Encouraging Students to Stay in the Scriptures

Before Coronavirus closed our programming, I was slated to speak to our high school students on studying Scripture. I was so excited to share; this is a topic I am passionate about. But at the same time, I struggled with the “how.” How do we impart passion for the Word to our students?

I think I’m still fighting to figure that one out. I also think it varies from student to student. Some will be more inclined to read, period. Some will be more interested in their Bible than others. Some may not care about the Scriptures until they’re older. Even though there might not be an easy answer, or a “one size fits all” solution, I don’t think that should keep us from trying.

The truth is that the Bible changes lives. The more time we spend in it, the more we come to know the God who wrote it. The more we know Him, the more we fall in love with Him. I had an illustration I had planned to share about how my husband Nick–who is also the youth pastor–and I met and became friends. Over time, the more I got to know him, the more I liked him, until one day I realized that I loved him. It wasn’t instantaneous–when we met, we were just two strangers. But over the years I came to know his character, his heart, and his passion for Jesus.

Falling in love with another person is amazing, but falling in love with God, that’s on another level. I long for students to fall in love with God, and for them to start that journey now. So how can we help them along that path? How can we encourage students to study and remain rooted in the Scriptures?

1. Lead by example.

This is so simple, and yet for many of us, so challenging. Whether we look at the Bible as a textbook, or a guide we study before giving weekly lessons, or something we barely have time for in the midst of our busy schedule–many of us struggle to make time in the Word a priority. But I believe the best way to encourage students to remain in the Word is to do it ourselves. If you are passionate about the Bible, that will be evident to your students.

I think there is a fine line between making this about a daily checklist and pursuing a consistent relationship with Christ. If we’re just doing it to do it, I think we’re missing the point. At the same time, there will undoubtedly be days we struggle to want to read the Bible. Our daily pursuit of God should not be contingent on our feelings, but it also shouldn’t be a religious duty we check off our list once it’s completed. Our efforts should be focused on daily seeking to meet with God and hear from Him, whether we have time to read a whole book of the Bible or only a few verses. I believe God will use the time we give Him to teach us and deepen our relationship with Him. Like any strong relationship, we have to be committed to putting in time and effort.

2. Share your story.

It’s one thing to tell students that they should read their Bible, anyone can do that. It’s another thing to share why you read your Bible. I think students need to hear the life change we have encountered through time in God’s Word. This is another way we can lead by example, and your story can take it from a religious duty to a personal recounting. How has the Bible, how has time with God, changed your life?

Students want our honesty, they deserve it. They can tell when we’re faking it, or just sharing a hypothetical story that we made up. I’ve seen how an honest, personal story can instantly harness the attention of every student in a room. They will latch onto it because they want to know how we’ve survived, how God is real in our lives, and if there’s hope for them. Sharing our real, honest stories is one of the best things we can do for our students.

3. Provide a way.

Some students may not have their own Bible. Some might have a translation they struggle to understand. Some need help filling in the blanks and answering the questions they have as they read. In as much as you are able, help them get the resources they need. Some students need a Bible; some need a new, more easy-to-read translation; some need a basic student-level commentary.

One of the things I encourage all students to get is a study Bible. Heck, I encourage adults to get study Bibles. More recently I’ve realized how much we as adults don’t know about the Bible, things we could easily uncover by reading the notes in a study Bible. Yet more often than not, we don’t look into resources, we just keep reading and ignore our confusion. Let’s not set that example for our students. Instead, let’s show them how they can begin to understand more and uncover answers to their questions during their personal Bible-reading time.

Whatever your students need to help them get into God’s Word and understand it, provide that to them. But while you’re doing that, I encourage you to challenge them. If they’re getting a brand new Bible or commentary, challenge them to use it and not to allow it to collect dust on a shelf. You are investing in them, challenge them to invest in their relationship with God.

[Not sure which Bibles to provide to your students? Check out this post for our top picks.]

4. Educate.

Pre-made Bible studies are great. They can help lead students through the text, drawing out important points and helping apply them to their lives. But what about the times students don’t have a Bible study on hand? What about when they go off to college and it’s just them and a Bible in their dorm room? Now is a perfect, and extremely important, time to teach students how to study the Bible on their own.

I encourage youth leaders to teach simple Bible study methods to their students regularly. This could be a yearly lesson–a refresher for those who have heard it, and an education for those who haven’t. This is an easy way to equip students to not just read the Bible, but apply it to their lives. A few basic methods include:

  • O.I.A., or Observation, Interpretation, and Application; ask what the passage says, what it means, and what it means for me.
  • Discovery Method; ask what I learn about God, what I learn about people, what the passage teaches me, what I need to obey.
  • S.O.A.P, or Study, Observe, Apply, Pray; read the passage, ask questions and write it in your own words, ask how to specifically live it out, write a prayer of response.

