How to Value + Incorporate Story Telling in Student Ministry

Everyone loves a good story, especially if it’s true. Historically our world has relied on stories to tell us where we’ve been, where we’re going, and how to live in the here-and-now. Christianity especially is grounded on a book full of stories about God and His people.

Story telling is nothing new, in the world or in student ministry. But at times we may forget just how powerful and important the telling of true stories can be. For followers of Jesus, they can be a compelling marker for the ways in which our lives have been changed and can be changed by the Gospel.

Valuing Story Telling

One of the best ways to truly value the telling of stories within a church context is also one of the most simple: keep them true. Whether it’s a quirky illustration or a heartfelt recounting, make sure it’s a true story. Nothing turns listeners off more than realizing a great story is fake. Conversely, nothing connects a listener to a speaker more than an honest retelling of their life experiences.

True stories are especially important when it comes to connecting “real life” to our faith. For many students, faith can feel like an abstract concept, resulting in a separation of their faith journey from their everyday life. The telling of true, personal stories can model a bringing together of our everyday lives and our faith, showing how the two are woven together at all times. True stories from our lives connect the abstract to reality.

True stories also help to illustrate the life change that the Gospel brings about, showing that Jesus Christ isn’t just a historical figure but a living being who interacts with us now. Stories can demonstrate the power and applicability of the Gospel to the struggles our students may be facing. They can move a message from a broad theme of “the Gospel can change your life” to a specific example of “how the Gospel changed my life.”

In a way, the valuing of true, personal story telling is also a way for us to value the Gospel. If the truth of Jesus Christ has changed your life, you will have stories to back it up. And even more than that, you will want to share these stories so that others may know about the Jesus you have encountered.

Incorporating Story Telling

An obvious and easy way to incorporate story telling into your youth ministry is to include it in weekly messages. Again, using true and personal stories to illustrate your main points is much more powerful than a generic story about “a friend” or “a girl named Sarah.” Even if the story about your friend is true, unless your friend is telling it, there will be less of a connection between the story and your students. Aim to keep all your stories to personal and factual accounts.

Another way to incorporate story telling while also building community and connection is to invite leaders and students into the process. Some of the most powerful student ministry nights have featured a leader or student sharing their personal story of how Jesus changed their life. Consider structuring a series around the sharing of leader and/or student testimonies. Planning in advance will allow you to meet with each story teller to help them prepare and practice telling their story. In addition to giving them a platform to share the Gospel, you will also build community between story tellers and those who listen, resulting in the strengthening and building up of relationships within your ministry.

Look for ways to empower your students to tell their stories. Some may not feel comfortable sharing in front of the entire group, but that shouldn’t make their story any less valuable. All followers of Christ should be encouraged to write and track the story of how He has changed and is changing their life.

Consider hosting an event to help students write and tell their story, providing tips, personal assistance, creative options, and tools like a journal and pens. Some students might write their story like an essay, while others may want to write it like poetry or spoken word. Leave time at the end of the event for an “open mic” session for any who would like to share. Secure a few leaders and/or students ahead of time to share and help get things started.

When you incorporate story telling into your ministry, your goal should be to not only share your story or your leaders’ stories. It should be to champion and equip your students in the telling of their stories as well. Each follower of Jesus is part of God’s overarching story, and to value the telling of individual stories is to value our place in it.

Leading Small Groups: Self-Guided Discussion

There may be times as a small group leader that you don’t have pre-scripted questions, or your students aren’t vibing with the questions you have. While it may not always flow seamlessly, those are times when I like to move to what I call “self-guided discussions.” These are discussions facilitated by a small group leader, but essentially led by the needs, responses, and thoughts of the small group. Here is a basic look at how to lead your group using a self-guided discussion.

If you can, do a little pre-discussion prep.

The longer you spend with your particular small group, the more you will learn about them. You will be able to identify key areas that impact their lives individually and collectively. As you learn these things, you will be able to identify key topics or themes from weekly lessons that will be most relevant to them.

If you know the lesson topic prior to youth group, you can prep beforehand. Otherwise, you can take notes and write questions during the teaching time. Look for ways to connect the topic or key points of the lesson to the lives of your students. Come up with some questions that will lead students to make these connections on their own, rather than simply spoon-feeding them the answers.

Ask, “What stood out to you?”

If I can tell my students are engaged and thinking through to the topic, I want to hear what is standing out to them. Often I like to ask this question first to see what spoke to them, what they are thinking about, and what they might need to spend extra time talking through. Sometimes this will dictate the entire direction of our discussion time, especially if it is a topic I know will benefit the entire group.

When asking this question, you may get answers (or comments) that don’t exactly relate to the lesson topic. Sometimes your students might go entirely off topic. If it’s something worth talking about, I would encourage you not to completely shut down the discussion. Some of the best conversations I’ve had with my small group originated from what seemed like a tangent. It’s okay to deviate from the intended topic and let conversation grow organically as long as it’s beneficial and not an attempt to distract the group. This can be one of the best aspects of self-guided discussion.

Ask follow-up questions based on students’ answers.

After asking the students what stood out to them, use their answers to guide your questions. Pick a key word or topic from their answers to hone in on. Ask follow-up questions that will steer the conversation in a helpful direction. This is a great way to help students connect broad topics to real-life application. It also allows you to spend more time on things that are important to your students, rather than glossing over them to move on to the next question.

Apply questions and answers to specific life circumstances or issues.

As I mentioned before, it’s important for us to assist students in connecting the truths of Scripture to their lives. They need to be able to see the relevance of lesson topics for their lives. These connections may be easy for them to make, but other times they may struggle. This is where you as a leader can guide them into making these connections with the questions you ask. The more you know about your students, the more you will be able to connect topics to their specific life circumstances.

