Tips for New Youth Pastors [Part 1]

Even in the present state of things–with COVID-19 and certain states being under “stay at home” orders–churches are still hiring. Some are even hiring “online pastors” because of the current realities affecting ministries. That means that there are many people who are applying and being hired at churches.

Being hired at a new church is challenging on its own, but then you add in this new mix of social distancing and trying to connect electronically, and it is increasingly difficult. So what do we do?

Today, I would like to provide some tips and suggestions for new youth pastors in any season and then next week my desire will be to share tips for new youth pastors in our current circumstances. I would love to dialogue with anyone on this topic, especially those of you who are starting fresh in this new season.

Ask questions.

This is huge because it will give you insight you may not have had before. Often when you candidate you don’t get to meet everyone and you don’t get to have all the conversations that you may need. So ask questions. Talk to your students and ask them what they would want to see at youth group. Ask them what they value and desire. Ask what would encourage their friends to come. Engage with parents and ask them what resources would be helpful. Ask how you could better partner with and support them. Ask how you can better care for their students. Talk to your volunteers and ask them how you could better equip them. Ask them how they have been trained in the past and what would help them going forward. Ask them how you could best support, advocate for, and walk with them.

These questions and answers will give you insight into how to best care for your people and ultimately make you a better pastor. Asking questions, investing in people’s lives, and being willing to be challenged will help you to develop as a leader and value those you serve.

Listen.

I think it is easy at times to come in and think we know what to do and how to do it. I don’t think this is out of pride or arrogance but out of a desire to show that we know what we are doing and prove to the church who hired us that they made the right choice. But often times that means we don’t listen well or heed advice. Let me encourage you to take time and listen to what others are saying and to value it.

This will also allow for you to learn about any so-called “sacred cows” that exist. These are things that are immensely important to the church, that are difficult or impossible to change. While you candidate, most churches will tell you that they don’t have one. All churches do, but sometimes leaders don’t even know they exist. By listening to people you will hear what they value and why they value it, which will help you to learn what is the “sacred cow” within the ministry and the church at large.

Engage with students, leaders, families, and church members.

This seems obvious because of what we do. We are pastors after all and part of our job is to engage with our people. But the truth is that sometimes it can be overwhelming in the beginning. Everyone wants to talk to the new pastor, everyone wants to know your plans for the ministry, everyone has their own ideas and agendas.

It can be taxing and draining, and there will be moments you may find yourself mentally disconnecting from conversations. Don’t allow that to happen. Engage with people and hear what they have to say. Be willing to value people and their thoughts. By doing this, it will allow for you to become more attune with what people are seeking from you, your ministry, and the church. This can allow for you to become a better minister to them.

Go out into the community.

I think this is one that we all know and value, but if we are honest when we move to a new place sometimes we focus on settling in. That doesn’t mean we don’t care about our new community and the people in it, but sometimes we just hunker down as we settle into our role. But let me encourage you to engage with the community as much as you can. Go to the local supermarket, check out the local middle school or high school football game, visit local restaurants, hit up local parks. By doing this you are not only gaining the lay of the land, you are also showing that you are a part of the community and value it. You may even have church members stop and greet you which will help you build relationships.

Network.

This is a huge asset to anyone in any position, but if I am being honest it doesn’t happen enough in ministry. Youth workers are beginning to change that, and I want to encourage you to be a part of a local network as best you can. As you start in a new position, reach out to other youth pastors in the area and seek to grab coffee or lunch with them. Talk to them about what has worked for them, ask questions about the community and the area, be willing to partner with them for the sake of the Gospel. In doing all of this you are building friendships, confidantes, and support networks to help you succeed in your ministry.

Share your purpose and vision.

This is huge for any new youth pastor. In a new ministry it is easy to assume that everyone knows what you are about and the direction you want to take the ministry. But the reality is that there will be those who don’t, and those who need to continue to hear it over and over. While you have had the time to think through and plan because of the hiring process, other people need time to hear, process, and jump on board. So make sure to drip this into all of your communications and to share it with families, students, leaders, and church staff.

Over communicate.

Communication is key. That is something everyone should remember, and in a new position it is important to make sure you communicate often and clearly. Make sure to engage with your leaders, students, and families and use that time to communicate what you want them to hear. Do not assume that if you say it once or twice everyone will remember what you said. Over communicate not because people don’t get it, but because it helps them to be on the same page with you.

