Effectively Using Social Media

Most of us recognize that social media is an effective tool and means of communication in student ministry. But we should also critically think through how and why we use it. Social media is a powerful tool that we can leverage but if we don’t have a plan or target for the intent and purpose of it, we are simply using an effective tool in an ineffective way. Today, I want to share a few things that you should think through as you utilize social media to equip, empower, and disciple your students.

Know your purpose for using social media.

It is easy to simply jump on the social media bandwagon because everyone else is using it in student ministry. But how and why each ministry uses social media is different. Some use it to simply put out content that is engaging. Others use it to communicate information. Some will use it to evangelize or disciple people. Still others use it to highlight their ministry, students, leaders, or families. What is your purpose, or your ministry’s purpose, in using social media? Once you answer that question you can begin building effective social media content for your audience.

Think through which apps you will use.

As you begin thinking about how to utilize social media effectively, you must think about which apps or social media channels you will use and why. Think through which age demographics are using which social media platforms. Consider who your primary audience is on each platform. Think about whether the social media you are using is going to be effective for your purpose. Also, read through the background and user agreement for the apps or platforms you are using. Some social media platforms were built for nefarious purposes and their desire is actually completely anti-student ministry. As you dig into these factors and engage with them, it will help you choose which apps to utilize and think about how and why you are using them.

Have a social media posting schedule.

Having consistent times to post and share content is hugely important. It affords you a timetable of when you post, it allows you to shape what is posted and when, and it allows your people to know and follow your schedule. It could be as simple as choosing a day or two to share posts that encourage engagement, it could be a day set aside for a weekly devotion, it could be reminders for programming, or it could be a weekly post highlighting leaders or students. Once you have a schedule figured out, make sure to communicate that with your teams, your students, and with families. This then affords you an opportunity to share what and why you are posting and to help curate buy-in to the ministry.

Post at appropriate times.

As you begin thinking about what you are posting, it is important to think about when you are posting. As simple as it seems, knowing what time of day and what days to post various content is highly important. Posting content for your audience means knowing when your audience is most inclined to view that content. If you’re posting on a school day for students it wouldn’t be prudent to post at 10 a.m. when they are in class. The same could be said for knowing when and what to post for parents; posting during a work day may not be prudent but posting once they are home would be.

Leverage your content to reflect your vision.

This is a big piece of utilizing social media well: use your platform to share your vision and the heart of your ministry. Whenever you post to social media make sure the vision and heart of your ministry is clear. This is true not just in the words you share but your photos and videos should communicate that as well. If your vision is focused discipleship communities and not large events, it would be prudent for your images to reflect that. So think through what your are sharing how it can best represent and reflect your vision well.

Incorporate photos and stories of your people.

One of the best ways to utilize social media well is using photos of your people. When you take photos of your students, leaders, or families and share them, it brings attention to your ministry and drives engagements up. People want to see what is happening and be invested in the important parts of your ministry; and your people are just that. So include photos and stories that share what God is doing and allow that to drive engagement on your social media platforms.

Help! I Feel Ill-Equipped!

Have you ever had a hard day? Was it ever compounded by the reality of a lack of training or knowledge? Has there ever been a conversation or question where you had no idea how to respond or engage?

Perhaps it was when a mom came into your office and shared that her husband was abusive. Maybe it was a student who shared they are thinking of transitioning. Perhaps a student shared about the propensity to self-harm and that they’ve thought about taking their own life. Maybe there was a suicide in your community or your group and people have come to you for help and guidance all while you are grieving.

If you haven’t been in a situation or context where you weren’t prepared for what unfolded, I can tell you there will be moments in your life that this will happen. I don’t say that to instill fear, doubt, or worry, but to be a realist and help us understand there will be times we are unprepared or ill-equipped. The goal is to be better prepared so we can respond well when they do happen.

These types of issues should give us pause to think through our training and knowledge, and also force us to acknowledge where we are lacking in our training and skill set. The reality is we cannot master all areas and we cannot be all things to all people. So what are we to do in moments like these? Let me offer a few helpful thoughts.

Know your resources.

One of the best things you can do to help yourself be more prepared and equipped to handle various circumstances is to know and utilize your resources. Get to know the various agencies in your community including but not limited to emergency services, counselors, other pastors, crisis agencies, various hotline numbers, doctors and nurses, and therapists. When you are networked in this way, you have more resources and referrals at your disposal that will help you offer better and more holistic care for your people.

Study areas you are weak in.

This is a big one for anyone in ministry. We should always seek to be lifelong learners and in doing so, we should seek to grow in areas we are lacking. Many ministers are referred to as counselors, but most of us are not trained counselors and our experience in that area is lacking. So I would encourage you that should you be lacking in an area, seek to grow in it.

Whether it is counseling, homiletical practice, developing leaders, formulating small groups, or any other area that is a part of your purview, seek out resources and opportunities to help you grow. Read books, meet with mentors, take classes, listen to podcasts, meet with people who are skilled and trained in those areas, and never stop learning. In doing this you will become not only more trained in those areas but you will also become a better minister as you better understand your craft and how to care for others.

