Words of Advice for Couples Starting Out in Ministry

This month we celebrated our ninth anniversary of being married. As we have reflected on the last nine years of marriage and fifteen of knowing one another, we have become acutely aware of things we wished we had known starting out in ministry together.

Within the last month of our engagement Nick lost his job. During our first month of marriage, we moved into our first home together, Nick got his first full time ministry position, and began commuting an hour and a half to his new job. About a month later we moved to our second place in a brand new town, Elise went from working in an office to working remotely, and Nick began working fifty to sixty hours a week.

The rest of that first year was filled with so many other unique challenges and blessings, and each of them forced us to grow and mature together. Looking back on that time there are so many realities and truths we wish we had known then that we have learned along the way, and we wanted to share with you a few tips to help you succeed not just in your marriage but also in your ministry as a couple.

Prioritize your relationship.

If I (Nick) am being honest, this was a struggle during our first couple of years of marriage because of my job and all of its commitments. I had my first full-time ministry position and it demanded a lot of my time. I was working sixty hours or more a week, my days off were not matched with Elise’s, and there way too many moments when we would simply see each other before we went to bed.

Looking back I truly wish I had prioritized our relationship over the ministry I was serving. Ultimately those first couple of years added much more weight and difficulty than we should have had, but I did not stand up and start making changes until a couple of years in.

Ministry is a calling from God but our relationship with our spouse should be our first priority after our relationship with God. Ministry then is a tertiary priority in the grand scheme of our lives. Let me encourage you to learn from my missteps and put your relationship with your spouse first. Prioritize time together. Make date nights a non-negotiable. Continue to go out on dates and vacations. Stop doing work at home. Spend time together and find ways to retreat and be with one another.

Listen well.

I don’t know if you are like me (Nick) or not, but there have been times when I would come home from work and just feel done. After being around people all day I don’t talk much and sometimes I am guilty of switching off. But there are also days that I would come home and I was/am a fire hose of words. I just dump everything on Elise and go a mile a minute when I am talking.

Neither of those options are beneficial to our relationship. I either am not listening or halfheartedly listening to Elise in the first scenario or I am doing all the talking and none of the listening in the second. What I have learned throughout our years of being together is that focusing on our relationship and truly listening to Elise is so important. When you allow your spouse to share about their day, you are prioritizing them and your relationship. You are highlighting that they and their day are just as important as yours. My advice would be to always seek to find balance in listening which means considering what and how much you say.

Over-communicate.

In light of what I just shared above, this may seem counterproductive. But hear me out: I am not saying that you need to talk all the time and that your relationship is simply both of you competing for time to talk. I am saying that a priority in your relationship should be communicating often and clearly about what is going on. Early on, I didn’t communicate all of the things that I needed to do for my job. In fact it would often be last minute where I would say things like “well, it’s time for me to go to work” without having shared my working hours previously. And honestly, that is the quickest way to devalue your spouse and make them feel like they aren’t a valid member of the relationship.

Instead, let me encourage you to over-communicate. Make sure your spouse knows your schedule. Communicate about what you have going on, who you are meeting with, ministry events, and your commitments. This is even more important if your spouse isn’t serving with you. One of the best ways to do this is through a shared calendar. We use Google Calendar and it is awesome! It has truly helped us be on the same page and to know what is going on. But at the same time, this cannot be your catch all. While a calendar is helpful, it is not a replacement for a true conversation that values the other person by sharing life and happenings with them.

Be honest.

Sometimes in relationships it is easy to just pretend that everything is okay. This doesn’t come from a malicious place or out of a desire to be deceitful, but more out of protection for our spouse. We think that by not sharing and avoiding the realities that we are facing, we are somehow sparing them further pain and struggle. But the truth is that the more we do that, the more distance and tension we are adding to the relationship.

I have struggled for years sharing how I am feeling with Elise. Not because I am trying to hide anything but that is just not how I was raised and with extensive trauma (ministry and personal) in my past, I don’t always know how to share. But as I have walked through this most recent season of struggling with mental health, I have come away with a renewed passion for how important honesty and transparency is in marriage.

As you are honest with one another it allows you to have not only a place of refuge and encouragement, but also someone who loves and supports you. Being honest strengthens the bond you and your spouse have and enables you to engage with anything because you know that you are always for one another.

Encourage and challenge one another.

Another key aspect to remember is that you and your spouse are a team and as such, you should be for one another. One of the ways Elise always is for me is by encouraging me and challenging me to utilize my gifts fully. I can often talk down about myself or the skills God has given to me, but Elise constantly encourages me and challenges me to reach my full potential. It is easy when you are first married to do this, but often as time goes on this can fade because we assume our spouse knows how we feel about them.

One of the best ways you can truly care for and support your spouse is by being in their corner. Help them to see the good. Encourage them and speak highly of them. Challenge them to grow and see their gifting from God. As you continue to be more supportive and encouraging to your spouse you will see the greater opportunity for growth and depth within your relationship with one another and with God.

Surrender your expectations.