Within this, it is important not to disclose things you have been told in confidence by students. Use discretion in how you address topics, keeping student privacy in mind. If a student has shared an issue previously with the group at large, I recommend speaking to them privately before bringing it up again in the group. This can be as simple as pulling them aside and asking for their permission to bring up the topic, or asking them if they would be willing to share about it.

Encourage your students to ask questions.

Self-guided discussion truly becomes self-guided when your students start asking questions. This may start with them asking you things, but eventually they will hopefully begin to ask each other follow-up questions. Even if you don’t know the answer to a student’s question, encourage them by affirming their question, and if needed, doing some research so you can follow-up with an answer. Be honest and open with your students. You don’t have to share everything, but you will be able to connect with them on a deeper level if you let them into your life. This will help to build rapport between you and your students.

Tips for Generating New Ideas

There are times in ministry when we can become stuck in a rut. Whether it’s the way we’ve always done things, or we just become complacent, it can be hard to make a change. Or we may want to change things up, but we struggle with where to start.

Today Nick and I will share some tips with you on coming up with new ideas, particularly for your student ministry. Brainstorming is a critical step in coming up with new concepts, which you can then evaluate for their viability and application to your specific ministry context.

Idea dump in an environment that encourages your creativity.

Set aside a block of time, go to a location that stimulates your creativity, and list every idea you can come up with. Don’t leave anything out, even the ideas that may seem “dumb” or impossible. Sometimes those ideas will lead to something even better. Don’t worry about evaluating your ideas, just get everything written down.

Consider your culture.

It is important to brainstorm within in the context of your ministry, community, and demographic. In doing this, you will be able to identify areas for success, eliminate concepts that are counter-productive, and find key ways to engage your ministry and the people you serve.

Don’t just replicate what everyone else is doing.

As you’re working on brainstorming, you may be tempted to look at what other ministries are doing and replicate their concepts. While some ideas may translate to your context, merely replicating someone else’s ministry formula will ultimately disregard  your unique gifting and ability to assess and direct your specific ministry. It doesn’t hurt to look at another ministry’s formula for ideas, but it is essential to evaluate them within your unique context.

Categorize your ideas.

After you’ve listed your ideas, categorize them based on your context. Compare your ideas to your missional philosophy and see where they might fit within your ministry. Use this step to consider where you would apply each of your ideas, and whether or not they would work for your specific context. Don’t be afraid to reconsider or eliminate ideas that won’t be applicable to your ministry.

Listen to your leaders and students.

It is beneficial to ask for ideas from others who have a vested interest and are actively engaged with your ministry. Bringing them into the process not only validates and encourages them, but helps to give them ownership of the ministry. We would suggest meeting with leaders and students for separate brainstorming sessions.

After you’ve collected each group’s ideas, compare them to one another as well as to your ideas, assessing which are viable and could be implemented within your context. It is also beneficial to keep both groups informed on what you are doing moving forward. This will help to further their buy-in and validate their involvement within the ministry.

List your resources and needs.

We can often be blinded by lack of resources which keeps us from seeing what we actually have. It is important to inventory your resources (i.e., your budget, supplies, personnel, venue, etc.). Be willing to think outside the box when it comes to your resources and look for additional options you may not have considered.

It is helpful to identify your needs so that you can ask for assistance in those specific areas and look to allocate portions of your budget when appropriate. Identify the skill sets present within your congregation and don’t be afraid to ask for people’s assistance.

Don’t be afraid to try.

Some ideas might seem great on paper, but after implementation, they may not work the way you hoped. And that is okay. If you don’t take a viable idea for a test run, you will never know if it will truly work within your context. Don’t be afraid of failure. You can always reevaluate, tweak, or scrap an idea and try something new.

Bringing Social Justice + Student Ministry Together

Social justice is something we’ve seen students become more interested in and passionate about over the years. With more awareness comes a desire to lend a hand, speak up, and participate in various ways. Students are finding new and creative opportunities to make sure their voice is heard.

If social justice is something your students are interested in, I encourage you to step into it with them. As youth leaders we can join in social justice campaigns with our students, foster community and conversation around these issues, and model what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ who has a heart for justice.

If you’re wondering how to practically engage social justice initiatives within your ministry context, I have some suggestions to get you started. You may find different approaches, campaigns, or issues are more relevant to your group. So I would encourage you to start simply.

Talk to your students about their passions.

You may find a wide range of interests within your group, but you also may be able to identify a common theme. Or you may be able to uncover a few key areas where your leaders and students can get involved together.

Rather than trying to generate interest in a random cause, I think it’s important to begin by identifying what social justice issues currently fire up your students and leaders. You may find a few key individuals who can help lead the rest of the group. From there, you can plan how to move forward in specific ways that are relevant to your group.

Host a social justice night.

Take a regular “youth group” night to discuss, share, and take steps forward as a whole youth group. This is a great way to raise awareness and leverage the passions and involvement already existent within your group. If some of your students and/or leaders are already passionate about particular issues, you can work with them to help lead your social justice night. 

You may also want to consider bringing in someone professionally involved in a social justice issue to speak. You can share a short video, host a panel discussion, or invite students to select and attend a breakout session on a specific topic. Again, not everyone may be passionate about social justice, so consider education your primary focus. Some students may be moved to action, which is why its important to have an involvement plan you can share.

Help students get involved.

You may have a social justice issue knocking at your back door. Or you may have no idea how to get students practically involved. If you can identify a local need that your group can meet, that is an excellent place to start. Tap local experts to help you look into opportunities that are possible for your students. If you’re struggling to find something local, look for ways to partner with a national or global organization.

