Ways to Decompress & Rest

Feeling tired from the past nine months? Are the pressures of doing ministry becoming overwhelming? Has your home become more work place than refuge? For many of us in ministry, the reality of doing kingdom work in the middle of a pandemic has been taxing and overwhelming. The constant push-back, disappointment, discouragement, and cancellation of events and trips has been difficult to say the least.

These things compounded by our own emotions, personal struggles, and realities we are facing can be felt deep within our souls. The more I have reflected on this time in our lives the more I am convinced that we as ministers of the Gospel must be decompressing and modeling healthy rhythms for those we serve. But the great question before us is, how? How do we do this well? How do we do this when time is at a minimum? How do we do this when our sacred spaces have all but been removed?

Today, I want to share with you some ways to decompress and some tips for building healthy boundaries to protect your own spiritual, physical, emotional, and mental well-being.

Healthy ways to Decompress

  • Take a Sabbath. I wrote on this about a month ago, but the more I think about it and study Sabbath rest, the more I realize ministry leaders are not good at this. Let me encourage you to build this into your rhythms and find time to incorporate the Sabbath into your life.
  • Find a counselor. I could not be a bigger advocate for counseling. This is something that I firmly believe everyone in ministry should be doing. Having someone you can talk to who can help you think through difficult circumstances, help you see through the fog, and allow for you to have a place to freely express how you are feeling and where you are at is not only healthy, it is life giving as well.
  • Turn off your phone. This is a big one for me that I have talked about before. But so often our phones are tools that actually bring about more anxiety, worry, and doubt. Our phone buzzes with an email or text, and our hearts jump a bit. We see a message from a parent and we instantly wonder if everything is okay or if we messed up. While phones are great resources, they are also a direct avenue to our hearts and cause problematic emotions and thoughts to creep in. So consider turning your phone off or putting it on “do not disturb” on your days off. If this is something you believe you cannot do, then consider sharing that you will be doing this with your superiors, volunteers, and students so they know your rhythm. Or consider turning it off for a portion of your day off so you can focus on what’s important.
  • Find a new hobby that can be completed. This is something I have found helpful among ministry leaders. Our jobs are never done. Unlike many other careers where there is a metric to tell you when you have completed your goal or target, we don’t necessarily have that. What that means is we are constantly working to accomplish a task that is never fully accomplished. And that can be exceptionally frustrating. So consider taking up a hobby like lawn care, reading non-ministry related books, creating something, cooking, visiting all the new restaurants in your area, or trying to find all the ice cream places in your state and try them. Yes, some of these are crazy but who doesn’t like ice cream? But the point behind them is they all have a completion point. Doing something new that has an end goal will help you feel at piece completing something.
  • Write things down. This is huge, and I will be honest, I am not great at this. I don’t do well with journaling or putting my feelings to paper. But Elise is. She has journaled for as long as I have known her, and has done it for most of her life. Being able to write down how you feel, the tensions that are in your life, the victories, the low points, and just to put your thoughts to paper will help you to process and think through what is happening. It also gives you a resource to look back on and reflect on how God has answered your prayers throughout your life.
  • Pray. I am not throwing this in because we are Christians but because this is true. And I think often times we can be just as guilty as others when it comes to forgetting to go to God. We tend to do this in difficult times, but we must remember that we need to be praying constantly to build spiritual protection, awareness, and depth in our lives to help us weather the difficult moments. So let me encourage you to build healthy prayer rhythms into your life to help you decompress and process what is happening. Carve out time each day or throughout the day to take your requests, praises, and deepest longings of the heart to God.

Tips for Setting Boundaries

  • Be honest. Often times as leaders in ministry we aren’t honest with ourselves or our superiors about how we are doing. In order to actually be able to rest and decompress we need to be honest with ourselves that we need it. And we must bring in others to avoid getting to the place of exhaustion and burnout.
  • Take a spiritual checkup. This is so important for us as leaders. How is your spiritual walk with Jesus doing? And I am not asking if you are reading your Bible and going to church. I am asking if you are feeling nourished and refreshed by God’s Word and by His Spirit. Do you still find joy in your walk with Jesus? Is it something that is feeding your soul? These types of questions will help us to see where we are at in our relationship with Jesus and how we answer will be reflected into our physical lives as well (i.e., no time with Jesus leads to frustration and exhaustion, time with Jesus helps to remove the stress and weariness).
  • Bring in your spouse or close friends. Our spouses are wonderful people. Without them we wouldn’t know what to do. And our spouses know when we aren’t doing okay. But for some reason, we try to shield them from how we are doing and in doing so, alienate them and cause them to worry. Our spouses love us and we are a team. So be honest with them. Let them walk with you. Allow for them to be a sounding board of wisdom, discernment, and encouragement. If you are unmarried, find a close friend or group of friends you trust who will walk with you and you can bring in. Don’t try to go through this journey alone.
  • Ask for help. It is okay to admit when you need help. If you are feeling overwhelmed or like there is too much to accomplish, bring others in. Ask your volunteers to help with things. Consider bringing in some of your students to help run different aspects of your program or to organize that one closet that is always a mess. Go to your supervisor and be honest with them that you need help. Allow for others to step in and help you when it is needed.