Before setting off on a journey of marriage–and ministry–it’s normal to have expectations of how you think things should or will go. If you’re like us and you went to Bible college, you may think you have a pretty good understanding of ministry, theology, and how to “be a good Christian.” The reality is that college or seminary can only give you so much information. A lot of life, marriage, and ministry involves learning along the way. You will discover things and have experiences you never could’ve prepared for, and things will be both beautifully amazing and crushingly difficult.

Our encouragement is to let go of expectations, and the need to control. Instead, hold everything in an open hand to God and seek to learn and grow from what He is doing. He will give you the skills and abilities you need and His strength will carry you through both the difficult and the amazing. And let this apply to your spouse as well. Don’t look for ways to control them, instead strive to love them for who they are, celebrating their unique complexities as designed by God. We all long to be loved for who we are, and that is something we can seek to offer each other. As we do that, we create a safe space for each other to be shaped by a loving God as we individually and collectively seek to become more like Christ.

How to Handle Conflict

What is your go-to response when it comes to conflict? Are you an avoider or more direct in your confrontations? Does it weigh on you or do you just push it deep down to a place where it doesn’t seem to matter anymore? Does conflict terrify you or excite you?

No matter how you may have answered those questions, the truth of the matter is that conflict is unavoidable. I am not saying that we should seek out conflict, but we must recognize that conflict is part of the tension of living in a post-fall world. When broken people share life together, there will be conflict. The question we must wrestle with is this: how do we handle conflict?

Before we go any further, I want to make a few–what I would say are obvious but often forgotten–statements about conflict:

  1. You can only handle your approach and response. You are not responsible for the other person, but you are responsible for how you engage and interact.
  2. Prayer and going to the throne of God before any conflict that you know is going to happen is paramount. Just as going to God every day is paramount. We often run to God when there is going to be a conflict, but our response should be to run to God regardless. We must ask Him to work in our lives and relationships in an ongoing way to help us mediate and handle circumstances in order to prevent unhealthy conflict.
  3. Consider what part you play in the conflict. Self-reflection is always beneficial, but even more so when it comes to conflict. It is important to think about what we are contributing, both helpful and detrimental, to a conflict. So pause, reflect, and prayerfully think about how your words, attitudes, and actions are helping to resolve or hindering the conflict.

So how do we handle conflict well? Here are a few ways that I have learned (often the hard way) on how we can handle conflict and move forward well.

Be honest and clear.

Often in conflicts we tend to speak in absolutes, minimize what is going on, and don’t often say what needs to be said. What we should be doing instead is sharing what is true and the way it is effecting us. We must be honest about how we feel and how things have been received. But we must also be clear and concise and not allow for absolutes or our emotions to drive us toward negative responses or engagements. Instead, speak honestly and clearly.

Handle your emotions.

If you are like me and can feel the passion and pressure manifest in your core in conversations and conflicts, then you know how easy it can be to not handle your emotions. But allowing your emotions rather than clarity and wisdom to drive your engagements with others can be problematic. It can lead you to be rash, critical, and at times hurtful. So instead look to address your emotions and be honest about them in conversation, but also be aware enough not allow your emotions to dictate all that you do and say.

Be humble.

Conflict can be incredibly humbling especially if it makes you aware of your own shortcomings or errors. So as you engage in conflict do so with a spirit of humility. Do not presume this to mean that you just need to take your licks and continue to do so. But do understand that being humble means approaching the conflict with a willingness to hear the other person, grow personally, and be willing to admit wrongs.

Always see the other party as someone created in the image of God.

Sometimes in conflict it is easy to see the other person(s) as the problem or even as our enemy. But that is not what a biblical approach to conflict should look like. Imagine for a moment what would have happened if Cain had seen Able as his brother created in God’s image rather than someone who showed him up and became an obstacle to remove. We would be reading a very different narrative in Genesis 4, and honestly our method for conflict resolution would have a much better example to follow. So instead of seeing someone as an obstacle, see them as a child of God made in His image and allow for that to help curate your approach to conflict resolution.

Realize that your resolution may not be the right one.

Have you ever entered a meeting convinced that your way was the right and only way to do something? I know I have. I come in with an idea and a belief that it is the best solution, and when it hasn’t been taken as such it is defeating and deflating. I believe that’s also how we approach conflict at times. We come in believing we have the right solution and when it doesn’t go our way we see it as a defeat. But the problem is that we are approaching these moments as a battle to win not a conversation to be walked through. That means we need to approach them with open hands understanding our resolution may not be the best or right right one, and that is okay. Instead be willing to accept another route and engage with the conflict holistically.

Watch your language.

This is key both within the conflict and outside of it. Words are extremely powerful and can either be helpful or harmful. How are you speaking to and about that person? We can be prone to gossip, both intentionally and unintentionally, therefore, we can severely harm relationships. But we can be even more prone to say hurtful things in the midst of the confrontation because our emotions get the better of us. Instead of allowing your language to be harmful, seek to edify, challenge, build up, and encourage one another. Doing so in all moments will actually help your heart be in the right space when you have those difficult conversations.

Mind your spheres.

