renew my heart and to help me live as He lives for us: as a sacrifice. I wrote my abuser a letter that night absolving them of guilt and telling them that I forgave them. Since that time we have worked toward healing our relationship. They have gotten help for a variety of issues affecting them and we have reconciled much of our past. It isn’t perfect but what relationship is?

Why share my story?

So why write this out? Why now? This post isn’t simply a story to share about my life, it is a story that is meant to instill hope and understanding about an issue that is happening all around us and in our churches. It is a way to encourage youth workers to care for the abused in their communities and churches, to be on the lookout for those who cannot fend for themselves. To be fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters to those who have lost them.

No one knew what was happening to me. To most, I was the hard, antagonistic, and rude student. But one youth pastor continued to love me, to preach Christ crucified, dead, and alive, who taught on forgiveness and compassion. That youth pastor broke down my walls and helped to shape me into the minister I am today.

This is our mantra. This is our calling: to minister to those that others won’t. That means the abused and the abuser.

Resources and suggestions

This is a list of resources and suggestions to help you in caring for these individuals. It is not exhaustive, but these do work:

  • Listen to people. Listen to what a student says, if they talk of fear, not wanting to be at home, or they talk about being away from everything.
  • Watch your students. Watch for behavior changes. Did the once outgoing student suddenly withdraw? Did the quiet kid become rowdy and disruptive?
  • Show empathy and sympathy. You don’t always have to cry but let your students who come to you know that you love and care for them and that you hurt with them. As the body of Christ, we are all united in our love and care for each other so this should be a natural outflow of that.
  • Don’t not respond. If someone comes to you with this type of scenario don’t brush it off or have something better to do like check your phone. Pay attention and address it.
  • Prepare to counsel the victim, the victim’s family, the abuser, and the abuser’s family. This may mean purchasing counseling books, attending or watching seminars, or having a crisis counselor on your church staff. The point is, be prepared.
  • Network and build resources within your community. There are hundreds of national resources for youth ministries with this type of situation, but what local sources are there for you? Have you reached out to others? Are these people members of your church? Networking helps more than you can imagine.
  • When you don’t know, always refer. Referral is a good thing, not a bad one. You wouldn’t go to a pediatrician for major open heart surgery. They refer out for your benefit. Do the same for your students.
  • Provide a safe place to be and to share. Let students see you as honest and loving. Let them know you won’t air their stories everywhere. Let them know you always have their back.
  • Love well. Love the abused, the broken, the hurting. Love those who hurt others. We are called to love by the Father of Love. God is our very definition of love. If we do not love across the board to all then we are not following the calling of loving others.
  • Pray. Pray hard and pray often. Pray before it happens. Pray when you become aware. Pray for healing after you find out. Pray for protection. Pray for the enemy to be banned from your ministry. PRAY.
  • Don’t be silent. Speak on the topic. Speak on helping others. Speak about being a safe place.
  • National resources include: Door of Hope 4 TeensCrisis ChatTeens Helping TeensThe National Domestic Violence HotlineRAINN Sexual Assault HotlineAmerican Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and Child Help.
  • Remember to research mandated reporting for your area and ministry. Many people in ministry positions will be the first to hear about abuse and as such you may be required to report on it to the authorities. It would be wise to know what must be reported and who you should report it to.

How 7 Words Should Shape Our Response to Teen Sex and Pregnancy

As a kid growing up in the 90s and early 2000s, I remember the “purity movement” with its “true love waits” rings and books about giving up dating. I remember the guilt tactics, horror stories, and shaming. I remember thinking that once I became a teenager I would have premarital sex and become pregnant, and that was the worst thing I could do, the greatest of sins.

Now that I’m a youth leader, it’s my turn to join those approaching the topic of sex and pregnancy with students. I think we’ve all witnessed two extremely opposite responses. Some within the church might accept teen sex as normal or okay, or even go so far as to encourage it. Others might swing the opposite direction and choose to shame and cast out teens caught engaging in the activity.

I beg that God would enable us to approach it correctly, and that youth leaders would educate and respond to students in Christ-likeness, “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). I pray that we aren’t guided by judgmental legalism or cultural acceptability, but by the Bible alone.