Fall and Winter Programming During COVID-19

This fall we had to implement a whole new style of programming for our student ministry. In years past we had gone the traditional route of meeting on Sundays and midweek. But as our state, like the rest of the world, grappled with how to handle the pandemic, it quickly became clear that our traditional methods would not be able to continue.

So we took a risk. After sifting through no less than 10 different plans, we finally settled on one we believed would work. We switched from meeting on-site to meeting as small groups in houses throughout our community, calling them Home Groups. We believed this would be something that would continue to champion our values and mission, and after much prayer we initiated this new phase. And honestly, it’s worked. We have seen steady numbers, consistent attendance, and a deepening of discipleship-oriented relationships.

In order to do this and do it well, we had multiple steps to consider. These steps weren’t all handled the best, and in hindsight some of these are things I wish I had done. The reason I want to share this now is because as we are entering cold and flu season, there is an increased chance of programming changing for many of us. So here are some steps to help you think through program changes.

Prayer, lots of prayer.

This may seem pretty obvious, but the truth is sometimes we can get stuck in planning mode. We run ahead when we believe we have found the perfect plan without seeking God’s wisdom and direction. And perhaps you did find the perfect plan, but did you stop to thank God? The reason I want to remind us to pray is because so often during this new stage of ministry in a pandemic, we can get hyper-focused on just getting ideas and content out as quickly as possible, and we don’t stop to consult with our God. Prayer is needed (perhaps even more so now than ever before), and without prayer even our greatest plans will not succeed. So remember to go before the throne often.

Over communication.

This is one I wish I had done better at. Looking back we communicated well with most of our church staff and with our volunteers, but I really wish we had done better at communicating with parents. I can make all the excuses I want like “we put up videos on social media,” or “we sent out emails,” and “it was in the newsletter.” But the reality is our people are so inundated with communication right now, we need to be able to find ways to clearly communicate with them. In looking back, one thing I would have done is host a parent forum of some type to articulate our plan and allow for questions. This would have helped to head off all the follow-up conversations I have been having two months into our new programming style. I also would have been clear and direct in explaining our decision(s) for why we chose this model. One of the reasons we moved to Home Groups was to help with mitigation should someone come down with COVID. I didn’t share this in the beginning, but in many follow-up conversations when I do share this, it helps parents understand and feel more at ease. So commit to communicating well with everyone in order to have a more seamless approach to however your ministry will look.

Team and parent buy-in.

This is huge and goes hand-in-hand with my prior point. If you are going to change how things look for your ministry, you need buy-in. When we shared what we were doing with our new fall plan with our leaders, we lost some because of the changes. We also had to answer a lot of questions from our team, which actually helped us shape how we were looking to implement it. By bringing our team into the conversation and listening to them, the majority of our group stayed with us and has excelled at our new model. The team’s buy-in has actually helped our Home Groups to grow and flourish.

With parents, I cannot express enough how important it is to have buy-in from them. I have talked with numerous parents over the past few months and as I explain the “why” behind what we are doing and the results we are seeing, parents begin to get excited and ask how they can help. This is where over-communicating is key, and will allow parents to know and understand, and then jump on board. Having parents who support your program and the changes to it will help it succeed.

Leadership approval.

This is one that sometimes we may forget in the rush to get things changed. Make sure that leadership knows what you are doing and approves of it. That will help with making sure that communication is consistent across the board, and that they support what you are doing. It can be easy to just implement a change, but if it doesn’t align with what church leadership is desiring as a whole, you may have to walk your plan back. And nothing deflates a program like multiple changes or things being undone. So bring leadership in, and make sure they are onboard with what you desire to implement.

Consistency and stability.

Consistency is something that people today are lacking. Students are facing constant change with how school is being done. Colleges are changing protocols and rules left and right. Families are trying to adapt to new ways of working from home and doing school at the same time. States are changing regulations all the time. Change is happening constantly and families are desperate for consistency and stability. So when you implement changes, look to have them be consistent for the long haul. Don’t change things weekly, don’t randomly insert a change of plans. Instead, look to provide a stable and consistent change that will help families and your program.

I would also encourage you to make sure that whatever you are implementing matches what the rest of the church is doing. For example, if you are not requiring masks for youth group but the church is for all other functions, this will simply add to confusion for families and the church. So make sure what you are implementing matches the overall plan and function of the church. We want to provide stability and consistency from all levels of our churches so our people know what to expect. This will also help to strengthen the church rather than add another area for there to be division.

Allow for flexibility.

I know this almost seems to go against what I was just saying about consistency and stability, but hear me out. We switched to a Home Group model of ministry in which our groups play games, fellowship, watch a teaching video, and then discuss it. We have afforded our leaders flexibility in how their group functions and in how they engage with the video. Some groups hate games, so instead they fellowship and share a meal. Some groups never use the study questions we provide because they know their group so well that they use their own questions. Other groups have asked if they could go out for ice cream afterward with parent approval. Allowing for this type of flexibility not only allows for there to be ongoing discipleship, but it also strengthens the group as a whole. This type of flexibility doesn’t change what we are doing but instead allows for groups to grow and for students to witness faith in action.