This is something that I think many of us (myself included) struggle with. Living in community with others means that often times our relationships and engagements overlap. And because of that reality, we often share things with people outside of the appropriate spheres. Perhaps you have a conflict with your boss; it would be inappropriate for you to share with all your volunteers why he is a horrible boss because that will cause dissension and frustration within the church. Remember that your priority is unity within the body, so seek to handle conflict in a way that builds, rather than tears down that unity.

When it comes to conflict, what manner of resolution has been most helpful for you?

Book Review: Attacking Anxiety

Would you say that your students struggle with anxiety, depression, or panic attacks? Have you witnessed the weight that your students are carrying? Have students shared how overwhelmed or burdened they are? What about you? How are you doing? Would you say your mental, emotional, and spiritual health are all doing well?

Recently I had shared about being on a mental health break from my job, and during my time away I read a recommended book by Shawn Johnson called Attacking Anxiety. This is a book I would highly recommend for anyone regardless of whether you are struggling personally or have people under your care who are.

The truth is that we will always come in contact with someone who may be struggling and this book provides insight, wisdom, tools, and resources we can use to help ourselves and others. This is a very personal book for me because it truly put into words the feelings, emotions, and thoughts I didn’t know how to express during my recent bout with mental health. I can say with extreme confidence that this is a book everyone leading in ministry (especially with students) should be reading.

Attacking Anxiety isn’t another self-help book, but instead is a very personal and reflective account from Shawn about his own struggle with anxiety, depression, and panic attacks. Shawn draws from his own story and struggles to help the reader fully understand the realities of mental health. But as he tells his story, he also highlights the ways in which we can have victory over the struggles we face.

Shawn acknowledges that this isn’t a “one-size fits all” approach, but the tools and resources that he shares are simply that: ways for us to helpfully and hopefully engage with our own mental health or those with whom we do life. It is a refreshing read that helps us understand that mental health is a complex issue and that the ways to address it are multifaceted and include God and our relationship with Him, counseling, medication, self-awareness, and much more. Shawn doesn’t dismiss one aspect or treatment for another but instead helps the reader to understand how unique and complex this issue is, and provides the reader with much-needed insight and resources.

The book is broken down into four sections: Know, Start, Stop, and Remember. The Know section is designed to help the reader understand that what they are going through isn’t something that only they have ever struggled with and that they aren’t alone. This section is truly meant to help the reader have hope even when life seems hopeless. The Start portion is all about the reader taking steps to fight back. Shawn highlights how mental health can be crippling but this was never God’s design or intent for humanity. Struggling with mental health is a direct result of the Fall, and because of that Satan loves to corrupt our minds and make us believe it is our fault, that we are the problem, and we are alone. Shawn challenges the reader to fight back against these lies and he outlines way we can do just that. This section alone is worth purchasing the book for as it helped me think through how I was responding to my own circumstances, and when I put these tools to work it helped immensely. My anxiety and depression didn’t magically disappear, but it became manageable and allowed for me to see how many supporters and advocates I truly have.

Section three, Stop, is helpful for anyone and everyone regardless of whether you are struggling with mental health. Shawn highlights things we need to Stop doing because they are actually keeping us from becoming fully healthy. Some of the areas he talks about include pretending that everything is okay, admitting if we are holding onto past hurt and unforgiveness, a desire to perform for critics, and comparison. Even as I reread this list, I am struck by how important and insightful each of these areas are for everyone regardless of their mental health. Holding onto these aspects and responses doesn’t mean we struggle with mental health, but prolonged engagement with them will undoubtedly affect your mental health in one way or another.

In the final section of his book, Shawn challenges us to remember that God is with us, God is working, and God has a plan. So often in mental health struggles we forget these truths. We forget that God hasn’t left us alone and that He is working all things out. In the thickness of the struggle we often miss that God is at work and sustaining us, and it is in this last section that Shawn reminds us of who our God is and the love He has for us. We are not alone, we are not forgotten. Instead we are deeply known, loved, and sustained. The section focuses on the hope we have and the reminder to rely upon God even in our darkest moments.

If you need one more reason to love this book, then don’t stop at the last section but continue on to the appendix. Here Shawn provides a very practical resource entitled “Panic Attack Survival Guide.” In the appendix we are given practical ways to move through a panic attack but Shawn also provides an additional guide for those who have loved ones going through a panic attack and how to love and care for them in the midst of it. This resource is invaluable and totally worth the cost of the book just to obtain this piece.

So if you’re wondering whether or not you should read this book, the answer is a resounding yes! The resources alone make the book worth purchasing and reading, but the additional information and insight into mental health are just as worthwhile. So let me encourage you to go out and purchase your copy today and use it to help yourself and others on their mental health journey.

Speaking Tips for New Youth Pastors

Is this your first ministry position? Are you feeling your pulse quicken and heart beat faster as you stand before your students? Is this your first time speaking to a group that is now yours to shepherd and lead?

We have all been, or will be, in that position at some point. Whether it’s your very first ministry position or your first time speaking in front of a new youth group or audience, speaking can be difficult. We can all feel rushed, overwhelmed, ill-equipped, terrified, and more. But when you are stepping in front of your group for the first time (or first few), it can be terrifying and that can lead us into some patterns that aren’t beneficial.