Empower your volunteers.

Your volunteers are key to your ministry growing and being sustained. Without them your ministry will not function. So make sure to encourage and empower them. Let leaders utilize their gifts and strengths. Encourage them when you see them doing what God has gifted them to do. Be free with your role and allow leaders to step up and serve. One of the things I love to do is be open with the stage. I don’t have to speak each week, in fact my students listen more when their leaders share. This is huge because it allows for multiple voices to be heard and valued, and it affirms and builds up leaders who are using their gifts. Find out your leaders’ strengths and passions and put them into practical use.

Set boundaries.

This is hugely important for all pastors and youth workers. Often we jump into a new position and we go as hard and as fast as we can. We go to all the events, attend all the meetings, work long hours, throw awesome outreaches, and begin to burn through all the reserves that we have.

This type of approach may work in the beginning, but ultimately it will leave you exhausted and burned out. It will also frustrate your volunteers and hurt your relationship with your family. You need to make sure that you are taking care of yourself and putting your priorities in order. Often we think the ministry comes first, but the reality is the order should be our relationship with God, our relationship with our family, and then our relationship with the ministry. Setting and enforcing boundaries allows us to focus on priorities, take care of ourselves, and be present for others. 

If you are starting at a new church, what questions do you have? If you are helping a church look for a new candidate, what do you look for?

Our Picks: Study Bibles for Message Prep and Personal Use

When it comes to preparing messages and personally studying God’s Word, there vast amounts of resources at hand. There are commentaries, various theological resources, countless articles, websites, and more. One of our favorite resources to utilize is the study Bible. The ability to read God’s Word and have helpful and insightful information all together is a huge win.

Today we want to share with you some of our favorite study Bibles that have helped us in our own relationships with Jesus and have allowed for us to become better communicators as we seek to know God’s Word at a deeper level.

The CSB Apologetics Study Bible

This is a great resource for personal study and message prep. The CSB has quickly become one of our favorite translations of the Bible because it relies upon the best manuscripts we have on hand, and is translated in a way that is easy to understand without sacrificing truth for ease.

The Apologetics Study Bible offers more than 100 commentaries and articles on various questions, thoughts, and difficult topics. The reason this is helpful for teaching is that these articles contain many of the questions that students (and arguably all Christians) have but may not voice. It also helps us to keep our minds sharp and ready to answer questions that are voiced, and it provides resources we can share with others.

CSB Worldview Study Bible

I really like this Bible when it comes to preparing messages for our students and for our church. The purpose of this study Bible is to showcase how the truths of Scripture impact our worldview. This approach provides many practical and tangible applications for when we are teaching.

As we think about our students who are part of Gen-Z, they are always looking for ways to engage and be involved, and this resource provides just that. There are extensive notes and articles that will provide you with insight into how to apply the Bible to our lives and make our faith real and active.

ESV Study Bible

This is a must-have resource for anyone in the church, regardless of whether you are paid staff, a volunteer, or an attendee. The ESV Study Bible has an amazing set of notes and information that allow you to glean additional information that you may not have seen by simply reading the text. This is a Bible that has been put together by 95 Bible scholars from around the world with a variety of denominations contributing to it.

It also has more than 20,000 study notes, over 80,000 cross-references, more than 200 maps, helpful articles, and a concordance. This Bible will help you in so many ways as you seek to grow in your personal relationship with Jesus and as you lead others in your ministries.

NIV Zondervan Study Bible

This study Bible is a great resource that was overseen by the guidance and insight of Dr. D. A. Carson and more than 60 other contributors. Its purpose is to help readers see God’s special revelation in the Scriptures and to help readers grow in their faith.

Some of the resources in this Bible include full-color maps, charts, photos, and diagrams, study notes in the margins, introductory material for each book of the Bible, cross-references, and a concordance.

NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible

This is not a Bible that I have in my personal library but one I have borrowed often from friends and colleagues. This provides so much context and insight into what was happening during the time period of the text and why it was happening in that way. When we are thinking about critically reading and analyzing Scripture it is vital that we know the context to what is taking place so we can make informed and accurate assessments and applications.

This Bible provides you with much-needed context along with verse-by-verse study notes, introductions to each book, defined terms from both Testaments, more than 300 articles discussing contextual topics, over 300 full-color photos, illustrations, and images, and various maps, charts, and diagrams. This is a great Bible to help us grow in our knowledge and understanding of what was happening in context, which will then help us shape how we apply this text to our lives and the lives of those we lead.