How to Pursue Healthy Communication

This past Sunday I had the privilege of preaching in our church’s main services on the topic of “sharing our story,” which was focused on how we can communicate the Gospel story in healthy and proactive ways. So often our communication styles are not helpful because we allow for a “me-centric” approach to conversations, and I was able to share how I believe Jesus desires us to have healthy conversations both within and outside of the church.

As ministry leaders, we must model healthy communication at all levels in order to help facilitate the discipleship process. Today, I want to share with you some ways we can engage in healthy conversations from an interaction between Nicodemus and Jesus in John 3. These tips are not all-inclusive, but are simply a starting point for how we can begin to navigate the conversations and interactions we have with one another.

Be someone who is willing to have conversations.

As ministry leaders we must be willing to engage in conversations, whether they are with people with whom we disagree, or people who share similar views. We must be willing to engage with people where they are at in a loving, Christ-centered way. Maintaining an open door policy in regard to conversations, questions, and direction will set the precedent that you are someone who is willing to walk with others.

Ask good questions.

Part of healthy communication is the ability to both ask and respond to questions in a proactive manner. Questions are a sign that someone is seeking knowledge, clarity, and understanding in regard to the topic at hand. Questions should not be feared, but welcomed, and the manner in which we respond to them will continue to establish rapport and trust with others.

In a conversation it is also beneficial for you to ask clarifying questions as you seek to provide wisdom and insight. Rather than simply providing answers, seek to understand before you respond. Asking good questions can help you uncover the heart behind the questions you are being asked, which will then allow for you to better minister to and care for your people. Asking questions will also help you avoid assumptions, which can lead to frustration, misunderstanding, and ultimately a breakdown in communication.

Use encouraging language.

Throughout Jesus’ interaction with Nicodemus, Jesus challenges him to think critically about his questions. Jesus doesn’t respond harshly or negatively toward Nicodemus, even though the answers to his questions may seem obvious to us. As we engage in conversations with others, we must be mindful of the language that we use. Negative language will push people away and give them a sour taste, not only toward the church, but also toward the Gospel. This is not to say that we do not speak truth, nor engage in difficult conversations. However, the manner and conduct with which we approach these conversations can allow for a healthier, fuller, and more honest dialogue to unfold.

Practice active listening.

We are a society and a church that as a whole struggles to listen well to others. Often we say that we listen, but the manner in which we do is passive listening. Passive listening entails looking for flaws in the person’s conversation or argument, listening to win, and finishing sentences before a thought is completed. This type of listening is neither productive or proactive. This type of listening is harmful and will not establish trust or continued opportunities to dialogue, as people do not feel heard and instead feel devalued in the moment.

What we need pursue as ministry leaders is active listening. Active listening entails paying attention to the other person’s statement(s) and asking clarifying questions in order to deduce the heart issue. The clarifying questions will allow for you to gain a better understanding of the issues at hand, as well as value the other person as you engage with their thought process and value their input. Active listening involves hearing the other person with a goal to understand them, before being understood.

Establish relational equity and trust.

It is important even prior to a conversation to be a person that others know they can trust because they have seen you model a trustworthy life. People should know they can trust you because you are not prone to gossiping or talking poorly about others, and they know that when they come to you they can expect the same treatment. This also involves following up with individuals, not in a nosy way, but in a way that demonstrates you care and value them enough to continue walking with them. This allows you to set the precedent that it is not a singular conversation, but a relationship that you value and respect.

Share your story.

It is important in healthy conversations to be transparent and vulnerable as you dialog. This requires tact and timing because we should not simply rush to share our story and in so doing, not allow others to share theirs. We should always defer to the other person and allow for them to share their story as they have come to us as a ministry leader. When it is appropriate, we can share our story of how God has worked in our life, or share other personal examples, to help others grow. It is important to remember the person came to you seeking clarity and understanding, not necessarily personal anecdotes, so be mindful of how much you share, and how long you share. You never want to dominate the conversation, but look instead to utilize your story to showcase the Gospel and its power.

The Importance of Sabbath

This past week I was asked a question that I’ve been asked often during this season: how are you really doing? As I was preparing to answer with my usual, “I am just taking it one day at a time” response, I was hit with just how spent I had been feeling. I was busier than ever and with more and more being placed on my plate, I was just feeling overwhelmed.

Later on, I began to process the reasons why I was feeling this way. Sure, I have been putting in more hours. Yes, ministry looks different and I am doing things I never expected to make sure it’s a success. Of course I am pouring out more than I ever have to care for the people I shepherd. And there will always be difficult moments and conversations that leave you feeling inadequate and deflated. But was that it? Were these the reasons I was feeling so tired, overwhelmed, and weary?