We can tend to speak too long our first few times and if left unchecked it becomes a habit we don’t know how to break. When we feel uncomfortable we can make jokes or poke fun at people we shouldn’t. When we think students are disengaging or being disruptive we can snap and get upset. Not having a plan in place and thinking through how communicate and speak well will lead us into a place that is very difficult out of which to rise. Today I want to offer you some tips on how to speak well to your group, especially if you’re a new youth pastor or in a new role.

Keep it short.

Sometimes when we start off with a new group we can tend to be a little too talkative. This doesn’t come from a bad place but from a desire to be clear, to make sure everything is communicated, and to build relational equity. But talking for too long actually detracts from all of those points.

Instead, look to keep your lessons to 15 minutes or less. You can always build them up to longer lessons as you build rapport and relationships within your ministry. A good metric to assess the timing of your lesson is to ask yourself if it could be broken into two shorter lessons. If it can be, it is most likely best to do so.

Know your group.

The more you know your group, the better prepared you will be to communicate with them. You may be wondering how to do this, especially if you are in week one of your new position. A few easy ways to build relationships early include getting to church and youth group early to meet people, initiating conversations rather than waiting for them to happen, playing games with your students, and connecting with your leaders before gatherings. If you put these aspects into place, you will begin to know more about your group, which will allow you to connect and engage with them at a deeper level.

Know your material.

This is something that is hugely important. I know most, if not all, of us would say we strive to know our material and what we are sharing. But how comfortable are you when something or someone throws you off your game? In a new setting you never know what could happen: a student could interrupt, your setting could be unusual and distracting, or someone could try to distract you. In those moments do you feel comfortable enough to disengage from teaching to engage the moment and then reengage with the teaching? Knowing your material means you are comfortable and able to audible when needed, and that you can handle whatever comes your way.

Slow down.

I don’t know if it’s because I grew up in the northeast or if it just comes natural, but regardless of the reason I tend to be a fast talker. But when I talk fast, things can get lost or misunderstood. When people start in a new pastoral position the propensity can be to talk faster in an attempt to cram as much material as possible into each lesson. But this is not an ideal way to communicate. Instead slow down, be purposeful and intentional, and make sure to clearly articulate your points. Doing this will not only ensure that what is shared is heard but also retained and prayerfully applied.

Engage with your group.

This is a key point and one that I think many of us can struggle with. Whenever we stand before a group we have our expectations about how the group should function and how they should engage, respond, and focus on what we are saying. But have you noticed how our expectations and realities don’t always go hand-in-hand? You may want the group to be quiet and hyper-focused on what you are saying, but they may want to ask questions and interrupt. How do you handle that? Do you allow your frustration or unmet expectations to show?

Let me encourage you to engage with your group during your speaking time. Don’t get frustrated but instead respond well. When they make a joke, laugh if appropriate. If they ask a question, engage it. If they don’t seem like they are paying attention, consider alternatives to calling it out (pause and highlight the lesson’s importance, pause and pray to center hearts, consider that it may be best to dialogue in smaller groups, etc.). Engaging with your group shows them that you see and value them, and that this isn’t meant to be a top down, authoritative lecture but instead a discipleship pathway.

Control your emotions.

This is a good thing to do in any setting, but especially in front of students. Students are highly intelligent and they can easily assess how people are feeling based upon body language, interactions and conversations, ticks you may have (eye rolls, sighs, facial expressions, looking at the clock, etc.), or a failure to look at them as you speak. All of these highlight our internal emotions and students are acutely aware of them.

So as you engage with and speak to your students, make sure you are controlling your emotions. Don’t allow your frustrations to boil over into an outburst. Don’t get angry at your students for not paying attention. Don’t become passive aggressive in your comments. Instead pray before, during, and after you speak for a gracious heart and a joyful spirit. Be vigilant in practicing the Fruit of the Spirit. Practice smiling before you speak. Studies actually show that smiling releases endorphins that help you feel happy and relaxed. So take five to ten seconds before you speak to pray and smile.

Have fun.

This is one aspect I always try to remember. Yes, this is a career. Yes, we are expositing God’s Word. Yes, we are seeking to disciple students and help them on the path of living for Jesus. But as we do that, I believe we can also have fun. I truly believe that Jesus had fun and enjoyed life with His followers, and that we are to do the same. So when you are speaking, smile, tell a joke or funny story, be personal, and laugh when things don’t always go according to plan. The more fun you have while you are speaking the more value and passion you will have for the calling God has given you.

3 Quick Tips for Volunteer Recruitment

As we enter into summer programming you may not be actively thinking about recruiting new leaders for the fall. Perhaps this seems early for some of you. I know that isn’t how I have typically operated, which usually leads to a mad dash and panicked few weeks in August as we try to find quality volunteers right before we start programming. This isn’t a healthy way to start programming for us or our volunteers as we both end up feeling rushed and not fully prepared for the school year.