A great and simple place to start is by advocating through an organization called Dressember. Participants commit to wearing a dress or tie throughout the month of December to raise money and awareness for organizations that fight human trafficking, modern day slavery, and other social justice issues domestically and abroad. You and your students can form a team and those who participate can create their own fundraising page–and monetary goal–through Dressember’s website. (If you have questions about Dressember, feel free to ask; I would love to share more with you!)

Leverage social media and story telling.

However you and your students decide to practically participate, don’t forget to share what you are doing on social media. This is a great platform to not only show people what you are doing, but more importantly, tell them why. This is one of the ways your students can learn how to incorporate the Gospel into their social justice involvement. By explaining the heart behind the work, they can begin sharing the love of Jesus not only within their involvement, but also their extended community.

You can also encourage students to tell their story–many times a desire for involvement comes from a personal connection. That personal connection can often be a bridge to draw others in. Students don’t have to put all the personal details out there, but if they feel comfortable, they can share why social justice matters to them, and what things have come about as a result of their involvement.

If your students have stories to tell, don’t hesitate to share these with the church body at large. Your students can lead others in this area through their passion, care, and commitment. I encourage you to not only let your students lead by example, but to allow and encourage others to follow. Maybe your students can help lead a social justice night or initiative for the entire church, showing how the Gospel can move us all to action.

Feel Like You’re Failing? Encouragement for Youth Leaders

Regardless of where you serve in ministry, you will likely encounter discouragement at some point. It may come from things others will say or do, or things you simply believe about yourself but have never actually been told. Discouragement in ministry is a reality we all face.

I think youth leaders easily and sometimes frequently feel discouraged. We can feel like we aren’t making a difference. We can question whether or not we’re cut out to be a small group leader. We may feel like students don’t like us. The list goes on…

Today I want to take some time to offer you encouragement and truth. Maybe you don’t feel like you need it right now. Maybe you’re seeing growth in your ministry and you know your students love you. But perhaps down the road, when times get tough and ministry is hard, you might need to be reminded of why your presence matters.

Your presence is meaningful and needed.

I think the great lie Satan tries to feed to youth leaders is that they aren’t making a difference, that they aren’t important or needed. If we can become convinced of that, we will inevitably give up on the ministry.

I want to encourage you: do not believe that lie. It may take different forms: I’m too old, students don’t listen to me, each week is just too hard, God isn’t working, I’m not making a difference. The important thing is to identify the lie that you’re believing and fight it with the truth.

The truth is: your presence is important and students need you. Students need adults who will consistently show up in their lives and represent Jesus Christ to them. Just by consistently being there for the students, you send a message that they have value and that you have bought into the truth of the Gospel. And by being there, you are investing in the work God is already doing.

Just because it’s hard doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong. 

Last month I listened to a sermon where the pastor spoke on Christian community. He said, “We have to remember that the Gospel brings different people together. Sometimes what we view as failure is actually God bringing people together.”

This made me think about youth group, because it’s definitely true for my experience working with students. So many different types of people are brought together during youth group activities. And sometimes those people don’t get along–adults and students included. It can feel like each week is a struggle, trying to end cliques within your small group, trying to get the quiet people to talk, trying to encourage unity between different schools, trying to help students navigate life.

The list of things we try to do can become exhaustive, and when only some or none of them actually come to pass, we may feel like we’re failing. We may question what we’re doing, or if it’s even making a difference. Let me encourage you: just because each week is a struggle, it doesn’t automatically mean you’re doing something wrong. Which leads me to my next point…

Present difficulties can lead to future rewards.

I think if a lot of youth leaders were honest, we would have numerous stories of how we were not the “easy kids” in youth group. In fact, some of us might have been the student the youth leader secretly wished wouldn’t show up each week. We might have been the back-talkers, the disrupters, the “problem” students. In my own experience, the struggles I experienced in high school fueled my desire to be a youth leader.

The reality is we have no idea what kind of work God is doing through our perceived weaknesses or failures, or through the things our students are experiencing. In the moment, and even in the immediate future, we may not see how God is working. We may never know. But He is working. Each week, in each student, through every struggle, God is working.

In 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 Paul writes, “But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

As we invest in the lives of students, God will use us. One day, maybe on this earth or in eternity, we will see the rewards. We will see students coming to Christ, serving Him with their lives, and changing the world for Him. And we will praise God because He allowed us to be a part of it.

Your value does not lie in the actions of your students.

Yes, we hope to see students’ lives changed for Christ, but we don’t always see it. We long to hear stories of how we made a difference in the lives of our students, but we won’t always hear them. There may be whole seasons when it seems like nothing good comes of our efforts in student ministry.

We cannot root our identity in the people we serve, and we cannot base our success or failure on their lives or actions. This can be hard because the alternative–choosing to place our value in Christ and the kingdom work He calls us to–is unseen. It takes concerted effort to shift our eyes from what we can perceive to what we cannot, and to place our value there. But that is what will carry us when student ministry is hard.

I love the reminder Colossians 3:23-24 provides: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”

At the end of it all, we are serving the Lord, being available for the work He has, and displaying His love to each person we meet. He will bring about success, He will produce the fruit, and He will change hearts and lives. May you rest in that truth today.

Our Picks: 4 Podcasts We’re Listening to Now

I love listening to podcasts while I’m getting ready in the morning. Nick likes to listen to them while he’s on his way to work. They’re a great way to take time that is typically mundane and make it educational.

Today we are sharing some of our current podcast choices with you. We would also love to check out your recommendations. What is a podcast you’re currently listening to? Leave your suggestion(s) in the comments so we can check them out, and share them with others.