This past Wednesday I found myself listening to a podcast by my friend Walt Mueller from CPYU. It was podcast about Sabbath with his guest A.J. Swoboda. The conversation hit my heart in a way it hadn’t before. Of course, as a ministry worker I am familiar with the concept of a Sabbath and have worked to make one of my days off a Sabbath each week. But hearing them share about how during this pandemic ministry personnel are not adhering to this commandment from God just broke me.

Walt shared a comment from A.J.’s book on how the Sabbath is the only commandment ministry leaders are encouraged to break, when breaking any of the others are grounds for being fully dismissed from ministry. I realized that during this season I haven’t been resting well. I haven’t honored this commandment.

Instead, I have poured out everything to make ministry work during this season. I’ve put in more hours than I care to admit. My phone is always on. Email is going constantly. I have been available all the time without fail. While these all sound good to an extent, without the constant filling from a Sabbath, we will inevitably find ourselves drained and weary.

I want to encourage you to rest and to incorporate a Sabbath into your regular rhythm. Turn off your phone or put it on “do not disturb.” Do not do ministry work on your Sabbath. Bring your spouse and family into this with you. Let your co-workers and ministry leaders know what you are doing and lead out as you encourage them to do likewise. We are called to honor God not just through our work ethics and hours, but also through how we honor the Sabbath and apply it to our lives.

My prayer is that this post doesn’t add guilt, but challenges us all to apply the Sabbath to our lives and to allow the deepness and richness of it to overwhelm us in positive ways. I want to encourage you to listen to CPYU’s podcast and to allow God’s truth to speak to your heart.

How do you apply the Sabbath to your life? What does your Sabbath look like?

How to Remain Strong in Difficult Times

If you are like me, the past six months or so have been difficult to say the least. You are probably feeling tired, overworked, frustrated, stymied, caught in the middle, confused, and isolated. And that may just be the tip of the iceberg. Perhaps you are feeling worn out, exhausted, burnt out, or maybe you are considering stepping away from ministry.

I get it. The last few months have at times threatened to overwhelm me. Even just normal “work stuff” has become more complex and layered due to the realities of living life and doing ministry during a pandemic. And if we allow for this to go unchecked in our lives, we will find ourselves feeling overwhelmed and burnt out. Today, I just want to encourage you. To let you know you are not alone. To tell you that we are praying for you. But I also want to give you a few tips on how to remain strong during this present season.

Start an encouragement file.

This was something a mentor of mine encouraged me to start. Ministry is hard and can be very lonely. And during those hard moments, the Enemy loves to play with our minds and hearts and convince us that we have failed and are worthless. So instead of letting the critical comments, anonymous letters, or hurtful emails dictate who you are and how you view yourself, start a file of the good things that have happened. Print out and save the encouraging and affirming emails, the letters and notes from your students, the Christmas cards from families, the pictures from trips and baptisms, and write down and store the memories that encourage you. Then during the hard times, pull them out, read them, and remember the good things God is doing in and through you. I love that Paul actually gives us a little glimpse of this in his epistles. In Philippians 1, Paul talks about the good things that fellow believers have done and reflects on how that encourages him even while he is in prison. We too can find joy and encouragement during hardship.

Take a break and be still.

You may read that and scoff, “yeah right…a break…right now?” Yes, a break right now. Whether it is an entire day, a thirty minute break from everything going on, a run, a workout, or a weekend getaway, take a break. Turn off your phone or at least your social media. Leverage the time to fill your tank and refresh your mind, body, and soul. Disconnect, fill up, and refresh even if just for a few moments. Allow yourself to breathe and rest because it is necessary, and more than it being necessary, being still and resting is a command from God. If we are not resting in Him and slowing down, we will burn out. So find time to rest and be still.

Bring others in.

Elise and I have talked often about the necessity for counseling, and this is especially important in the lives of ministry leaders. We need safe people to go to as much as anyone else. It may not be a trained counselor but it may be a trusted friend and confidante. Having someone you can go to and share about your struggles and frustrations is freeing and healing. But I would also encourage you to go to someone who not only hears you, but also offers counsel and practical advice. Go to someone you trust who is wise and understands, and will seek to guide and walk with you during these moments. Simply having someone to talk to will bring about peace and encouragement in your life.

Remember your calling.

God didn’t call you because you are perfect. He didn’t call you because you know everything. He called you because you are the right person for exactly where He has placed you. He knows your shortcomings but also knows your strengths. He knows your heart and passion because He gave it to you. He knows that the negativity has caused you to question if you are good enough. And through His Son, you are. Remember that God has called you to do good works that He prepared beforehand. You are called, chosen, and set apart for the kingdom of heaven. God has given you all that you need to lead others. Do not allow for this season to make you question your calling but instead to see it as an affirmation of it. If you felt fine, and if this life were easy, you wouldn’t be where God needs you. But the fact that life is hard, that your soul weeps for your people, that you are seeking wisdom and direction, are clear indications that the Spirit of God is at work in your heart because you seeing this world as He does.

Start a new hobby or activity.