As I have begun to take some hard looks at volunteer recruitment, I have realized that things need to change in order to better equip our leaders and ministries to serve our students. If recruiting sounds difficult or exasperating, I get it. I have often felt the same way. But if we approach recruitment differently, we can help alleviate the tension. So here are three easy ways to save yourself a lot of stress and hardship, and help yourself find quality leaders.

1. Start early.

For the first time ever, our team started recruiting this past week. We began to reach out to potential leaders, we added volunteer opportunities to our monthly newsletter, and we asked our leaders to identify potential additional leaders. Perhaps this is something you always do, but for our team it isn’t. The earliest that we have started would be the end of July, and it often led to a rushed and angst-filled month before programming kicked off.

Planning ahead and building up your volunteer group early allows you to make sure your leaders are equipped and prepared for the school year. And as you begin to plan ahead, you can scale it each year and begin to recruit even earlier. Next year we are already planning to begin recruiting as the current school year ends. So think about when you will start recruiting and how you can begin to do so earlier to help best prepare your ministry for the fall.

2. Think outside the box.

When it comes to who you recruit, how you recruit, and where you recruit from, try to think creatively and in ways you haven’t before. I have found that when I recruit I can fall into doing the same thing over and over again. Bulletin announcements, cold calls, asking leaders to talk to their friends, and asking people who used to volunteer. But this year I decided to try something different: I reached out directly to parents.

This may be something you already do, but for me it was my first time doing it in a new way. We send a newsletter out once a month and this month’s almost solely focused on volunteer needs with the hope that parents will see it and consider jumping in. My point with this is to encourage you to try something new and different. Shake up how you have done recruiting in the past. Ask other youth workers what they do. Try something new and see if it provides you with a new recruit or multiple volunteers.

3. Consider changing things up.

I think for many people it is easy to get stuck in habits and rhythms. These aren’t necessarily bad things but they can hamper us, especially if they aren’t providing the necessary volunteers that we need. What we need to do is the be creative as we think about recruitment. If we think of this as an opportunity to creatively try something new, it all of a sudden opens up brand new perspectives on how to recruit.

One of the things we have done out of necessity is think through whether our staff team needs to do all the things we have traditionally done, or if we can empower volunteers to take over those roles. That means creating new positions and leadership opportunities, offering additional training, and identifying new leaders. But the benefit of having leaders take ownership and allowing our staff team to flourish far outweighs those additional needs.

What are your best tips for recruiting new volunteers?

Key Things to Look for in a Summer Camp

Many of us have already thought through our summer programming, and have possibly identified a camp to which you’re taking students. Perhaps it’s a camp you have gone to for ages. Maybe it’s a denominational camp and the expectation is you go every year. Maybe it’s a local camp that has various activities your students look forward to and tell countless stories about.

While you’re thinking through the camp you attend, let me ask you a question: does that camp meet the needs of your students? Does it meet the spiritual needs? Does it meet their relational and emotional needs? Do your students come away feeling challenged, encouraged, and more spiritually mature?

Camps and retreats are some of the most important and developmental times in the lives of students. But if am being honest, I think it is easy to just go to a camp because we have done it forever and it’s easy to keep doing the same thing over and over. We default to doing what we have always done and we don’t pause to think through the rationale about why we do it. At its base reasoning, we should pick a camp that mirrors or encourages the vision and purpose of our ministry. From there we can build outward and upward as we seek to leverage its resources to help our students grow and mature.

Today, I want to share with you a few ways I try to find the best camp for my students in order to help them grow as disciples of Jesus. These aren’t the only ways I try to find a camp, but they serve as a starting point for choosing the best camp possible for our students.

Find a camp that matches your vision.

Our student ministry vision is all about forming disciples who make disciples, and equipping them to do so beyond high school. We want students who know Jesus, are growing in their relationship with Him, and are looking to lead others in the same way during their time in youth group and beyond. So for us that means finding a camp that has a similar heart and vision so it helps to cement what we have been teaching them.

Find a camp your students will enjoy.

It isn’t about finding a camp with all the bells and whistles, but finding a camp that has items all your students will find engaging. It is easy to do a sports themed camp or an outdoor camp, but what about your students who are more artistic or inclined to not compete in sports? Finding a camp that has a good balance and activities that fit a broad range of interests is beneficial as it will encourage more students to attend.

Find a camp that is fun, missional, and discipleship focused.

This may sound like a tall order, but I would actually assert that there are more and more camps leaning in this direction. When looking for a camp experience it is important to find one that has fun aspects to it, but that cannot be the sole focus. As youth workers we have an obligation to help our students develop in their relationship with Jesus.

Many camps focus on the fun element with a little Jesus sprinkled in. That cannot be our focus because while yes, youth group is to be fun, the primary reason we exist is to help our students know and pursue Jesus. That means we should find camps that do likewise. So look for camps that have longer small group times. Find places that include service and missional elements, even if it’s simply cleaning up the camp. While students may not find those activities “fun,” they are teachable moments that help you to show them what it looks like to live as disciple-makers and serve their communities.

Find a camp that is affordable to everyone.