For those who love students…

Check out Youth Culture Matters, a podcast by the Center for Parent/Youth Understanding. They feature a wide variety of topics, from “Navigating LGBTQ Issues” with guest Rosaria Butterfield, to “Why Youth Stay in Church when They Grow Up” with Jon Nielson. They focus on topics relating to students, and ask pertinent questions from the perspective of youth leaders, parents, and culture-watchers. We recommend listening through their past episodes, you may even find one that includes Nick!

For the ladies…

There may be some men who listen to The Happy Hour with Jamie Ivey, but this podcast is all about following Jesus as a woman. It is hosted by author, speaker, and podcaster Jamie Ivey, who interviews a new guest each week. Jamie dives into both deep and lighthearted conversations with her guests that will make you think, laugh, and maybe even cry. I absolutely love listening to this podcast and always recommend it to my girl friends.

For those looking for honesty…

And a wide variety of topics, 30 Minutes with the Perrys packs a refreshing punch. These short, authentic podcasts feature Jackie Hill Perry and Preston Perry who discuss things like “Healing from Church Hurt” and “When You’re Afraid to Talk about Jesus.” They bring humor and raw honesty to each podcast as they look at topics from a biblical perspective.

For those looking to combine faith and culture…

Preston Sprinkle takes a fast and fresh look at topics relating to faith and culture in his podcast Theology in the Raw. Topics discussed include LGBTQ issues, sex, drinking, porn, immigration, racial tensions, guns, patriotism, and much more. Preston brings a wealth of knowledge and many intriguing guests to a show that will challenge your way of thinking and push you to understand what Scripture is saying and what it means for us as Christ followers today.

Preparing as a Volunteer Leader

Fall is almost upon us and so is the start of another school year. Whether you’re a veteran leader, or this will be your first year serving in student ministry, it’s a great time to prepare for the upcoming year. It’s easy to simply roll into student ministry without giving it too much fore-thought, but I believe taking some time to prepare can be beneficial. Here are a few ways to help be better prepared for the start of this ministry year.

Get in the know

Our ministry hosts a leader training session before each school year starts. This helps us to get on the same page, go over any rules and requirements, talk about the plan for the year ahead, and bond as leaders. If your church doesn’t host leader training or if you’ll miss it, I recommend scheduling a meeting with your student pastor. Use the time to hear his/her vision for the year, learn important rules, find out who is in your small group, and grow in your understanding of the program and its leadership. The more you can learn about the students, the ministry, and the leadership, the more effective you will be as a member of the team.

Meet with key individuals

If you have one or more co-leaders, I recommend getting together before the school year starts. In addition to getting to know each other and how to work together well, you can take time to pray over and cast a vision for your group. This may sound like a lot of work, but if you have a direction and goal you are all working toward, it will help to build intentionality within your small group time. You can also think about how you want to lead discussion, how you can work together to challenge your small group, and how you want to divide any tasks or responsibilities. If you come in with a plan and vision, or if you simply show up with zero fore-thought, it will ultimately reveal itself in how you lead. As the old phrase goes, “failing to prepare is preparing to fail,” and students deserve the best we can offer.

In addition to meeting with leaders, you may want to meet up with your students as well, if possible. Any time spent with students is a great opportunity to bond–they get to know you and you get to know them. You will become an even more effective leader the more you know your group, the issues they are dealing with, and the things they are passionate about. You can also use this time to encourage and challenge students you have identified as leaders within the group. Help them get ready for the year ahead by identifying areas where they can serve and have an impact.

Invest in your spiritual growth

This is something we should be doing year-round, not just before the school year starts. As leaders we need to have spiritual inflow in order to produce an outflow. But now is a great time to re-focus and make sure you are getting adequate inflow. And to be totally honest, youth group should not count toward your inflow. You are there as a leader, to guide and help students to grow, not to find growth yourself. That is not to say that you won’t grow, or be challenged by the teaching, but your time with students should not be a primary source of your spiritual growth.

Personally, I find growth and inflow in a few key areas: personal devotional and quiet time, and corporate worship and Bible study. In addition to the Sunday morning worship service, I also participate in a women’s Bible study where I experience deep personal relationships and community. I also value quiet time alone when I can study the Word, pray, and listen to the Holy Spirit without distractions. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to have steady, healthy spiritual inflow.

How to Help Students set Technology Boundaries

True confessions: I love when I hear that parents are setting technology boundaries for their children. Not because I want kids to suffer, but because I know parents are thinking about the effects that technology use will have on their children, both short- and long-term.

However, the reality is this: not all parents set these boundaries. In fact, more times that I would like to admit, I’ve heard a parent say something like, “It’s my kid’s phone, I can’t take it away.” And rather than be the parent, they treat their child like an adult, and leave them to navigate technology on their own.

Here is the point when youth leaders (and kid min leaders) can step in and work to educate students on navigating technology use and setting their own boundaries. We can model healthy use, and explain the whys behind our suggested boundaries. And while you may think kids won’t listen (and you are right, some won’t), some will, and it will be worth the effort.

In my experience, all it takes is forced time away from a phone for some students to realize they really don’t need technology as much as they think they do. On virtually every trip I’ve helped to lead–from week-long mission trips to weekend retreats–we have told students to leave phones at home or we will collect them for the duration of the trip. At first, students are upset, but a few days in and I’ve always heard a comment that went something like this: “I’m really glad you took away our phones; I really don’t miss mine at all.” Sometimes a forced break is all it takes for a student to realize the world outside of technology is amazing and filled with unique opportunities they won’t get on social media.

So how do we as youth leaders help students (and parents) set healthy technology boundaries? I think we start by not only suggesting certain boundaries, but explaining why they matter. Below I have listed a few of my top suggestions, and I would love to hear yours! Feel free to leave them in the comments, or tweet me @MrsEliseMance.

Set specific “no technology” hours.