Students may gravitate toward different methods. Some may enjoy color-coding with pencils or highlighters. Some may want to keep a journal, while others may want to discuss with a leader or friend. Help students discover a method or methods that work well for them. Whatever they decide, encourage your students to always start their Bible time with prayer. Nothing will help them understand the Bible more than the Holy Spirit. I encourage students to start by asking God to help them know and understand His word before they dig in.

I would also encourage students to write down any question they have that they cannot find the answer to, but challenge them to look on their own first. If they can’t find an answer, encourage them to bring their questions to their parents, to you, to a leader, or another pastor in the church. This will not only help them wrestle with their faith and what they believe, but also build community and relationships with their parents and adults in the church.

5. Direct and encourage.

Besides struggling to understand the Bible, students may also struggle with knowing what to read. They may start at the beginning and get lost in a genealogy or particularly difficult text and then give up. We can help by guiding students into what to read. If you know a student well, you can give them a suggestion or two based off of their current context. Another option is to provide a list of suggestions and let students choose based off of where they’re at in life, or what they’re interested in. I’ve listed some suggestions below.

  • New to reading the Bible, or don’t know much about Jesus: John
  • Curious about the beginning of everything, or enjoy studying history: Genesis
  • Interested in the early church, or how the church began: Acts
  • Life is difficult, or feel like you’re struggling: Psalms
  • Want to grow in wisdom: Proverbs
  • Struggling to see that God is working or has a plan: Esther
  • Want more information on the Gospel or Christian life: Romans
  • Current events worry you, or need assurance that God is in control: Daniel
  • Struggle with feeling like you need to “earn” salvation: Galatians
  • Want to be a leader in the church: 1 and 2 Timothy

Remind students that they can find the book they’re looking for by using their Bible’s table of contents, and that they can uncover more information with notes from a study Bible or commentary.

6. Invite and equip parents to join in.

Not all parents are believers, but for those who are, they are the primary disciple-maker in their child’s life. They may not see it that way, instead believing you or your small group leaders fill that role. But they are the ones who spend the most time with their child. Their lifestyle, habits, and relationship with Christ are the examples their child sees the most, and will most likely emulate.

I encourage you to keep parents in the loop–if you are teaching on Bible study methods, providing Bibles and resources, and challenging students to study the Word, inform their parents. Parents can follow up throughout the week, do a study with their child(ren), ask and answer important questions, and model consistent Bible study. You can also provide resources to parents to help them feel equipped to guide their child(ren). Parents might not know where to turn for answers to tough questions, so make sure to share helpful resources, including yourself.

7. Cover your students in prayer.

As I mentioned before, nothing will help students more in their Scriptural study than the Holy Spirit. We can give them all the tools, tips, and answers, but without the illumination of the Spirit, they won’t get very far. Pray that they will hear from God, that He will capture their hearts and their attention, and that they will be drawn into deeper relationships with Him.

And pray for yourself, that God would help you educate and encourage your students. Ask Him to show you how to best guide your specific students in their study of His Word, and in their relationships with Him. He knows their hearts, their needs, their struggles, and He can provide–for them and for you. God has you in this place, as their leader, for a specific purpose, and He will empower you to lead well.

Have a tip for encouraging students to study the Bible? Share it by leaving a reply below!

Questions to Ask Yourself Before Volunteering in Student Ministry

In several months the school year will be over, summer ministry activities will be starting, and youth leaders will be gearing up for a new school year–which always includes the search for new volunteers. If you’ve considered jumping in as a student ministry volunteer, now is the perfect time to evaluate if this is the role for you.

It can be hard to discern where we should serve, whether we’re “called” to a particular role, or how to prioritize our ministry involvement. But these are important things to work through before stepping into student ministry. There will always be things you can learn only through involvement, but there are also essential things to ask before you get there.

Today I’m outlining a few top questions that I would encourage potential volunteers to ask themselves before jumping into student ministry. These can also be helpful questions to use as a personal evaluation for anyone already serving. If you want to use this post for evaluation purposes, I recommend answering the questions and reading only the first paragraph under each heading before you read the remaining paragraphs. This will help you evaluate your honest answers.

Ask: Why do I want to serve in student ministry?

Let’s start simple: why do you think you want to serve? Be brutally honest as you answer this question because often your motives will reveal your heart. List as many reasons for serving as you can think of.

If most of your reasons start with you–like what you want to get out of it, or what you think you can offer to students–it might be good to press pause and take a step back. In as much as you will get something out of volunteering and you might bring a lot to the table, these should be secondary, not primary motivations. Student ministry is about sacrificially serving Jesus and the students, about being there for them, showing up consistently, and having the fortitude to dig in when the going gets tough.

If you step in with self-centered motives, you will end up disappointed, and you will most likely struggle in your role. You may find yourself comparing and competing with other leaders, looking for student affirmation, and feeling rapid burn-out when you don’t get it. On the flip side, if your motives are oriented toward serving the Lord first, you will look to Him to define your success and give you strength in the hard times. And if you put the students and their needs ahead of your own, you will have a better perspective on your purpose in student ministry.