What Study Bibles or other resources have you found that have been helpful in your individual studies and to make you a better teacher?

Life After Lock-Down: Tips for Regathering

When it comes to reopening in the wake of Coronavirus, churches in many states have been afforded special rights and privileges as non-profits and houses of worship. We may be permitted to gather and congregate, but there are still recommendations and requirements that should be followed.

We must remember that in all things we need to represent Christ and look to reflect Him and His heart for people to our congregants, communities, and the world. We bear the responsibility to make timely and informed decisions in a reality we were unprepared for but called to lead in nonetheless.

In light of that truth, I wanted to offer some suggestions to help us as we are regathering or preparing to do so. Please know that these are not a foolproof method for reopening, but simply suggestions to help us do this in a proactive and Christ-honoring way. It is not reflective of any one church or methodology, but simply suggestions for how we can think through this as leaders and shepherds.

Don’t rush to get together.

It is easy to push to gather sooner than we should because we so desire community. But we must make sure it is safe to do so. Do not simply gather because you can, gather when you should. Put safe guards in place, communicate well, and honor the guidelines set forth by the church and governing authorities.

Be a force for unity not division.

It seems that for many churches, our ability or right to gather has forced us to take a stand that has lead to much division and fracturing. We cannot be leaders who cause strife and undue division, but instead seek to be voices of the Gospel that honor those in authority as we seek to reflect Christ to this world. I am not advocating for capitulation, but I am saying be mindful of your speech and actions and look to unite people together as Christ did. May we put aside biases, personal agendas, and political parties, and simply be a force for the Gospel of Christ.

Root your decisions in the Gospel.

It seems that for many churches the guiding principle to gauge reopening has been if their rights have been infringed upon. But that isn’t how we should measure if and when we gather again. We must remember that we are not due any rights because of our inherent sinfulness. I know we could go back and forth about our rights here in the USA, but why do we find our identity in our country and assumed freedoms? Shouldn’t we find it in Christ, and Christ alone? If we understand that in all things we must reflect the full Gospel, then we should know that reopening must be rooted in representing Jesus by caring for our churches and our communities.

So we must ask ourselves if what we are doing is a proper reflection of the Gospel, or a manifestation of rights we believe we are owed. We must remember that first and foremost we are to be a voice for the Gospel. Everything we do should reflect Jesus to our world. How we go about reopening, the safeguards we put in place, and the ways in which we minister to our people should all be outlets for the Gospel. Our care, love, and motives should all be to reflect Jesus.

Guard your speech.

It is so easy in today’s context to use our speech in non-constructive ways. We can hastily fire off a Facebook post, share something on our social media to push an agenda, or have a flippant conversation that is overheard and could bring about difficulties for the church at large. We as shepherds of our people must guard what we say and make sure we are not contributing toward tension, frustration, or dissension. All of those will only further fracture and divide our churches. Instead, seek to listen and engage in healthy and constructive dialogue that looks to encourage and build up the body of Christ.

Be proactive not reactive.

As you prepare to open back up, think about ways to keep everyone safe and healthy. This may mean you start with multiple layers of safety procedures and changes which are okay. It is easier to remove safety procedures than it is to add them. We want to be shepherds who do all we can to protect and care for our people, and as new information and data are made available, you can always scale back to adapt. If our people just see us adding more restrictions because we didn’t do it in the beginning, it may cause their trust in us to wane.

Don’t do things just because you can.

Lots of churches are meeting and lots of churches are doing things differently. But before you do things, let me ask you a question: why are you doing them? Is it because you can? Is it because it makes a statement? Is it because of external or internal pressure? Let me encourage you to think through the “why” before you do anything.

I know many churches that have relaunched and have gone back to “normal,” but we have to ask ourselves if this the best thing to do. When restaurants, malls, communities, and countries still have measures in place to protect people, should we as the church buck the system just because we can? Instead, I would encourage us to do things in a thoughtful and measured approach to show how we love and care for our people.

Hear and respond to criticism.

Criticism happens. In fact you have probably seen or heard a lot of it since this pandemic began. But here is what we as leaders and shepherds must do: listen to our people, hear what they are saying, and respond well. When people criticize it is often a representation of a deeper heart issue or concern. We must listen to them and truly hear what they are saying. One of the last times I preached I received an email that heartily disagreed with what I said and how I said it. I am not going to lie, it hurt and I wanted to respond in kind. But I knew that wasn’t right.

