6 Tips for Handling Suggestions

Have you ever thought about…? Why don’t we…? Could we or could you…? Would we ever…? If you have been in ministry for more than a day or two you have probably had someone come up to you with a question that started like these. I know I get them all the time. And most of the time, unless they are from students, it is in a passing conversation or in an email.

It’s hard hearing suggestions when you run a ministry because it is easy for us to take it personally. We do this not only because we feel challenged or that our work isn’t up to par, but also because it feels like a targeted response to our calling and our leadership in ministry.

But let me ask you a few questions. How did you respond to it? Did your heart and head handle it well? Did you respond in the moment? How did you make an informed decision?

More often than not, I have found that when people offer suggestions they aren’t doing it to challenge us or to call out our leadership or heart for ministry. It is often rooted in seeking to understand or to truly offer up something they think will be beneficial for others because it was for them. As ministry leaders, we must respond well to these suggestions and lead out as Christ would. But what does that practically look like for us? Today I want to offer you six tips on how to handle suggestions well.

1. Listen well.

It is so easy to jump to conclusions or to make assumptions when some offers a suggestion. We may think we know what they want to say and we may even guess their motives or reasoning. But regardless of whether we are correct in our thinking or not, listening well is essential. Listening to someone values that person and helps them to feel known. Listening also gives you greater clarity, perspective, and understand because it allows you to see the whole picture and gives you more understanding from other viewpoints.

2. Think and pray before responding.

If you’re like me, sometimes you may respond a little too quickly. I’ve had many foot-in-mouth moments that I’ve had to apologize for, so now I make a habit of pausing and praying before responding especially if the suggestion is more critical or personal. I don’t ever want to respond out of frustration or ignorance or defensively because that can erode any credibility I may have in that relationship. Instead, pausing to collect your thoughts and asking for guidance from the Holy Spirit will help to center and calm your thoughts and response which will allow you to best engage in the conversation.

3. Ask clarifying questions.

This will serve you so well when people come to you with a suggestion. By seeking clarity and asking thoughtful questions, you will not only garner a better understanding of what is being suggested, but you will also value that individual because you have heard and responded well to them. Asking questions affirms people, lets them know you care and want to have a well-rounded viewpoint, and truly want to engage with them.

When you ask questions look for information, the motivation, how it works with the mission and vision, and logistics to help provide you and the person who came to you with a greater sense of clarity and relational equity.

4. Respond with grace and humility.

Sometimes it is easy to get flustered, annoyed, or even angry when people offer suggestions because it may feel personal whether it’s directed at you or the ministry you steward. But we need to remember not every suggestion is an attack, and even if it is, our response should be one that mirrors Jesus to them.

Do not misunderstand me: I am not advocating for simply taking unsubstantiated accusations or personal attacks lying down. However, I am advocating for showing grace and love with truth. By responding as Jesus would, we are carrying well the calling that He has bestowed upon us, and also seeking to care well for our flock even if it hurts at times. So lovingly respond to these moments and individuals and highlight the growth and leadership capabilities God has given you.

5. Clearly explain your reasoning.

There will be times when someone shares a suggestion and you will disagree or not act on what they are saying. This could be due to different philosophies of ministry, lack of understanding of student culture, not aligning with the values and vision of the ministry, and many other reasons. While we may know why we disagree or aren’t acting, we need to remember that the person who came to us may not. They may not be aware of all the insight, past experience, or trial and error that you and your team have walked through.

What that means for us is we need to be intentional in communicating our rationale and reasoning to the person who came to us. We don’t need to lecture or point out the flaws in their perspective, but instead we should strive to clearly show them why we are responding the way we are. We should also realize we may never see eye-to-eye on the perspective but that doesn’t mean we cannot be for one another and still be united in reaching students. So seek to be clear but remember that we are all siblings in Christ and let His message be what drives us.

6. Be willing to take guidance and make changes.

There are times when the suggestions people make are valid and should be considered. These moments may not always feel great because they highlight a blind spot or an area in which we need to improve, but we shouldn’t dismiss the advice and guidance. Instead we should hear what is said and look to make changes and improvements based off what is shared.

There are people who care deeply and want to help you and your ministry succeed and they will offer ways to do just that. Even when people offer a critical suggestion, that doesn’t mean you can’t grow and learn from them. Instead seek to understand, analyze, and assess if there is anything you can take away and use to help yourself, the ministry, or both.