In every youth group I’ve worked in there has never been just one socioeconomic category. We’ve had students from all different financial categories and that means that not everyone can afford trips, especially ones that cost a higher amount. Let me encourage you to not simply choose a camp that has a lower price at the cost of sacrificing various aspects that other camps offer. Instead look for camps that offer a reduced rate as needed or have a more affordable option for everyone. If you are not able to go to a more affordable camp consider offering scholarships, a reduced rate, or designating funds for students into your budget.

What do you look for in a camp?

10 Low-Prep, Low-Cost Summer Activities

Does your summer programming look different than what happens during the school year? Has your budget been trimmed or are you approaching the end of a budget year? Many of us can relate to these issues and almost all of us are on the lookout for fresh ideas that can make summer more meaningful, fun, and Gospel-centered for our students.

Today’s post is designed to provide some ideas for the summer that will help you reach your students, look awesome while doing so, and hopefully add little to your workload.

1. Summer movie nights.

These are super easy and can be a ton of fun especially when you incorporate various elements. Having food for nights like these is a must and can range from having students bring their own movie snacks, to popcorn that’s provided, or even having a nacho bar where everyone brings a topping. It is also a lot of fun to allow your students to be involved in what movie is shown because then they have ownership and are more likely to invite their friends. Consider letting the students vote on which movie to show or doing polls at youth group. Also, remember to consider the legalities that are involved when it comes to showing movies. It may be necessary to have the proper licensing and to check the number of people you can show it to.

2. Nerf battles.

These are a ton of fun and super low-cost (even no-cost) to put on. Send out an invitation to all your students to bring their own Nerf guns and darts to a certain location to have a Nerf battle. If hosting this at your church, consider setting up various barriers and obstacles or even different venues for different styles of game play (everyone for themselves, team battles, king of the hill, etc.). If you have the finances available I would also suggest having some extra Nerf guns and darts as some people may show up without either and darts will inevitably get lost or broken.

3. Trivia nights.

These are a ton of fun and fairly easy to pull off. There are tons of websites that have trivia in just about every category and you can also utilize DYM or Trivial Pursuit to get trivia content as well. Consider having a student or a group of students host the night as that will generate ownership and a desire to invite their friends. Also, if finances allow, consider having some snacks for everyone and a prize for the winning team.

4. Grill out at the park.

Hosting a night at a local park is a great way to get students to an event outside of the church. Find a local park that has a grill or two, bring along food, grab some outdoor games and activities, and you have the makings of a great evening! A few quick tips: make sure to bring a variety of activities, a portable speaker for music, some board games for people who would rather chill, and consider grilling chicken drumsticks as a cost-saving option.

5. Worship nights.

These can be a little more involved when it comes to planning, especially if you are not musically inclined. But consider handing this off to some leaders and/or students who have the talent and passion for these moments. Allowing students to take ownership and plan out the event ensures that they will invite their friends. These are also great outreach opportunities where you could incorporate a student testimony.

6. Start a volleyball (or other sports) tournament.

Students love a good competition and an opportunity to challenge their friends. So think through what resources you have that you could utilize and leverage them to facilitate the tournament. It could be volleyball, kickball, Spikeball, 9 Square, ping pong, Foosball, or even ultimate Frisbee. If possible, have water or sports drinks and snacks available and maybe even a prize for the tournament winners.

7. Youth room redesign/makeover.

This is one that could be a lot of fun and truly give your youth group a unique identity. Many of us have very creative students and leaders in our programs and this will afford them a wonderful opportunity to put their creativity to use. I would encourage you to make sure that there are guide rails in place and that you provide a vision for those who are helping so as to provide cohesiveness and stability to what you are looking to have in your space. It may help to start with a planning meeting or two before getting started.

If you don’t have the freedom to completely redesign your space, think about some non-permanent options. Maybe your leaders and students can create removable decor, like paintings, modern sculptures, or cool lighting. Or you could put up butcher paper over a plain wall and let them create a mural to temporarily display. Or you can host a creative night where participants can take their creations home at the end of the night.

8. Small group neighborhood cleanup.

Another awesome summer activity is to utilize your small groups in a way that serves and engages with their communities. This may require finding opportunities where your small groups can serve, or you could hand that responsibility off to your small group leaders and/or students. I would also suggest hosting a gathering after the cleanup is done, using it as an opportunity to celebrate what was accomplished and to engage in community as a group.

9. Camp-out at church.

For some churches it is difficult to take trips during the summer, so an easy and relatively low-cost alternative could be a camp-out at the church. You could set up tents, fire pits, and activities for your students to engage in, and possibly turn this into a family activity. You could also host various night games, engage in camp fire worship, and even give the food for the activity a theme like “old west cooking.”

10. Beach/lake trip.

If you live near the beach or a nice lake, doing a trip to either could be a great low-cost activity. Essentially it would cost you gas money and some beach or lakeside activities (think footballs, Frisbees, etc.). You could even offset the cost of gas by asking families to pay for it. Depending on where you are going, you could even host a grill out and allow for a student to share their testimony.