Talk to experts.

This is something that is incredibly helpful and goes hand in hand with studying and seeking to be a learner, but it is a little more tangible. Seek to gain insight from experts in various fields. Talk to counselors about how they would approach various topics. Ask for advice and guidance in how to care for people. Talk to crisis intervention specialists and ask how you can help students and families in a time of crisis and what you should and should not do or say. Talk to health experts about how to care well for students who are struggling with different health issues. If these experts are not readily available in your community, consider reaching out to different networks and finding ways to connect and engage with experts elsewhere.

Be willing to just listen.

Often when people come to us to talk about what is going on in their lives they aren’t coming to look for all the answers right away. People come because they need someone to just listen and be present with them. So practice listening well and seeking to be fully present when someone comes to you. Whether it is by turning off distractions like your phone, taking notes, making eye contact, or all of the above, listening and being present in those moments will allow you to better care for and understand how to afford more holistic care.

Manage your time.

Handling these types of situations can be difficult and time consuming. There really isn’t a way to set aside your time in advance for these moments because they are often organic situations that happen as things manifest. But as these situations occur you will find that you want to be all-in and that is a good thing, but when we do that we may find ourselves being overwhelmed and depleted because of how much we give. So let me encourage you to think through how and when you can give of yourself. Know your time limitations and what you can give. It won’t always be convenient when these conversations happen, but if you structure your schedule well, you will be able to identify how much time you can give and when you can give it.

Find a way to decompress and refresh.

The truth is that these moments are heavy and difficult to carry. I would love to tell you that the more equipped, resourced, and prepared that you are, the easier these moments will become. But that isn’t true. Walking with and shepherding people involves all of who you are. Your heart will break, you will empathize and sympathize in a variety of ways, you will weep and rejoice, you will ask questions, and watch poor choices being made. We may be able to compartmentalize one circumstance or moment, but added ones compound our own hurt and emotions.

So in order to handle this well and to continue leading and caring for your people, you must find ways to decompress and refresh. Find what encourages and renews you and engage with those areas and make them a priority. Talk to someone about what is going on. Meet with a counselor regularly. Take breaks. Set boundaries. Putting these aspects into place will enable you to better care for yourself as you care for others.

Book Review: The Great Sex Rescue

I had heard a few podcast interviews with Sheila Wray Gregoire, but after listening to one last month on Theology in the Raw with her and her daughter Rebecca Lindenbach, I knew it was time to read their book (also co-written by Joanna Sawatsky). The Great Sex Rescue: The Lies You’ve Been Taught and How to Recover What God Intended is an important, insightful book that I highly recommend everyone read, regardless of your marital status.

We started talking more about counseling last week here on the blog and over on our Instagram account, and The Great Sex Rescue is a must-have for anyone doing pre-marital or marital counseling. Not only that, any youth or church leader who is speaking on sex and marriage to their students or congregants regardless of the setting will benefit from the concepts, facts, and perspectives in this book. And if you are married, the book includes discussion questions and other things to work through as a couple that will help strengthen and grow intimacy in your relationship.

One of the things I most appreciated was how the authors seek to reframe unhealthy messages about sex and intimacy that have been prevalent in the evangelical church for decades. Each chapter ends with a segment called “rescuing and reframing” which helps the reader to shift from inaccurate and harmful beliefs and statements to healthy, biblical, and factual statements. And while much of the book’s content is geared toward married couples, we would be remiss not to begin the process of reframing for our young people now. They deserve the best possible narrative and information when it comes to topics of sex and intimacy and the church should be a safe, healthy place for them to receive that information, especially if they are not hearing it at home.

The Great Sex Rescue also features research from a survey conducted with 20,000+ women, which provides data points and educational information particularly relating to married couples in the church. The information they gathered sheds light on what has been happening in marriages as a result of the messages, books, and stigmas that have been taught in the Christian community. While I found much of this information sad and disheartening, I also felt challenged to help influence the Christian community to do better. As followers of the Author of marriage, intimacy, and sex, we should be giving the best possible information we can to those we teach and lead. It is our responsibility to filter out harmful messages whenever we are made aware of them, and this book does exactly that. We can also begin to paint a better, more beautiful picture of what intimacy should look like within marriage, and why it matters.

Do yourself, your students, and fellow church-goers a favor and read this book. Then share it with other leaders, pastors, and couples. We can begin to re-write the broken messages of the past, forging a better, healthier future for our churches, and stronger, more intimate marriages. Thank you to Sheila, Rebecca, and Joanna for putting in the work to share this book with the world.