How do you handle suggestions? What is a proactive way people could share suggestions with you?

6 Tips for the New Year

January is almost upon us, and if you’re like me this year has probably flown by. And you may also be like me if you can look back on this past year and see areas you excelled in but others in which you need to grow.

Self reflection is not only helpful but I would argue it is necessary as well. As ministry leaders it’s essential to think about what we need to be doing and what we should stop doing. For our post this week I want to share three things we need to be doing (or continuing to do) and three things we need to stop doing.

Start or continue to…

1. Invest in your leaders. This is honestly something I wish I had learned earlier in my career. Our leaders are huge assets to our ministries and students. They allow our ministries to continue and they are the ones pouring into our students. The more you invest in your leaders, the more you will see outflow from that investment and cultivate a community of leaders who generate leaders. So invest in them relationally, spiritually, personally, and professionally. Doing so will allow your ministry to grow and flourish as you have leaders who are developing and cultivating new leaders.

2. Keep and maintain a schedule. This is often easier said than done in ministry. We may set up a schedule but often times we don’t keep it because, well, it’s ministry. We see it as we are doing God’s work and therefore we are always on the clock. But that isn’t what God has called us to. In fact, the very nature of sabbath is meant to keep us from becoming a workaholic and someone who doesn’t have healthy boundaries.

Instead, let me encourage you to keep a schedule and maintain it. Keep a Google calendar, have someone hold you accountable to your schedule, keep your time off as time off, protect your spaces, and make sure to honor the time you are giving. Don’t show up late, don’t forget meetings, don’t sacrifice your spiritual growth, and don’t forget your family. By adhering to a healthy schedule you will see yourself grow and mature as a healthy leader, and your ministry will follow suit.

3. Care for yourself. This isn’t selfish, this is necessary. Self-care is something we need to be more proactive in incorporating into our lives. If we aren’t taking care of our spiritual, emotional, mental, physical, and relational health our ministries and our lives will suffer. In order to lead well we need to be healthy and growing. So make sure to carve out intentional time to pause, have a sabbath rhythm, take time off, stop working when you leave the office, invest in community for yourself, spend time with those you love, and do things that fill your tank. This is something you must be doing in order to lead well and sustain yourself in ministry.

Stop…

1. Trying to please people. If you’re a people-pleaser at heart this is probably really hard for you to hear. But if you work at a church, let’s be honest, we have all fallen into this space before. At some point–or regularly–we try to please bosses, parents, elders, staff, or whomever. Now I am not saying to not do a good job or to approach your ministry with a laissez-faire attitude. We should work hard and seek to do our best, but I am saying that our primary goal shouldn’t be pleasing others. Instead we should seek to please God and to do what He has called us to.

2. Putting work first. Let me be very clear here: you are not defined by your ministry nor are you defined by how much you work. Instead, you are defined by your relationship with Jesus, how you impart that relationship into all moments and relationships, and how you live out your calling. God never calls us to put our jobs first. He tells us our priority is our relationship with Him, then our relationship with our families, then our relationship with the church. If we get that structure out of order we will continue to struggle and get burned out. Having our priorities correctly ordered will allow us to be the leaders that God has called us to be.

3. Comparing yourself and your ministry. This was something I was guilty of early on in my career. I came out of undergrad having been told I’d be making huge changes in the world as a pastor and that alumni like me created lasting legacies. Well, imagine my surprise when I didn’t go directly into ministry. And when I did it was at a tiny church in the middle of nowhere New Jersey. Then in youth ministry I went to all the mainline conferences and heard about other ministries and their budgets and programming. I saw all the gadgets and cool tech toys. I heard from the gurus of youth ministry and the highlights of amazing youth workers around the country. And then realized I didn’t have any of those things nor was I one of those people.

If I’m honest I tried to shape our ministry to match the ones I had seen and tried to adjust my teaching style to match those I heard and idolized. But the truth is that none of that mattered or made a difference. My students and families didn’t want someone else or some glitzy program. They wanted authenticity, relationships, a youth pastor who was himself, and a place they could come and be known. The lights and hazers didn’t matter. I didn’t have to be an amazing speaker. We didn’t have to have all the cool new games and activities. Instead, being myself and working in the context and confines we had allowed us to build an authentic community where our students could come and flourish. Comparison will destroy you and your ministry if you allow it. It is healthy to critique your ministry and look for information and resources. What isn’t healthy is comparing yourself or your ministry, or trying to be someone or something else.