5 Tips to Equip and Honor Graduates

Graduation season is upon us and we have the privilege of watching students we loved and discipled step into a new season of life. If you are like me this is both a celebratory time and also one that pulls at your heart strings as you prepare to send off a group of students to whom you have grown incredibly close.

Throughout my time in student ministry I have long wrestled with how I can show my graduates how much they mean to me, how I can best prepare them for this next phase of life, and how I can honor them well. I don’t think I have perfected it, but I have found a few ways to truly make this time meaningful and celebratory for our graduates and I want to share that with you today.

1. Commission them.

In our current church we have been able to bring our seniors on stage in front of our whole church body and to commission them as we send them out as disciple-makers into their next stage of life. We incorporate a brochure highlighting each student, deliver a brief word of encouragement, and have our elders pray over them. This is such a great time to not only celebrate but also honor our seniors as we send them out.

For some youth leaders doing this in front of the entire church may not be possible, so consider doing this within your youth program. Bring up small group leaders and involve them. See if parents will come out. Make their time in small group special with snacks and decorations. These moments will stick with your students and highlight the necessity of the Great Commission.

2. Make each card and note personal.

This is something that I have grown to love over the past few years. I was never much of a card writer but I have become convinced of how powerful a handwritten note or card can be. Just think about the last time you got a handwritten letter in the mail and then the last time you got a bill. Did they feel the same? Did they evoke similar reactions and feelings? Probably not.

The reason the handwritten notes mean more is because it took time and effort, it shows the intentionality of the relationship, and it’s more intimate and personal. When you write a card or note for each of your seniors, you are telling them they are seen and loved. So share memories, prayers for them, encourage and challenge them, and let them know how much they mean to you. This will be something that they will long remember rather than a generic card with a signature.

3. Be intentional with small group times.

This is something that I try to be aware of during their entire senior year, but seeing as graduation season is already upon us, it can also be something that is utilized from this moment until they depart for college. Consider having members and leaders of your college ministry come and share at a small group time. This also allows for relationships to be built and groundwork to be laid for the next few years.

Another way to be intentional with small group time is by creating a time for them to go out and do something special together before they depart. They could go out for dinner, play mini golf, go hiking or camping, come over to your home for a barbecue, or visit with the senior pastor for a dessert social where they are encouraged and celebrated. These moments not only allow for your seniors to grow closer with their small group, but also elevate their last year in student ministry by making it special and meaningful.

4. Connect them with college ministries.

As you prepare for your seniors to graduate, one of the best things you can do is connect them with a ministry they will be a part of going forward. They may not always attend your church’s college ministry, but it is their home church and as such can be a place of refuge, encouragement, and community. So find ways to incorporate and intermingle current college students and leaders with your seniors. Set up times for them to join your small groups. Create social opportunities to connect both groups. Challenge your senior small group leaders to intentionally encourage the students to participate in the college ministry. In fact, I would also encourage the leaders to go with them a few times as well to help with the transition into a new ministry. Lastly, I would encourage you to talk encouragingly about the college ministry and to challenge your students to attend it regularly and make it their new home. How you talk about the ministry and hold it up will encourage your students to become a part of it.

5. Attend important moments.

Senior year is full of special moments for your students. There are ceremonies with honors and awards, recognition for students’ engagement in civil programs and various clubs, senior nights for sports and activities, and graduation ceremonies and parties. If you are able to, especially when you are invited, I would highly encourage you to attend. You may not get much, if any, face-to-face time with your student(s) depending on the context and activity, but simply knowing or seeing you are there will radically impact and encourage your graduates.

Your presence shows them that you believe in them and care about them. It highlights the relationship and shows them how much you are invested. Let me also encourage you to involve their small group leaders in as many moments as possible. This helps your students to see the importance of multiple adults and spiritual mentors in their life, and it honors the work that your leaders have put into their students.

Tips for Self-Care: Ask for Help

When do you ask for help? Is it when there’s a problem? Do you ask for help when you need it? What does asking for help look like for you?

These are important questions to consider because often asking for help isn’t something that is easy to do. Reflecting on when, how, and why we ask for help allows us to identify areas where we may need to grow. Asking for help may be seen as weakness, whether or not that is the truth. Our cultural, societal, and communal norms and expectations have championed the “do it on your own mentality,” and the subsequent feelings of failure if you don’t.

Because of this we often don’t ask for help and when we do, we typically only allow people to help in minor ways or give them something to do while still exercising direct control (i.e. micromanaging). This isn’t the help we need nor the help we should be seeking. Not asking for and obtaining the help we need will lead to burnout and tension because we will feel overwhelmed, overworked, and alone. So what should we do and how do we implement healthy strategies?

Simply put: let go of control and ask for the help you truly need. Putting it simply and simply executing this strategy are two very different realities, but if you can implement and execute this you will find yourself and your ministry in a much better place. When you ask for help it will be better for you overall, so here are some ways to look at what asking for help will afford.

Asking for help allows you to grow as a leader.

When a leader exercises humility, honesty, and transparency it helps them to truly lead with an open hand and total dependence upon God. Leaders who lead in this way demonstrate that they are not an island and need people which then facilitates growth, commitment, and ownership among those they empower and trust with helping them.