The best thing students can do, especially if they struggle to get off screens, is to set specific times to be off their phone and technology in general. A key time to do this is at night, when lights and notifications can disrupt sleep. I recommend leaving the phone somewhere other than their bedroom and using something else for their alarm (like an actual alarm clock, or asking a parent to wake them up). If they use their phone for their alarm, they should put their phone on a “do not disturb” setting, which will keep notifications from popping up, but still allow an alarm to sound. They shouldn’t sleep with their phone in their bed.

Another key time for a “no technology” boundary is whenever they’re spending time with others. This sounds like a lot, but think of the last time you tried to have a conversation with someone who was on their phone. Or better yet, the last time you were on your phone when someone was trying to talk to you. It’s virtually impossible to do both, and you miss out on a lot by not being present in the moment. This may be stretching, but even starting small (like at meals, when out with friends, when they first get home from school) will help.

Besides needing rest and practicing the art of face-to-face interaction, time off of technology can help protect students from negative and hurtful influences. When people my age and older got home from school, we had a natural barrier from drama at school and bullies. Now, bullies and drama follow students everywhere thanks to social media. Sometimes enforcing time off screens can help protect students’ mental health and give them a break from negative voices.

If a student needs help setting these types of boundaries and they use an iPhone, they can set restrictions for themselves under Settings > Screen Time. There are options to schedule downtime, set app limits, and set content restrictions. Plus under “Screen Time,” you can see how much average time you spend on your phone and what you’ve been doing.

Limit who you interact with.

The sad reality is predators use technology to find and lure young people. This has been an issue since the advent of the internet, and any medium where one person can communicate with another can be used by predators (including gaming networks, social media apps, and video sharing sites). It’s devastating how many stories of missing young people include a detail that they “had been chatting with an adult they met online.” We don’t need to scare students, but we do need to make them aware that strangers online can be just as dangerous as strangers in “real life.”

I encourage students to only communicate with people they have first met offline, people they know and their family knows. And even then, if the person is bringing up topics they don’t want to or know they shouldn’t talk about, they should stop communicating with that individual and inform an adult they trust. Not only can predators attempt to lure children, but some sites share locations, which can make students easy to find. The best thing for students to do is keep their profiles/accounts private, turn off location services, and only communicate with their friends and trusted adults.

Carefully consider what you share.

It’s okay to be yourself on social media, I don’t list this recommendation to encourage students to be fake. But I do think they need to exercise wisdom in what they decide to share. People always like to quip, “Nothing posted online ever goes away,” but it’s true. Even apps that claim to make your content disappear will save it on their servers, or other people can screen-shot and save it. In addition, your online presence sends a message about who you are and what you believe. That message can point people to Jesus, or it can be self-absorbed and self-serving.

Students can ask themselves a few questions before deciding to post or share content with others, and look for positive alternatives if needed.

  • Does this post/content honor Jesus and represent my relationship with him? (Every post doesn’t have to be overtly religious, but it does need to reflect my identity as a Christ-follower.) If not, don’t post it. Instead, share something that points to God’s glory and the place He has in your life.
  • Would I be embarrassed if this post/content were made public forever for everyone to see? If so, don’t post it. Instead, share something that the world could see and know that you’re a child of God.
  • Am I looking for attention or affirmation from people and using this content to get it? If so, don’t post it. Instead, spend some time reflecting on the attention and affirmation God gives you and share truth out of that.
  • Is this post/content hurtful or slanderous toward myself or someone else? If so, don’t post it. Instead, share things that uplift others and yourself.

I encourage students to carefully critique their content. Again, not to perpetuate the idea that they need to carefully craft their online persona, but to remind them that what they share does matter. It is as much a part of their spiritual journey and witness for Jesus as their conversion story.

These are just a few tips to get the conversation going around technology and help students think critically about what they are doing. For some students, they may need more specific guidance and accountability, but this is only something you will know after beginning these conversations with them. So I encourage you, start those conversations. Ask the hard questions, and don’t forget to explain why something matters.

Navigating Marriage and Ministry: An Interview

One of the things Nick and I love about student ministry is that we individually have a passion for it, and get to do it together. It was something we both felt called to before we met, and it is something we have pursued throughout our marriage. It’s special to share a similar calling, something that we both believe in and value.

But we know it isn’t like that for everyone. We all have varying degrees of involvement in our churches and ministries–both as church-employed spouses, and not. In this interview-style post, we will approach the topic of spouses doing ministry together. Nick and I hope that our experience can offer some encouragement and insight to other married couples who may be navigating (or preparing to navigate) this whole marriage + ministry world. For the sake of clarity, Nick is employed full time by the church, while I volunteer as a small group leader and work outside the church.

Question: As the spouse employed by the church, how has support and participation from your spouse helped you in your ministry role?

Nick: I honestly don’t know where I would be without Elise. Having someone by your side who shares your passions, champions you, and bears the weight of what you are doing has been so encouraging and life giving. It has helped me to know that I have someone I can talk to who understands what I am feeling. I have been able to bounce ideas off of Elise. I can get a girl’s opinion on topics, conversations, and the ministry which is so needed. Without Elise I wouldn’t be where I am today, and honestly she has made me a better pastor by challenging and pushing me in what I am doing. She has been my biggest and most vocal supporter, especially as we have candidated together.

Q: What advice would you give a couple considering jumping into full-time ministry?

Nick: Make sure you are both on the same page with what you are doing. I am not saying you both need to have the same level of passion, but communicating about what you desire, where God is leading you, and what you want out of this are huge conversations. I have seen many friends struggle because they didn’t share their heart with their spouse and they have had to stop pursuing ministry to heal their marriage. So be open and transparent is the first part.

The second is protect your spouse who isn’t on staff. Often times churches look to hire two people for the price of one. Unless your spouse is getting a paycheck, they aren’t an employee and shouldn’t function as such. Talk through expectations as a couple, and then with the church staff.