How to Make Leader Parties Special

This is typically the time of year that many of us are hosting parties of various kinds and undoubtedly will host a party for our leaders. Our leaders are amazing, and without them our ministries wouldn’t be able to happen. Regardless of our ministry budget, how many leaders we have, or even what our options may be, showing love and care is vital to help our leaders know that we value them.

Today, I want to share a few ways you can host a party for your leaders that is meaningful and special, even if resources are not ideal. The ideas below are low- to no-cost and meant to hopefully provide a spark of creativity and insight as you seek to encourage your leaders.

Utilize families.

One of the blessings of student ministry is that we get to partner with families. We are able to walk with, encourage, and be for our families in all moments. Families see this and most are aware of how important our leaders are because they see the evidence in the lives of their students. So consider asking families to help with putting on a leader party.

You may have a couple of parents or families who love to host and put together parties who will run the whole thing for you. Or there may be a family who would love to offer their home as a place for you to gather offsite that feels more special and intimate. You can also create a Sign Up Genius form where families could sign up to bring food for either a meal or a dessert buffet. Another fun and really special idea would be asking families to bless their student’s small group leader with a gift, a meal, or card shower to make your leader party even more special. Imagine if you could give each leader a special gift from the families in the church and consider how seen, loved, and known they will feel.

Utilize students.

What if you encouraged your students to bless your leaders whenever you have a party for them? If you have a Christmas party for your leaders, have your students write Christmas cards or bake for them. Maybe even have your students bring a gift for their leaders. Even a small card or gift will do wonderful things in encouraging your leaders. If it’s an “end of the year” party, maybe have your students gather around their leaders and pray over them.

Any time you have a gathering for leaders, you could have students write thank you notes to them. A handwritten note acknowledging what you thought no one saw or understood brings such a sense of joy, peace, and accomplishment. You could also have your students be the hosts and waiters at your parties if applicable. Having students bring out the food and serve leaders or even greet them and say thank you is a really fun way to encourage leaders. These are a few ways you could utilize your students to make your leader parties special and meaningful.

Have food and drinks.

Refreshments don’t need to be extravagant or expensive. You could make a quick and tasty punch from items found at Aldi or Dollar Tree with orange juice, cranberry juice, ginger ale, and sherbet, and you wouldn’t break the bank. Tasty snacks can also be purchased at these stores and by putting them in a bowl or on a platter, you have made the gathering a lot more inviting and intentional.

If purchasing items is off the table (food pun intended), consider making the gathering a potluck and create a theme to make it more fun. Do a baked potato bar and have everyone bring their favorite toppings. Host a brunch and ask everyone to bring their favorite breakfast dish to share.

Provide a gift.

This can be a tough thing to do depending on your budget, but even small gifts mean a lot. You could find things on Etsy or at places like 5 Below that may not cost a lot but can be meaningful or funny or relatable to your team. You may not be able to purchase gifts, but you may be able to make something special for your leaders. I love to make candles as a hobby, and I have a ton of supplies at home where I could make a votive for each leader with minimal cost. Elise is a gifted artist, and loves to create all types of things that leaders would love.

For those type of things to be able to happen, you need to be thinking intentionally before the party because otherwise you will be stressed for time and it may not happen. Even a nice handwritten card encouraging your leaders and speaking about the ways you have seen them step up would be a wonderful gift to receive as everyone loves encouragement and a handwritten card. Often times the smallest gifts are the most meaningful because they show thoughtfulness and intentionality.

Take time to encourage them.

I try to be very intentional about encouragement because our leaders need to know how important they are and how thankful we are for them. Student ministry is hard! And there are times we may want to quit, and we are paid. Think about our volunteers who show up and probably don’t see much return on their investments, and yet they keep coming back and taking more and more upon their shoulders. They are awesome individuals, and taking the time to recognize them and encourage them is not only welcomed but I would assert it is necessary. So at your gatherings carve out time to intentionally speak into their lives, to highlight God moments you have seen, to laugh with them, and to honor them. Don’t throw it at the back end of a meeting but be intentional with where it is placed to show your leaders how important and valuable they are.

Shape the environment.