Tips for Pre-Marital and Pre-Engagement Counseling

Recently Elise and I have had the honor and privilege to walk with former students and volunteers through pre-engagement and pre-marital counseling. While it is an honor, it is also humbling to think that I have reached that stage in student ministry where I am now seeing former students get married and start families. Nothing says you are getting up there like those moments (haha). But I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

As we have walked through these counseling sessions, it is apparent that to handle them well, we need to know how to proceed, what to cover, and most importantly, we need to know the couple. As I step back and look at what we have done well and where we could improve, I want to provide a few tips on how to help you be the best counselor to those who come to you for pre-engagement or pre-marital advice, guidance, and support.

Listen well and observe.

This is one of the best things you can do if you are walking with a couple. Often you can pick up on nuances or subtleties by simply observing and listening to the couple. You can see how they treat one another, listen to how they speak to and about one another, sense when there is tension, and also notice strengths. This is not meant for you to curate a list of problem areas or to critique them, but instead it helps you notice areas that need to be talked through and processed so they can become a healthier couple going forward.

Speak truth in love.

When it comes to former students, don’t be afraid to speak truth to them. When you work with students long enough you see areas that they need to improve upon, but we can often soften the approach to help protect them and the relationship we have with them. However, when it comes to entering into a marriage relationship that student isn’t only working on themselves, there is another person who is intimately involved as well. I am not saying to be mean and critical, but to speak truth directly in love.

Let me provide an example. If we are at camp and the guys’ dorm is disgusting we may say something like, “Gentlemen, this isn’t okay. Clean up your crap or no free time.” In a marriage saying something like that doesn’t work, but in pre-marital counseling you can bring up the conversation of cleanliness, who is responsible for what, how does the couple handle tension, personality types, laziness, and even how our actions communicate love.

Address problem areas.

This tip is probably one of the harder ones, especially depending on the depth of your relationship with the couple or individual. If a former student comes to you seeking relationship or pre-marital counseling, there is a good possibility you know a lot about them including where they struggle. I would encourage you to be open and honest with the couple from the beginning and let them know that if they choose to continue in this counseling relationship, you will not shy away from difficult conversations. This is not because you take joy in pointing out sins or struggles, but because you are encouraging authenticity, transparency, and seeking to strengthen their relationship through holistic intimacy.

Provide resources.

Resources are huge! Don’t simply rely upon your conversations with the couple, but give them outside resources whether books, articles, research, or a podcast. Elise and I are always on the lookout for things we can provide to the couples we are counseling. In fact, keep an eye out as Elise is going to do a book review on a book we just read that in our opinion is a must for couples thinking about marriage.

When you provide resources it allows people to go home, engage with a topic or conversation, gives them time to process, and then opens up an opportunity for ongoing conversation with their significant other. Resources also afford you follow up conversations and the opportunity to see what the couple has learned and talked through together. Some things we send couples home with are questions from our session with them, DISC Personality Assessments, episodes from Theology in the Raw or The Bare Marriage Podcast, websites like To Love, Honor, and Vacuum, or the Feelings Wheel with a directive to utilize these resources in all of their conversations together over the next couple of weeks.

Refer out when needed.

This is one the best things you could do as the person(s) counseling a couple. There are so many areas we are not equipped to handle as ministers and leaders because we have not had the training. It is important to remember that most of us are not licensed counselors or trained to help people in certain areas because if we try to do so and offer bad or wrong insight, it could lead to horrible consequences. So should the conversation lean toward an area or reveal a situation you are not comfortable with or equipped and trained to handle, you need to refer out right away. This is not removing you from caring for and working with the couple, but instead helping them get the help and care they need.

My recommendation would be for you to begin building a network before you even begin counseling couples. Know who is a licensed and trained counselor in your area who is trained in helping couples. Bonus points if they also are Christian counselors as that will ensure consistency with what God says about marriage and relationships. Know who your mental health professionals and addiction specialists are as well. You never know when past trauma, harmful behavior, abuse, or addictive behavior may manifest in your sessions with couples, and being able to refer out is paramount in those moments. Also, know your state’s laws on various topics and think through when you need to get different first responders involved.

Don’t avoid the hard or awkward conversations.

I feel like this is something I have heard all too often when it comes to pre-engagement and pre-marital counseling. Couples prepared for conversations about sex and intimacy, couples came ready to talk about their past, topics of abuse and trauma were said to be discussed, but then those conversations are barely approached or dismissed altogether. I know for Elise and I this happened to us, and honestly left us feeling frustrated and disappointed.

These aren’t always easy conversations and frankly they could lead to awkward or difficult interactions, but these are needed moments. I have always wondered if we avoid addressing something before a couple gets married, how will it be addressed when they are married? The reality is those topics won’t just go away and a lack of engagement will lead to prolonged tension, frustration, disappointment, or worse.

So dial into those conversations and strive to do well. Approach them with love, grace, and truth. Be mature as you talk through them. Be willing to engage them and be honest about what is and isn’t helpful. Also be willing to help eliminate or minimize stigmas surrounding those topics and give them the prominence they deserve. In these moments you are valuing the couple and helping them work on communication and holistic intimacy.

What have you found works best for you in counseling couples?