Third, protect your time together. Don’t let ministry keep you from spending time with each other or your family. Don’t let ministry become a mistress.

Elise: Communication is key, both before you jump in and while you’re in the midst of ministry. Talk through what your ideal level of involvement looks like, and what areas you want to pursue. I would also recommend coming up with a mission statement of sorts, something that will help keep you centered on your ministry goals as a couple, and something you can revisit over the years when your goals might change.

It is also essential to set your priorities. My first priority is my relationship with Christ and my spiritual well-being. This means I often have to say no to things so that I make sure I’m being filled. I can’t give out of a dry well, which for me means I can’t be a leader or volunteer every time I’m asked. My second priority is to my marriage, and to support my spouse in his ministry role. Personally, I love being involved in student ministry, but I have to make sure I’m pouring into my husband even more than I am the students I serve.

Q: What has been one of the hardest aspects of pursuing ministry as a married couple?

Nick: Honestly, the hurt that comes with doing ministry. I am fiercely protective of Elise, and it has been so hard watching her get hurt by the church. Because we do ministry together, she knows when I am hurting and I know when she is. Ministry has extreme highs but really low lows too, and those cut deep. Let me encourage you to always protect and stand for one another. To always be each other’s champion and greatest advocate, but to also bring in people you trust. Have people you can go to who can speak into your lives and help care and guide you.

Elise: One of the hardest things for me has been sacrificing personal desires for the sake of God’s calling. And honestly, you will experience this whether you’re the one hired by the church or not. But for me personally, it’s meant letting go of some of my career goals and past jobs. It’s meant re-ordering my personal priorities in order to run wholeheartedly after what God is calling us to. It’s meant re-learning what it looks like to live a valuable, fulfilling life, as defined by Christ and not society. I’ve had to learn to identify the lies I tell myself, and speak truth into my heart and life.

Q: What advice would you give spouses not employed by the church, especially if they are struggling with being in a ministry context or knowing where to serve?

Elise: Again, communication is key. You need to communicate with God and with your spouse. If you’re struggling, tell God about it. Yes, He already knows, but the act of dialoging with Him about how you feel will help. It’s also important to make sure your spouse knows how you’re feeling, not in a way to guilt them but so that they can support and help you. Don’t blindside your spouse with your struggles when they become too big to suppress and inevitably blow up.

My other recommendation is to take action. If you’ve been serving somewhere and feel burned out, take a break. If you haven’t been serving and aren’t sure what to do, try getting involved in a ministry that interests you or could utilize your gifting. Sometimes the best thing to do is make a change–step back or step in and evaluate. I do encourage spouses of youth pastors to give student ministry a fair chance if they haven’t already. It doesn’t hurt to check it out and see if God is calling you to that area.

Nick: This is tough for me because personally I haven’t been on that side of ministry. But what I can tell you is this: if you are serving in ministry and your spouse isn’t, make sure to communicate often and clearly. Make sure to talk about schedules for work and for home. Make sure to set aside time for you as a couple, and also be willing to not just talk about “work.” Ministry is exciting and challenging and we want to share that. But that can be hard for your spouse if they aren’t involved with your area of ministry.

Let me also encourage you to help your spouse find where they need to be. I am thrilled that Elise serves in student ministry with me, but if she didn’t I would be okay with that. In fact if she served somewhere else, was using her gifts, and pointing people to Jesus, I would be beyond thrilled. Encourage your spouse to serve where they are passionate and their gifts line up.

When we were searching for jobs this last time, I had a huge prayer request: God help us to find the church we are called to and one that has a place for Elise to find deep friendships and affirmation of her gifts. I didn’t mind if Elise would want to serve elsewhere, I just wanted her to be affirmed and valued in her relationship with Jesus. That is what we should be desiring for our spouses.

Q: What if I don’t want to serve in student ministry? How can I still support my spouse who is working in that area?

Nick: I just want to say, it is okay that you don’t serve in student ministry. You don’t have to and you shouldn’t feel pressured to. What I would say is rejoice when your spouse shares good news and God stories. Get excited with them. Let them know how proud of them you are. Also, be understanding of the differences in schedules and time commitments, but make sure you talk through those as a couple. If you are finding time together isn’t a priority share that rather than harbor it.

Elise: I think one of the best things spouses can do is create a safe place for their church-employed spouse to come home to. I like to think of our home as an oasis, a calm in what can sometimes feel like a storm. No it isn’t always clean, and it is a rental, but I try to make it feel like home. I want it to have a calming effect so that when Nick gets home, he feels like he can rest, unwind, and recharge.

Q: Whether one or both spouses serve in student ministry, how do you set healthy boundaries? How do you make sure your marriage is a priority and that ministry issues do not bleed into your family time?

Elise: I think it’s essential to have “us” time built into our week. For us, this looks like regular weekly date nights and intentional time together on days off or over dinner. It doesn’t have to involve a ton of planning or a big production. It can just be take-out and a movie, or board games and snacks. Whatever it looks like, it’s time for just us to be together as a family, and to intentionally take a break from talking about ministry. Depending on the context, it also means not allowing phone calls or texts to interrupt our time. I strongly recommend having at least one “no-interruptions” time each week so that it is clear that your family is a priority.

Nick: I have worked in a variety of ministry settings with the workloads and hours being different in all of them. Having served in ministry for fifteen years now, I finally feel like we are beginning to have better boundaries.

The first thing I do is set hours for myself at work based upon a forty hour a week cycle. Now I know there are times we have to put in more hours, but we shouldn’t die to serve our ministry, we should die to self so Christ is glorified. And in order to die to self that means our priorities need to be correct: God, family, ministry. So for me, that means in order to have a healthy family life, I need to make sure I balance my work life.