Instead, I sought council from those over me and on my team, and I ended up personally connecting with the individual who sent the email. I heard their concerns, I asked questions, and ultimately we agreed to disagree. But then I took the conversation in a different direction and thanked the person for sharing, and told them how much our church loved them. The change was staggering. The person was so thankful and moved, and they emphatically stated that even though we may disagree they will always call our church home.

My point here is this: no matter what decision you make in regard to reopening, no matter what safe guards you follow, and no matter how much you communicate, there will always be criticism. But it is essential to respond with love and understanding and seek to emulate Christ in all things.

Helping Families Succeed at Devotions

Finding time to be in God’s Word can be difficult for anyone. I think if we are honest with ourselves we would acknowledge that there are seasons when it is difficult for us as adults to spend time investing in our relationship with Jesus. Work, family, home life, yard work, play-dates, being a chauffeur, and trying to get adequate rest can seem to overwhelm our days. Even in this new season of life where many of us are at home and being forced to slow down, we may not have been able to engage as much as we would have liked in our spiritual walk.

It is no secret that growth as a Christ follower is intrinsically dependent upon how much time we spend in community with Jesus. But what we don’t always consider is that students watch how the adults in their lives engage with Jesus, which directly affects their relationship with Him. Students should witness adults modeling a relationship with Jesus in their actions and speech, how often they read their Bibles, and in how they allow the truth of the Gospel to permeate their lives. But the question is, how do we do that, and how do we do it well?

A great way to help students grow in their relationship with Jesus is through their family. Families are hugely influential in the lives of students, and parents are the primary disciple-makers of our students. Therefore, we must help to equip and empower families to engage with God’s Word together. A great way to begin this conversation is by encouraging parents to engage in family devotions.

Family devotions are an opportunity to help draw parents and children together with one another and with Jesus. Family devotions do not need to be every day, they don’t have to be boring or childish, and they certainly do not need to be hours long. But they should allow for thoughtful conversation, opportunities for everyone to share and lead, and time to be loved and supported by those closest to you.

Many parents have not had this modeled for them, and therefore they feel ill-equipped or lost on how to begin. As shepherds for families and students we can help resource and equip parents to succeed in this model.

Here are some helpful tips and methods for doing devotions as a family:

  • Encourage your families to start small. A half hour is a perfect time-frame for beginning family devotions. We often think that if we aren’t doing something, we have failed, and therefore decide to come up with a large and elaborate plan. But doing this actually can set you up for failure. Starting small allows you to grow the opportunity and interactions and allow for meaningful time together.
  • Be intentional with your time. Don’t make the time together about completing a task off of a to-do-list. Instead, make it relational and spiritual. Care about your student’s life, and allow the Gospel to speak into it.
  • Ask for your student’s input. Before kicking off your family devotions, look for insight from your student. Ask them what they think about it, ask what they would like to cover, ask if they would like to lead, ask what worries them about doing this, and ask if they want to do this. The answers you get may not be what you want, but you will gain valuable insight from your students, and you will also be empowering their voice and buy-in simply by hearing what they have to say.
  • Make this a priority. This has to be something that families are consistent with and committed to. If they are not, their students will not buy into it. It has to be led from the top down, and if students sense a parent is for this then they will begin to be for it too.
  • Be willing to adapt and change as needed. That is not to say that you should skip or postpone devotional times, but instead be willing to be flexible. This could be because of a special event, or maybe you want to add time to go deeper. Whatever the circumstance, flexibility is a must-have for families to succeed.

I would also like to provide you with some resources for equipping families to help them succeed in this. These are very easy ways to begin stepping into family devotions together.

  • Here is a daily text based devotion to give to parents who can then send them to their students. This is designed to be a simple way to send a text to your student each day. It can also serve as a reminder for them to read God’s Word and apply it to their lives.
  • Another great resource would be to check out this video about helping your students engage in God’s Word and develop healthy spiritual rhythms. It is a quick clip but dripping with truth and helpful ideas and gives you opportunities to help grow your student’s personal devotions alongside family devotions.
  • David R. Smith wrote an article on enhancing in-home devotions and he offers some very helpful tools and tips, as well as some resources for you and your family.
  • As far as methodology is concerned, there are many ways to study the Bible. You can simply read a passage and respond to it, or use a more scripted time to help you grow. Here are a few of my personal favorites:
  • Other helpful digital resources include biblegateway.com, www.bible.com, www.openbible.info/topics/, net.bible.org, and www.blueletterbible.org. These are online Bibles that come with a variety of resources including commentaries, various versions, studies, topical searches, and much more.