John 8:1-11 tells the story of a woman who was caught in adultery. The religious folk of that time—including leaders and teachers—had gathered and were prepared to stone her. Jesus was present, so they asked Him what they should do, and I love His answer. He doesn’t say any of the things we might expect to hear today like, “She’s a sinner, cast her out,” or “Get on with it,” or even, “It’s hard to abstain,” or “Everyone’s doing it, so why can’t she?” Instead He says, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”

One by one, each person leaves until the only person without sin is left—Jesus. And amazingly, the only person in that situation who could throw a stone, doesn’t. But He also doesn’t leave without saying something. He doesn’t lecture, He doesn’t condone. He simply says, “Then neither do I condemn you. Go and leave your life of sin.”

Jesus’ response goes against condemnation, self-righteousness and the general practice of shaming. It simultaneously goes against acceptance, turning a blind eye, or saying “Get a condom, prevent unwanted pregnancy.”

I see two things in this passage: love and encouragement to right living. And neither look like what we might expect. Society teaches that loving people means simply accepting them for who they are and what they do, regardless of what that is. Jesus demonstrates that loving involves more than just accepting. It includes encouragement to right living in seven simple words, “Go and leave your life of sin.”

As Christ-followers, how are we handling the prospect and occurrence of teen sex and pregnancy? Are we choosing an acceptance that says, “Teens are having sex, it’s happening, so let’s be sure to teach them about contraceptives”? The problem is this view is ultimately toxic as it treats the symptoms and not the problem. It may stop pregnancy, but it doesn’t stop the destructive behavior of teen sex.

But, neither does condemnation stop teen sex. It simply pushes teens out of the church, which should be the primary place they can find help. Because as a body of people claiming to follow Christ, we should be governed by His loving example. We should take up His words of “Go and leave your life of sin,” using it to teach teens the following:

Mistakes happen.

You aren’t perfect and never will be. We’ve all made mistakes and don’t pretend to be perfect. We don’t expect you to be perfect and we won’t kick you out or look down on you or love you any less for making mistakes. (Like the religious leaders in John 8, we aren’t in a place to throw stones.)

Your mistakes don’t have to become habits; they don’t define you.

Just because you make a mistake, doesn’t mean the behavior has to or should continue. Poor choices and mistakes that are allowed to continue will eventually become habits, and these are not habits you want to form.

The Bible outlines the ways in which God wants us to live.

We obey not out of compulsion or a desire to be “good enough” for God, but because He wants the best for us. And, if we have a relationship with Jesus, our understanding of His sacrifice fuels our desire to devote our lives to Him. We will educate you on this, and we’ll have open dialogue about issues like teen sex, pregnancy, etc., because nothing is off-limits for discussion. We don’t believe in remaining silent.

There is so much more beyond the here and now.

And we want to help you fix your eyes on what is waiting after this life. We believe that knowing life doesn’t end here changes your perspective on the present. Sure, things may feel great (or at times hopeless) in the moment, but it’s all temporary, it all fades. Life in Christ lasts forever.

We want to help, encourage, equip and motivate you to live your life for Jesus.

We want to help you wrestle with the tough questions. We want to support you in whatever you are dealing with. We will provide a safe place for you to talk through whatever is on your mind or going on in your life, without judgement or condemnation. We are, after all, a family.

Can you imagine how churches would be changed if people stepped outside of their preconceived notions of church and how they think it should be and got back to just the Bible? In times of question, when the church is wrestling with where it should stand on important issues, the only place it should turn is the Bible. We shouldn’t look to the political climate, the actions of others, or social pressures. In the end, those aren’t the things we’ll be answering to; we’ll be answering to God alone.

So what happens when one of your youth group attendees ends up pregnant? Is she out the door, allowed to attend under attitudes of judgement and disgust, or told to get an abortion before anyone knows she’s pregnant? Do you think Jesus would encourage any of those responses? I believe He would champion us to show love, grace and become a people who will offer help and support. The reality is that there are now two lives that need Jesus, and none that need condemnation.

I pray that as youth leaders, we will help teens become stronger in their faith, more sure of their beliefs, and equipped to know and understand the Bible and the truth it contains. And I pray for love like Jesus, for us and for the church.