I also try to limit work at home. When I am home I want to be fully present with Elise, and I would challenge you to be wholly present with your family as well. Sure I get the random texts and calls, the work emails, the Facebook messages, the Instagram tags, but my priority is my family and I am honest with people about that. If people don’t call me, I don’t hold it as a priority unless I see something that says otherwise. I try to create healthy boundaries between work and home.

I would also say making sure to have time with your spouse is huge. Elise and I have regular date nights on Fridays, and we talk about it. Not just to each other, but our students know, parents know, the church staff knows. In fact every Friday as I walk out, one of the receptionists asks what are our date night plans! It is awesome because people see the value that family holds in our lives and frankly, as a champion of family and student ministry it should. People should see it, and they should value and respect it. One of my favorite things is when our students see us out on a Friday and come say hello, but also ask how date night is going. They love it! And it helps to show young women what they deserve and how they should be treated, and it shows young men how to respect, honor, and uphold their sisters in Christ. Let people see you love your spouse and family, and they will intrinsically see how you love Christ.

Q: As the spouse not employed by the church, what are some ways your church-employed spouse can support you?

Elise: I think a big thing ministry-employed spouses can do is simply encourage their spouse, regardless of the context. Call out their gifting, support their passions, speak truth into their life. Sometimes it can be easy to feel discouraged, like we could be doing more, like we’re living in the shadows, or like we’re not contributing. Take time to uplift your spouse, and to encourage them to pursue their talents, hobbies, or interests.

Also, make sure time with your spouse is a top priority. I don’t want to fight against the ministry in order to have time with my husband. That’s a battle that can be difficult to win. Rather than make your spouse fight that battle, create intentional, quality time together. Take a break from whatever you’re working on and don’t bring it with you.

Q: I serve in student ministry full time and my spouse serves in a different ministry. How can I actively ensure I don’t leave them out of important decisions?

Nick: Communicate, communicate, communicate. This is huge! I can not say this enough. Make sure you talk through your schedules and calendar dates, and I would encourage you to plan six months out. Most ministry calendars are done by month or semester, so you know what is coming down the pipe. Take a day or evening and compare your calendars and make sure to show each other what you are doing. But even more than show, share the heart behind the events and planning. Let them hear and understand why things are happening when they are.

A few tips:

  • Create a shared Google Calendar of ministry events, work days/hours, and key meetings.
  • Periodically go to each other’s events to support one another and show unity in your marriage and the Body of Christ.
  • Share your heart and passions with each other.
  • Never value your ministry and calling over your spouses – God has uniquely called and gifted each of you and neither ministry should detract from the other.
  • Never use a ministry as weapon or assault. Don’t say “my ministry wouldn’t do that or schedule this way.”
  • Be transparent about what you are doing and with whom.
  • Be willing to admit when you mess up or don’t communicate.
  • Always be transparent and honest about how you are feeling – never harbor hurt, frustration, or anger. Those are seeds that the enemy would love to cultivate.
  • And once again: COMMUNICATE.

Q: I feel like we have a good marriage/ministry balance. Now what?

Nick: Praise God! That isn’t always the case, but if that is where you are keep pursuing it. Never get complacent in that, because when you do satan will love to throw a wrench into your marriage. This could be a time issue, a communication issue, or the issue of your work becoming your mistress. Keep protecting your time, relationship, and ministry balance.

I would also say that you should find ways to share this with others. Are there other couples you could pour into and mentor? Are you demonstrating this to your students? Have you shared about balance and healthy living? Find ways to not just keep a good balance but to equip and help others find theirs.

Elise: Keep up the great work! Because ministry and life are always changing, I don’t think we can get too comfortable. Keep pursuing your spouse, keep setting healthy boundaries, keep pursuing Jesus. And while you are doing that, find others who you can come alongside and encourage. Look for a younger couple to mentor. Share what you’ve found helpful with other ministry couples. Encourage those who are struggling. We must remember that none of us can do this alone, we all need each other.

We’d love to hear from you! Share your insights into maintaining a good marriage/ministry balance, how you set healthy boundaries, and the ways you prioritize your spouse.

8 Tips for Ministering to Pastor’s Kids

I’m sure a lot of you have witnessed, or even been a part of, conversations that at some point included a comment like, “You know pastor’s kids,” accompanied by a sigh, eye roll, or shake of the head. If not that, then the comment that goes something like, “I really thought PK so-and-so would know better…” At some point you have probably witnessed a comment born out of the age-old stigma that pastor’s kids are (at the least) problematic.

I know this isn’t a prevalent issue in all churches. In fact many work hard to make sure PKs don’t feel stigmatized or ostracized. But the stigma can still manifest itself in smaller, less obvious ways. The root of the problem many times is assumptions. And those assumptions can leave PKs feeling frustrated, devalued, unseen, and even unloved.

I wanted to write on this issue because I have been a PK all my life. And to be totally honest, there were times I loved it and times I hated it. Most of the time I remember just wanting to be treated like a normal student. If I could simply blend into the group instead of being called out frequently, if I could just be treated like everyone else instead of being held to some unspoken expectation, I would have the opportunity to experience church like everyone else.

There will undoubtedly come a time when you will have at least one pastor’s child in your ministry. And you will have the opportunity to either love them well, or interact with them through assumptions, without ever truly getting to know them. The choice is yours.

In this post I’m sharing some basic tips that have been born out of my personal experience and observations, both as a student and leader in different youth ministries. I realize everyone’s experience is different, so if you haven’t found yourself making any of these assumptions, I applaud and sincerely thank you. Regardless of where you feel like you fall, however, I encourage you to keep reading.