This may seem odd to suggest adding one more thing to your calendar, but hear me out on this one. In ministry the work seems to never be completed. You can find yourself frustrated and overworked because the work is never done. One of the things I have found helpful is doing something that I can complete. I love cooking and cleaning, which sounds odd, I know. But when I look at it from an outside perspective I realize I enjoy it because not only can I complete something but it brings joy to others. I also found I enjoy candle making for the same reasons: I can see a project completed and watch it bless others. So let me encourage you to start something new and run with it. Maybe it is starting a workout program, maybe it’s going for walks, maybe it is actually taking a Sabbath, or starting a new book that is not related to ministry. Starting a new hobby or activity will not only be refreshing but it will also bring joy and health into your life.

Lastly, I simply want to share with you the words of Jesus to His disciples. Words that He shared to them when they felt like their world was caving in and they didn’t know what to do from John 16:33, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Always remember that you matter and have value, and that Christ will sustain you. The King of Heaven and Earth has overcome everything, and gives that power to you through Him. My fellow laborers, take heart. This time will pass, refreshment and joy will return, and you will see the fruits of your labors. Be encouraged, my friends, for Christ has overcome this world.

Our Picks: Must-Have Books [Part 2]

Last week we kicked off a new “Our Picks” installment as we looked at books that have been helpful during our time in ministry. These books might not directly relate to student ministry, but they are extremely helpful to ministry overall. Today, I want to share part two of this series, and I hope that these are as helpful for you as they are for me.

Preventing Suicide: A Handbook for Pastors, Chaplains, and Pastoral Counselors

Karen Mason writes a powerful book about suicide, myths about suicide, triggers and causes, and helpful steps to prevent it. I truly believe that this book is necessary for anyone in ministry but especially for those working with students. Students are wrestling with multiple issues including depression, anxiety, image, and identity that all cause them to grapple with “am I enough” and “do I have value.” This book will help to equip you to step into those moments when students need you the most and help them. Another helpful part of this book is that it provides resources for helping survivors of attempted suicide, families, other lay people, and the community of which you are a part.

The Bullying Breakthrough: Real Help for Parents and Teachers of the Bullied, Bystanders, and Bullies

Jonathan McKee just released this book in 2018 and I had the privilege of reading an advance copy, and cannot recommend it enough. The Bullying Breakthrough provides the reader with firsthand accounts of bullying as well as ways to minister to all parties. Jonathan truly approaches this from a holistic scope and offers readers ten tools to help bullied kids and seven tools to help schools. Jonathan writes from the heart as he experienced bullying and he seeks to unearth the root of the issue so it can be treated appropriately. This book provides you with insight into physical bullying, cyber-bullying, helpful practices, and resources and steps that you and your community can take to combat this issue among students.

Understanding Your Teen: Shaping Their Character, Facing Their Realities

This is a helpful resource for you to have on hand for parents. Jim Burns is one of the foremost authors and speakers on youth and families, and this book is a helpful guide for parents. Dr. Burns offers insight into how to help shape behavior and character, how to navigate social media, conflict resolution, and much more. Dr. Burns’ book is vital to parents who are attempting to shepherd and disciple their student(s) well, and it is also applicable for pastors and leaders of students as it provides insight and knowledge that will make you a better shepherd. Burns not only highlights the issues and pressures facing students but also gives practical tools and insight into how to care for and walk with students.

99 Thoughts for Parents of Teenagers: The Truth on Raising Teenagers from Parents Who have Been There

Walt Mueller is more than a friend, he is a noted author, speaker, and trust source on all things related to youth and families. His ministry is one of the best out there, and I would highly recommend any and all of his resources. This book is designed in an easy to read format of 99 thoughts to help parents succeed. Literally, most of these thoughts are no more than a paragraph but they are designed to offer helpful truths in a soundbite sort of way. This book would be an awesome idea to bless parents with at a parents meeting or at a training event.

Living in a Gray World: A Christian Teen’s Guide to Understanding Homosexuality

Preston Sprinkle is one of the top scholars in this particular area of study, and his book is one of the best out there. It is an easy read and it provides solid insight and Biblical truth. Preston approaches this topic with heart, tact, and a listening ear and is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors and speakers. His insight into this topic and how to minister as a whole to the LGBTQ+ community has helped shape how I have approached these topics in my ministry and the church in which I serve. This is a must-have for any youth worker.

Our Picks: Must-Have Books [Part 1]

One of the things I love about what I do is the opportunity to read, process, and apply books to what I am doing as a student pastor. Today, I want to share with you some must-have books that I have found exceptionally helpful in ministry. They are not all youth ministry focused, but they do have a tangible application to what we do as youth leaders. I will highlight why I believe each book is helpful in the description and provide a link for you to check them all out as well.

The Quick-Reference Guide to Counseling Teenagers & The Quick Reference Guide to Biblical Counseling

These are both solid resources written by Christian doctors who are seeking to help pastors and youth workers process the information related to a variety of counseling issues. It provides typical symptoms and patterns, definitions, key thoughts to help you process what the student is feeling, questions to ask, action steps, biblical insights, prayer starters, and much more. These books are not simply focused on a “read your Bible and pray to get better” methodology, but rather they utilize Biblical truth and application with science and medicine. These have been exceptionally helpful in a variety of circumstances.