Being intentional and pouring into the spiritual growth and development of families is a priority that we must pursue. My prayer for you is that these resources help you and your family deepen your walk with Jesus, and that we develop families of disciple-makers who are radically changing the world for Jesus.

5 Tips for Navigating Current Conversations

Our current cultural climate has sparked many a heated conversation. If you utilize social media, no doubt you’ve at least witnessed, if not engaged in, an online debate that at one point or another turned ugly.

As representatives of the Gospel to our students and the world, we must frequently ask ourselves: How can I reflect Christ Jesus in all of my interactions?

In this week’s blog post, we want to offer encouragement and some simple suggestions for navigating conversations in a healthy, God-honoring way. Rather than simply disengaging, we want to interact in ways that will show people the heart that Jesus has for the world.

1. Seek to reflect Jesus Christ.

This may be the most simple and obvious suggestion, but it is no doubt the most difficult. It involves challenging ourselves to operate beyond our natural tendencies, personal opinions, and cultural assumptions.

The best way to reflect Jesus is to know Him, so starting each day in the Word and prayer will help to orient your thoughts and attitudes toward Him. Before engaging in conversations, ask God to give you words to say that will bring Him glory, and ask Him to help you treat each person like an image bearer. This simple step can help rein in a heated response or gut reaction and cause us to refocus on what truly matters.

May we remember that the advancement of the Gospel is more important than anything else we may hold dear.

2. Avoid making it political.

Issues within our culture are often assigned a political bent, and based on where we fall politically, we will see these issues differently. But before an issue is a platform, it is something that affects human lives and hearts. As a representative of the Gospel, may we challenge ourselves to care more about other people than about our political leanings.

Instead of looking for ways to spark (or win) a debate or argue a political point, seek to emulate God’s heart for people. Demonstrate His presence, His care, and His ultimate solution for all humanity’s problems–salvation through Jesus Christ.

May we win more hearts to Him than political debates.

3. Meet people where they are.

For the daily issues we encounter, there is not a one-size-fits-all solution. People will experience and deal with problems differently. Rather than assigning the same cookie-cutter solution, or writing off someone’s struggles, seek to meet people where they are and help them in that place.

This is especially important when interacting with your students. It can be easy to lump students all together, and therefore think that they should all feel the same way and deal with their issues similarly. However, things like personal experience, home life, and mental health, will cause students to view the world and their problems very differently.

This is why it is extremely important to invest time into understanding others before we seek to help them or offer solutions. Some ways to do this are outlined in the following points.

4. Ask questions, and don’t assume you know the answer.

The only way to get to know someone is to learn about them, and the best way to uncover their needs, hurts, and life experience is to ask questions. Don’t assume anyone has had the same life experiences you’ve had, and don’t assume they respond to problems the same way. We are each complex individuals, and even though we may have similar life experiences or beliefs, we are all different.

In fact, to make assumptions is to cheat yourself out of knowing someone else, and to rob them of the opportunity of being known. Assumptions cheapen relationships, and cause us to miss out on the gift of knowing each other. Even if you think you know the answer, ask. Allow others to open up, to share about themselves, and to get to know you, too.

May we seek to know each other, rather than assign labels and assumptions.

5. Listen to understand before responding.

Many of us have experienced this type of conversation: no matter how many times you try to explain something, the person you’re talking to is more concerned with their response than what you are actually saying. This leaves you feeling frustrated, unheard, and ready to give up on the other person. And unfortunately, these types of interactions frequently happen in a church context.

Let us do whatever we must not to become the person who responds without listening. You may have the Sunday School answer, but to do this is to ignore the person and focus on making a point, which is ultimately dehumanizing. Instead, challenge yourself to pay attention to others, to think about what they are saying as they are saying it, and to ask clarifying follow-up questions. Active listening demonstrates your care and regard for others, and shows that they are more important to you than simply winning a debate. It can also show that you hold them as more important than yourself.

Seeking to understand others is a way of building bridges between us, rather than walls. Bridges are a way to connect not only with each other, but to introduce others to the God whom we serve. May that be our ultimate goal in these days and the days to come.