The important thing to remember is each student, PK or not, is unique and will come to your ministry with different life experiences and needs. Checking your expectations and assumptions–and how they manifest in your responses and treatment of students–will help lay the groundwork for interacting with students well.

1. Take the time to get to know the person behind the label. This is the first and best thing you can do when ministering to pastor’s kids. Get to know them. Just them. Once you form a personal relationship, you will be better equipped to speak into their life as someone who knows them, not as someone who knows their parents. This will also help you in understanding their giftings and passions.

Youth leaders can sometimes assume PKs are or should be leaders in the group based on who their parents are, or the platform they seemingly have. And sometimes that is exactly where PKs are gifted–in leadership. But the only way to truly know this is to get to know the student personally.

2. Don’t treat PKs differently or hold them to a different standard than other students (unless they have been knowingly placed in a leadership position they have accepted). If you find yourself treating a PK differently than you would a non-PK student, ask yourself why you are doing this. If it’s simply because of who their parents are, or because of who you think they should be, you are leaving them out of the equation and it’s time to go back to the first point.

If you have gotten to know the PK and you want to encourage them to step into their gifting, make sure you have that conversation with them. If you see potential, meet with them to discuss what you see in them and how they could step into a leadership role. Make sure they agree to being a leader before making them one.

3. Don’t assume PKs are called to ministry. Just because a student is the child of a pastor does not mean they are called to ministry, or that they should be a leader within the group. Being a PK does not automatically qualify one for ministry or for leadership.

A PK’s potential should be recognized and cultivated just like any other student. If a pastor’s child has leadership qualities or another gift you notice, speak to that gift as you get to know him or her. But be aware, because of the nature of their parents’ leadership, some PKs may vehemently resist ministry involvement, regardless of their gifts. If this is the case, don’t try to force the issue. PKs need to know that they have the space, freedom, and acceptance to simply be themselves.

4. Don’t assume PKs are being discipled at home, or that they have an advanced knowledge of the Bible. It’s time for some hard truth. In some ministry contexts, pastors spend much more time caring for the church than their own family. Some pastors don’t know how to do discipleship with their children, and some simply choose not to. Never assume that a PK is getting discipleship or additional Biblical education at home.

With that said, please don’t “skip over” PKs for discipleship, Bible study, or mentoring just because their parent is a pastor. They may be in desperate need of care, attention, and guidance.

5. Don’t assume PKs have a great relationship with their parents or an excellent home life. Going along with the previous point, never make assumptions about a PK’s home life. Again, if a person in ministry does not have a good family- and church-life balance, they can end up neglecting their family, or at the very least, inadvertently sending a message to their family that they are less important than the rest of the church.

It’s important to be aware of this, and to allow this potential reality to shape how you treat and respond to PKs. If a PK is acting out, vying for attention, or shutting down, there may be more going on than their simply being “a typical pastor’s kid.” Some PKs also have to deal with stressors external to their family. Some have watched their parents walk through incredibly hard things. Until you have seen the full picture, don’t assume a PK is being difficult simply for the sake of being difficult.

6. Don’t call a PK out in front of the group, simply because they are a PK. If you’re irritated with a PK, this can be an easy trigger response. If they’re not meeting your expectations–continually disengaging, talking during the lesson, or seemingly distracting others–it can be an easy gut reaction to call them out specifically in front of the whole group. And in some cases, this may be an appropriate response, but weigh it carefully. If you’re calling them out because they’re a PK and “should know better,” it’s time to reevaluate.

Would you or do you give more grace to a non-PK engaging in the same behavior? Are you more patient with the “other kids”? Are you trying to make a PK fit a preconceived notion you have about them? Again, if a PK hasn’t knowingly stepped into a leadership position, beware of treating them differently than the rest of the group. Besides being unfair, this sends a message that you are more compassionate and understanding toward other students, but you have no patience for the pastor’s child.

In the end, getting singled out, especially if this is a repeat occurrence, will help foster a spirit of mistrust, frustration, and bitterness. If you are noticing ongoing behavioral issues, that is something to handle on a more personal level. Show your students that you respect them, even in the midst of your frustrations, and give them the benefit of the doubt. (It may look like a PK disrupted the group, but you might have missed that someone else actually initiated the disruption.) This approach will go a lot farther in helping to build bridges of understanding between you and the PK.

7. Use discretion when deciding what to report back to a PK’s parents. If the issue involved a non-PK student, would you report it to that student’s parents? If not, then ask yourself if it really needs to be reported. Youth group has the potential feel like an unsafe place if small problems are made into bigger issues and subsequently reported to parents.

The main reason why I’m including this point is because I experienced this in high school, to an unnecessary level. It got to the point that leaders were being unkind to me, I would defend myself, and then my parents were told that I was acting out and I would get in trouble. I share this point with the purpose of encouraging you to weigh what is truly happening in the group, and what needs to be passed on to parents.

Also, please make sure you give PKs the forum to explain what happened–they need to have the space and ability to speak up and share their side of the story. Not having the ability to tell what I experienced made me feel like I had no voice in the accusations being made about me.

8. Don’t assume PKs are above sinning or making mistakes. You may think to yourself, I would never do that, I know everyone’s a sinner. But your words can indicate otherwise. Please don’t tell a PK things like, “I expected more of you” or “I can’t believe you did that.” Don’t set an invisible, unspoken bar that a fallen human being cannot reach. Don’t expect a PK–or any student for that matter–to always make the best decisions, respond appropriately, or behave perfectly. Even the “best” PKs make mistakes, trust me.

Remember to respond in love, and if you do expect more from a PK, find helpful, positive ways to encourage growth. Again, not because of who their parents are, but because of what you see in them as a person. It is worth the time and investment it will take to make a lasting, godly impact on the life of a pastor’s kid.