Asking for help allows your supervisors to care for and minister to you.

We don’t always think this way, especially when we are feeling burdened with finding solutions and fixing everything on our own. Often we will look at our supervisors and assume they don’t want to help or don’t care. But the reality is that they may not know how to help, especially if they haven’t served in your capacity and if you don’t tell them. Give your supervisors a fair chance to help by being honest and sharing about where you need help.

Asking for help means understanding it may not be done your way.

Are you like me, and enjoy seeing things done the right way…I mean my way? That’s the hard part with being in charge isn’t it? We do things certain ways because they work. We’ve gone through the trial and error and have made everything a well-tuned machine.

Releasing control and asking for help means that you need to trust other people to do things in a manner that may be different from how you have done it. Truthfully, that is really hard to do but in the same breath it is also really healthy and you may find new and better ways to do things. This also empowers other leaders to grow and flourish in their own leadership capacities and it creates ownership for the ministry.

Asking for help means releasing and not micromanaging.

It can be easy to ask for help but instead of releasing aspects and responsibilities freely, we dictate and micromanage our people. This approach does not actually lighten or ease your workload. Instead, it makes you work harder and faster because you’re constantly looking after others and correcting what they do to fit your desires. But doing this actually hurts you and the people who were tasked with responsibilities. You make yourself work harder and longer and you are communicating to your people that they aren’t trustworthy nor are they good enough. These options do not allow you to care well for yourself or for others. So seek to let go and allow others to flourish and grow as they take on more responsibility.

Asking for help means being willing to admit your weaknesses and dependency upon God.

In my experience it is easy to take total ownership of what you are doing and to place all the weight on yourself. That isn’t because we don’t want to have God involved in our ministry, but because we have such a strong responsibility for the calling God placed on our lives. Inevitably that leads us to a place where we don’t see, trust, or rely upon God in our ministry and that is problematic.

Let me encourage you to take some time and pause. Pause and identify weaknesses. Pause and take those before God. Pause and ask God to help guide and direct you as you lead the ministry He entrusted to you. As you seek to release control back to God by acknowledging your weaknesses, you are allowing for your strength and focus to become clear as you rely upon Him, the Author and Sustainer.

Tips for Self-Care: Advocate for Yourself

One of the main reasons we have started this series on self care is because we often don’t care of or advocate for ourselves. It is so easy when serving in ministry to put everything else first and relegate ourselves to a secondary or even tertiary place. This isn’t done out of some sort of self-deprecation but happens because we care deeply for the those we serve and the calling God has placed on our lives.

Often this can and will lead to a willingness and/or acceptance of deprecation in our lives, worth, and value. We will sacrifice time and energy, work over our allotted hours and many times end up working for free, take time away from family and friends, and live in an “if I can just make it through today” mentality. None of these aspects are healthy or helpful, nor do they endear you to remain in your current position or within ministry.

So what should we do? We need to advocated for ourselves. But how do we do this and do this without sounding arrogant or prideful? Here are five quick tips on how to advocate for yourself well:

1. Believe in what you are doing.

I say this not because we don’t believe in what we are doing, but because we can become weary when we are doing something that is overworking us or because we aren’t being cared for. And when that happens we will often just keep pushing ourselves hoping it will get better. What happens then is we stop advocating for ourselves because we don’t see the value in doing so. Remind yourself of what you do, why you do it, and why God called you specifically to do it! Then as you set this ground work, you will feel and believe that what you are doing is truly worth it!

2. Acknowledge your worth and value.

In talking with many people in ministry it is evident that they don’t always know how much they are worth. One of the additional pieces of beginning to advocate for yourself is acknowledging your worth. Your knowledge, expertise, skill set, education, and experience all help to showcase your worth and you should know that. As you see your worth and value, it allows you to highlight that as you advocate for yourself. Whether it’s for a pay raise or for more hours or for time off, these factors will help you weigh what is being offered and what should be offered.

3. Speak up and speak with clarity.

When it comes to actually advocating for yourself be mindful of what you want to say and actually say it. It isn’t always easy but it is necessary. It may feel uncomfortable doing so, but a couple of practical ways to do this include writing down what you want to say, explaining what you are and aren’t saying, and being clear in your desired outcome.

4. Be honest with where you are at.

Sometimes when we try to advocate we will continue to move forward even when the circumstances aren’t ideal. But that can lead to heartache, burnout, and more. So make sure to clearly share where you are at, what you are feeling, and what the result of continuing would mean for you.

5. Have someone advocate for or with you.

Sometimes even if we put the above points into practice we still struggle with advocating for ourselves. Or you may feel that no matter what you say or do that you aren’t being heard or valued. A great thing to do in those moments is to bring someone along who is a trusted friend and advocate for you so they can support you in the process. It is key when bringing an advocate that they are aware of the circumstances, what you desire of them, and how they should engage. It is also helpful to clear having an advocate with the person you originally were engaging with so as to not further complicate the situation or to seem as if you are stacking the deck.

How do you advocate for yourself? When do you struggle to advocate for yourself?