A Good Commentary Set

I specifically didn’t list one in the topical heading because there are way too many to think through and honestly, we will all find ones we appreciate more than others because of our denominational preference, upbringing, current context, and theological preferences. With that being said, we must acknowledge we will never fully agree with everything a single commentary says. There are a couple of solid commentary sets that I personally have found helpful and would recommend. Walvoord and Zuck’s two volume set is exceptionally helpful and breaks down the text in an easy-to-understand way that anyone can read and use to help shape their messages or to answer questions people may have. Another helpful option is the NIV Application Commentary Set. This is a larger set and significantly more expensive, but it is worth it. The information is very helpful and it is written in an easy-to-understand format. This is a commentary set that will help you in crafting messages and help you grow in your own knowledge and understanding of the Biblical text.

The Pastor’s Handbook (NIV)

As I have progressed in my ministry career I have had the honor and privilege of officiating many different ceremonies. I have led weddings and funerals, handled baptisms, officiated communion, and been a part of anointing ceremonies. Some of these I felt my ministry training had prepared me for, but during others I felt completely ill-equipped. This pocket-sized resource provides you with various outlines and order of services for a variety of settings and is completely malleable to however you want to shape the ceremony you are officiating. It provides everything from Scripture suggestions, to outlines, to helpful tips and timing thoughts. This is a must-have for any minister.

How We Got the Bible

This is an excellent resource by Timothy Paul Jones because it answers many of the questions that students and adults are asking about the Bible. Where did it come from? How do we know we have it all? Are the texts reliable? Why do we have some books included but not others? These questions and more are answered in this easy-to-read and compact book. It includes dates, helpful charts, and exceptional appendices.

How to Solve the People Puzzle: Understanding Personality Patterns

I know there is a lot of excitement surrounding the Enneagram, but I love the DISC Assessment as it relates to personalities and interpersonal relationships. Working with students and volunteers (and churches overall), this is a helpful resource to understand your personality, the personalities of those around you, and how to best work together. Carbonell provides resources for each personality that include how you act in various situations, how you react when you are stressed or emotions are heightened, how you engage with other personalities, and much more. I use this resource whenever I lead mission trips and walk my teams through it to help them understand how to engage with each other during those intense moments. It is a must-have for any youth (and church) worker.

Next week we will share more books that have been helpful to us, but we would love to hear which books you have found helpful in your ministry setting.

Fact or Fiction: Bigger Programs = Better Programs

Have you ever gone to a conference and seen all the cool stage designs and heard about youth groups with hundreds or thousands of students and longed for those things? Have you ever wished your program was as big as the others in your town? Have you ever wished that you’d have more than just the few faithful students come to youth group?

These desires and feelings can lead us down a dangerous path. We can begin to question our calling and effectiveness, we can covet and lust after other programs or churches, and eventually we can lose focus on our mission and forsake our students and church because of our longings and desires.

These feelings aren’t inherently bad or problematic, but prolonged focus and frustration can lead us to a dark place. But we must understand that the size of our program does not reflect the transformative power of the Gospel nor does it translate into how effective you are at serving.

Today’s myth is, “a bigger program equals a better program.” In tackling this myth there are some truths that we must acknowledge. In acknowledging these truths, it allows us to discern our own hearts and the stability and sustainability of our program.

The size of a ministry does not represent spiritual growth.

Too often we can look at neighboring programs or ones in social media groups and wrestle with the notion that our own program is not where it needs to be. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Just because a program is large in number does not mean that the spiritual growth is equally as great. It may be, but it also may not be. What we must understand is that size does not always indicate success. We are after heart change and development. Be willing to help students develop in their faith and grow in a meaningful relationship with Jesus. In doing so you will help develop students who desire to not only grow in their own faith but are also passionate about seeing their friends follow Jesus.

The size of your budget isn’t a hindrance to growth.

I have been in many circumstances where I have had a very limited budget or none at all, and still been expected to run an amazing student ministry. Here is the thing: often times we focus on what we don’t have rather than what we do. God has called each of us to serve Him by serving students and their families. He called the disciples and told them to go out to towns with only what they had with them. He didn’t tell them to build a budget or raise money, instead He told them to go and do the ministry of the Gospel. As disciple-makers we cannot simply focus on the budget we do or do not have, but instead should focus on meeting students where they are and engaging them with the Gospel. Focus on relationships not finances. Be willing to listen instead of having your own youth center. Love and care for students instead having all the glitz and glam. Students will quickly forget the fancy setups, but they will forever remember the intentional relationships that you forged with them.

People over programs.

I think there are times we can get focused on building a bigger and better program or ministry and forget the people. And often times this happens in my life when I see things we do not have in our ministry but others do. When we simply focus on the program we miss our people. We forget that our students are real people with real life issues who need real adults in their lives who care for them. I am not saying we will dismiss and wholeheartedly forget about our students, but instead they become second to the program. We cannot allow that to happen and instead must focus on them over everything else.

Small numbers do not represent small growth.