Remember: It’s not wrong to feel like God has gifted you in this area, and that you have special gifts you would like to use to serve students. Just because it may feel like a motive is selfish doesn’t mean God can’t and won’t use it. Actively seek to give your gifts and desires back to Him.

Ask: How do I honestly feel about and view students?

If you were to be completely honest on how you feel about middle school and/or high school students, what would you say? When you see them at church or out in your community, how do you view them and what do you think about them?

How you feel about students deep down will manifest itself as you serve in student ministry. If you find them annoying, obnoxious, entitled, or a lost cause, those views will eventually manifest themselves. You can’t fake it with students.

If students frustrate you, ask God to change your heart and help you see them the way He does. Allow time for God to break your heart for students before you jump in and serve. Keep in mind that if you find one age group challenging (i.e.

Remember: Even if you view students with love and respect, your heart toward them will still be tested. Student ministry can be very challenging, and there will be times you don’t want to love students. In the moments when you feel incapable of love, look to God for strength and direction. Only He can sustain you through difficult seasons.

Ask: What priority level can I give student ministry?

Some additional questions to answer include: How many ministries/extra activities am I involved in and how much time do they take? How much time am I able to commit to student ministry? On a scale of 1-10, how important is student ministry verses the other activities I’m involved in? To help you answer some of these, you might need to first talk to whoever is over the student ministry to get an idea of how much time you will need to commit each week.

The bottom line is that student ministry often requires being a top-tier priority. You will discover that it doesn’t just require a couple of hours each week. To truly invest in the lives of students, you will need to interact and spend consistent, regular time with them. This is not to say that you can’t have a life or other involvement outside of student ministry, but at times other things may need to take a back seat to your role as a youth leader.

If you commit to numerous ministries and activities, eventually one area will suffer. If you’re already serving in several large roles, it may not be a good time to get involved in student ministry. It’s important to know that more isn’t always better. Sometimes keeping your commitments minimal will help you have time, energy, and space for those who desperately need you.

Remember: Over-commitment in life is not sustainable long-term. This also includes over-commitment in student ministry. Make sure to create space in your life for spiritual in-flow outside of student ministry. This can include time with family and friends, a Bible study with peers, and regular time in prayer and the Word.

Ask: What am I hoping to get out of serving in student ministry?

In a way we touched on this in the first question, but let’s dig a little deeper. What are you hoping will be the end result of your time volunteering in student ministry? Do you have a certain vision or goal for your involvement? What are you hoping will come out of your time investing in students?

This is a way to assess your true motives, to ask the tough questions, and seek God for the answers. It’s hard to always have pure motives all of the time, but if your motives are rooted in things like affirmation, recognition, or building a brand, it may be time to do some heart work outside of student ministry.

The truth is that student ministry isn’t about any of us; it is about God, His mission, and being a willing part of what He is doing. If your hope is to see and join in what He is doing in the lives of students, then you are on a good track. Remember that at the end of it all, it won’t be about you or what you did or didn’t do (so in that, don’t worry about perceived failure), it will be about God and what He did.

Remember: If you step into student ministry and see change and growth in your own life, it doesn’t mean that you’ve made it all about you. God will use the crucible of service to refine and shape you, especially in the moments that feel like failure. If He has called you to student ministry, He will use you and He will equip you for the work. Continue seeking Him, in the triumphs and the setbacks.

Ask: What do I have to offer?

Ask this question genuinely, not pridefully. What are things unique to you that you can bring to the table? What are things you can offer to the ministry? What passions can you share with younger generations?

The truth is that God has gifted all of us for service in His kingdom, and I think we can miss what we have been given if we don’t identify it and seek to use it. It may feel awkward to list these things, but they can help you determine if student ministry is the place for you.

If you do decide to step into student ministry, look for specific areas where you can implement your skills and passions. If you love to teach or speak, look into opportunities to share with the group. If you are a musician, look into leading and teaching students. If you enjoy baking, bring sweets and treats to share with the group. If you have a passion for social justice, look for ways to empower and equip students with the same passion.

Remember: Don’t disqualify yourself for trivial reasons. If you think you’re too old, know that inter-generational relationships are crucial to the life and growth of the church. If you think you’re too out of touch, ask genuine questions and let the students teach you. If you think you’re ill-equipped, ask God to empower and embolden you. And if you feel scared, remember that students are people too, and they desperately need the love of Jesus.

If you’re still uncertain…

It may be time to set up an appointment with the pastor or student ministry leader. Be open about your desires and concerns, and let them ask you questions. They can help you discern if student ministries is the place for you. You may also be able to sit in on one or two nights of youth group to get a feel for the ministry and what you would be doing. Sometimes it takes jumping in fully and committing to a year to see if student ministry is where you feel called to serve. Remember to be honest and to be open to where God might lead you.

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.