Jesus had twelve guys He invested in. Twelve guys that eventually went down to eleven when one walked away and turned on Him. Sure, Jesus at times had thousands come to hear Him speak, but His real “youth group” was only twelve people. Think about that for a moment. Jesus intentionally built a ministry that would change the world and explode in numbers that no one could have imagined and He did it through twelve ordinary guys. In many ways, small youth programs can represent greater growth because you are afforded a greater opportunity to do life-on-life with students and help them become the Gospel centered disciple-makers that they were meant to be.

Be generous with what you do have.

You may read this point and think, “I don’t have anything to be generous with.” But think beyond the physical items you have. Remember what you do have: your time, your heart, and your passion for Jesus. You can be generous with your time by showing up at students’ events and cheering them on. Be generous with your heart and love students, especially the ones other people simply dismiss. Be generous with your passion for Jesus by allowing that to overflow into all your relationships. If you do have physical items like sports equipment, 9 Square, supplies for Minute to Win it, or various other items, be generous with those things. Be willing to share your resources with other ministries, step in and be willing to allow schools and community programs to borrow your supplies. God has gifted you with many ways to be generous, the questions is how will you do this?

Encouragement for this Season

For so many of us, life during the pandemic has been a struggle we could never have imagined. And trying to do ministry in the midst of it may have left you feeling more discouraged than ever before. Wherever you are in this season of life, we want to offer some encouragement, with the hope of lifting each other up so that we can continue to fight the good fight.

It’s okay to struggle.

I think sometimes we can convince ourselves that if we’re struggling, we’re not doing something right. We can subconsciously believe that things related to our faith should come easy, should feel a certain way. We can believe that struggle is a sign of weakness, and as leaders in the church, shouldn’t we be the strong ones who do not struggle? I think the devil likes when we are here, when we think we’re alone and no one else will understand, when we think we must project an image of strength. But the Bible says something different.

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 of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12:9-10

If struggle, or weakness, means Christ will be all the more glorified through us, then it is not something to be reviled. If it humbles us to see that we can only serve by God’s grace and power, then it rids us of unhealthy expectations and feelings of pride. Our natural tendency is to resist things that are unpleasant or difficult, but instead we should challenge ourselves to look for God in those places. Ask Him what He is doing, what He wants to teach us, and what He wants to accomplish. This will give meaning and purpose to the painful places in life, and quite possibly help us to see that there is a point to the struggle.

More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

Romans 5:3-5

You are needed.

Ministry jobs can be extremely thankless. In fact, they can be some of the most painful jobs because everyone is a critic and their criticism can be easily directed at you. If your personality type takes critical comments to heart, it can be difficult not to get bogged down in the mess. You might begin to question yourself, your abilities, even your calling. But the truth is, God’s “gifts and calling are irrevocable” (Romans 11:29), and He has given you your unique gifting for a purpose.

But one and the same Spirit is active in all these, distributing to each person as He wills. For as the body is one and has many parts, and all the parts of that body, though many, are one body—so also is Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. So the body is not one part but many. … But now God has placed each one of the parts in one body just as He wanted.

1 Corinthians 12:11-14, 18

The truth is that you are needed within the local and global church. You have a unique calling, a gift ordained by God for you to use in service to Him. Because of this, you have a special part to play in His kingdom work, regardless of what anyone else says. You may not hear it often enough, so let me say it: Thank you for what you do. You are important, valuable, and necessary to the body of Christ.

Don’t give up.

Some of the most painful moments in ministry have been the ones where I’ve watched people walk away. Not just from me, or from the church (though those hurt immensely), but from Jesus Christ. To have someone you once looked up to, or counted as a co-laborer, give up on their faith and walk away is jarring, discouraging, and can leave you asking a million questions. We could get into a conversation about whether their faith was genuine to begin with, but in the end only God knows. The important thing for us as ministry leaders is to carry out the work we have been given, to fulfill our calling, and to fight with all the power of heaven to never give up.

Finally, be strengthened by the Lord and by His vast strength. Put on the full armor of God so that you can stand against the tactics of the Devil. For our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the world powers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens. This is why you must take up the full armor of God, so that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having prepared everything, to take your stand. Stand, therefore, with truth like a belt around your waist, righteousness like armor on your chest, and your feet sandaled with readiness for the gospel of peace. In every situation take the shield of faith, and with it you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is God’s word.

Ephesians 6:10-17

There may be seasons of life where you have to take a break from doing full-time ministry. You may need a season of healing, time to recuperate and allow God to heal the broken places. Those are good, necessary things. But I want to encourage you, especially in the moments of pain, do not allow your heart to be pulled away from God. Let Him be the source of life, light, and restoration. Find others who love Jesus and can walk with you, helping you to remain rooted and focused on Him. When human relationships fail you, because undoubtedly they will, remember that the ultimate fight is not against humanity, but against the darkness.

The Lord is my light and my salvation— whom should I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life— of whom should I be afraid? When evildoers came against me to devour my flesh, my foes and my enemies stumbled and fell. Though an army deploys against me, my heart is not afraid; though a war breaks out against me, still I am confident.

Psalm 27:1-3

In these difficult times, we want you to know that you are not alone. Part of the reason we started Kalos was to create a safe place where we could help nourish and build up the student ministry community. We want to encourage and support you, and for all of us to be able to support each other. If you would like prayer for a general or specific need, please contact us. If there is a topic you would like us to cover in a future blog post, please let us know. We are in this together for God’s kingdom and eternal glory.

Fact or Fiction: You Need Kids of Your Own to be Effective in Youth Ministry

“How do you think you’ll be able to lead and shepherd our kids if you don’t have any?”

That question shocked me. It was during a meet-and-greet with parents from the student ministry program, and honestly I wasn’t prepared for it. What that parent didn’t know is that Elise and I want to be parents but have been dealing with infertility for a long time. That comment hurt and is still an active memory, but I understand that comment wasn’t focused on our infertility but an age-old myth about youth pastors.

Today’s myth is, “You must have your own kids to be an effective youth pastor/worker.”

The truth is that having kids of your own doesn’t make you a better pastor. Similarly, if a pastor has children who reject Jesus, that doesn’t make them ineffective because their kids turned away. Anyone can be an effective youth pastor if that is where God has called them. But I do believe that for those of us without our own children (and arguably even those with children) there are things we should be doing to help us grow and minister to the students under our care.

Be a student of culture.

Let’s be honest: culture can be confusing. And not just for us, but for our students as well. That means we need to be studying what culture is saying to our students. We should be listening to what they are listening to and dissecting what they are being told. Watch what they are watching and see the messages that are being passed to them. Observe advertising and what is being peddled as “in style.” Use all of these things to understand what is happening and what your students are being taught.

A couple of great resources for studying culture include CPYU, The Source 4 YM, and The Source 4 Parents. These websites offer different critiques and viewpoints of popular music, movies, and games, as well as helpful resources designed to help you succeed by knowing in what your students are engaged. An added bonus is they give you practical ways to minister to students and families as well.

Listen well.

Students today desire people who not only spend time with them, but listen to them. Students want to have leaders who care and love them enough to actually listen when others do not. And as you listen to them, you will learn more about them: what they like and don’t like, the new slang, the popular shows they are watching, what social media platform is most utilized, and the list goes on. Being an effective youth leader means you are listening and growing as you listen.

Engage with students.

This is huge in our line of work, and can be missed even if you do have kids of your own. In order to understand and minister to students, you must be engaged with them. Go to their plays, concerts, and sporting events. Support them in their endeavors. Visit them at their jobs. Being present with your students physically is huge, but it is not the only way you engage with them.

Be willing to engage with them at a spiritual and emotional level as well. Listen when they speak. Make eye contact with them. Ask follow up questions. Challenge them. Encourage them toward Jesus. And always keep your word. Doing this not only values them, it allows for you to connect with them at a deeper level. It also gives you insight and wisdom in how to walk with them during these formative years.

Be a life-long learner.

Things change constantly and we must be willing to grow and adapt as well. Gone are the days of the 90s youth pastor. Students now value genuine interpersonal relationships with people who truly love and care about them. That means we must be willing to change as the world changes. No, we do not change or flex on the value of God’s Word and the truth of it, but we do adapt to how we do ministry and engage with our students. That means that you must be willing to continue to learn and grow as an individual and a shepherd.

The easy way is to sit back and think you have it all figured out because you have done this for years on end, you have had a successful program, or you have the right speaking chops. But the truth is that once we have convinced ourselves we have it all figured out, we have actually become replaceable and irrelevant. And I would actually assert that if any of us were to get to that point, we should step away from ministry and reassess why we are in it. See, the truth behind those thoughts is that everything about the ministry and calling God has placed on your life is all something you have done. That is why we stop learning and growing. We must remember that everything we have is a gift from God and as such we should continue to seek after Him and His wisdom. This then empowers us to continue to minister and care for our people as we continue to grow and mature as we seek God’s direction. So be a life-long learner who seeks to grow and share their knowledge and heart for Jesus.

Stand in the gap.

To be an effective youth leader, regardless of whether or not you have kids of your own, you need to be willing to stand in the gap. Often that means responding to a text or message when it isn’t convenient. It means being willing to listen and administer care when others can’t or won’t. It means showing up when you say you will show up. Just because you may not have kids of your own doesn’t mean you cannot be someone who wades into the mess with your students. In many ways you are able to do so even more. So continue to be someone who is willing to walk through the hard, and care deeply for your students as you show them Jesus.

Not having kids doesn’t mean you are not qualified. Not having kids doesn’t mean you can’t serve students. Having kids is not a qualifier for ministry. And if we are perfectly honest, all the students under your care, past, present, and future, they are your kids. The kids you give your heart to, the kids you have cried with and for, and the kids who may never say thank you but have a relationship with Jesus because of your faithfulness. So if you are one of the many youth workers faithfully giving of themselves who do not have kids, be encouraged because God can, is, and will use you to minister to the youth of this generation and generations to come.