This is super important and should not be something we push to the side or forget about. I know for many of us, we have less than ideal locations for hosting a party. Perhaps you have a small church where the options are slim-to-none for hosting, except for the gym/Awana Room/fellowship hall/storage area. Maybe you are a church that is all multi-purpose so you don’t have a space to call your own and shape fully to your desire. Or maybe you are a church plant and you don’t even have a space because you rent a building only on Sundays.

I get it, shaping the environment can be hard sometimes, but I don’t think that should cause us to not try. Wherever you end up hosting, whether the Awana Room, your youth room, or at your own home, look to shape the environment to make it warm, welcoming, festive, and fun. Think about playing music for the party. If it’s Christmastime, play Christmas music. If it’s an “end of year” celebration, play throwback tunes for your leaders. Think about decorations. Are there ways you could make the time together feel special? Add tablecloths to the old wooden tables, hang Christmas lights or put up a Christmas tree, or rearrange the furniture to make it feel more welcoming or like a living room space. These things, while they may seem small, show intentionality and communicate that your leaders matter. So don’t think about what you don’t have, consider what you can do to make the setting special for your people.

When You Can’t Help

Have you ever felt like you don’t have the answers? Or perhaps like you are powerless to affect change? Working in ministry, we will often be presented with circumstances we have little to no control over. There are moments when we just want to wrap up our students in bubble wrap and put them in a safe place to protect them from all the hurt and pain in the world. We will be in conversations that break our hearts, our words will fail us, and we’ll see no clear path of direction to offer. We will be broken when we are faced with the reality of sin and the hurt and pain it brings in the lives of our people.

So what do we do in those moments when words, encouragement, guidance, and solutions fail us? How do we still help our people? I wish I had a simple and direct answer for you, but the truth is, I don’t. I have been faced with these moments more often than I care to admit. Moments where words fail and my heart breaks because I can’t fix things. But what I can offer you are some insights for how we can navigate these moments and care well for our people even when we don’t have all the answers.

Pray…a lot.

If you know the conversation is going to occur before you enter into it, pray for the conversation. Pray during the conversation. And pray after the conversation. Prayer is often implied but can be forgotten or treated as an afterthought. These moments–before, during, and after–need to be covered in prayer because without it, we truly are powerless to help. But prayer forces us to rely upon the power that is outside of ourselves, the healing power of God.

Be honest.

Whenever we enter into these conversations our propensity can trend toward trying to hold everything together and not show emotions for fear of exasperating the situation and circumstances. But I would actually encourage you to share your feelings and thoughts. The more honest and transparent we are, the greater the opportunity we have to empathize and sympathize with others. It shows them that we are in those moments with them. It communicates care and love. And it highlights what we are able to do and not do.

Let me encourage you to not offer answers when you aren’t sure or don’t have a solution. I have found that people don’t always come seeking a solution but instead a listening ear and friend or leader who cares. So be honest with your limitations but also continue to seek to help by pointing them toward people or solutions that will help.

Show emotion.

One of the best things you can do is to emote during these moments. I’m not saying that you should always reflect the emotions of the other person (consider if they are displaying anger and violence, it wouldn’t be beneficial for you to reciprocate in kind), but demonstrate appropriate emotions within the context of the conversation. If it’s breaking your heart let those emotions show. If there is righteous anger, share it appropriately. Emotion is a powerful tool and a gift from God. We serve a God who is an emotional Being and created us in His image which is reflected through our emotions and feelings. So let me encourage you to reflect and emote appropriately and in ways that communicate understanding, love, and empathy.

Listen.

This point cannot be overstated. I think often when we “listen,” we listen to solve the problem or offer solutions. I get it, that is part of our job. We are where we are because we are seeking to help people grow and be more like Jesus. But when we only listen to find a solution, we miss the deeper heart issues along with finding out what the other person truly wants and needs.

Think of it in this way: if someone comes to you with problems in a relationship and you already have the solution before they finish sharing, you may jump in and cut them off or may incorrectly diagnose the problem and the solution. Cutting someone off communicates we don’t value them or the relationship but only finding a solution. And if we miss-diagnose the problem and solution, we may actually do more harm than good going forward (i.e. we may find the solution to be reconciliation in the relationship but that may not be possible and we would only know that if we listen fully). In these moments, listen well. Don’t listen to problem solve or offer a solution, listen to show understanding, empathy, and friendship. Care well and embody this by how you listen.

Follow up.

Following up is something I need to be better about. If I don’t make a notation on my calendar or set reminders on my phone, I can forget to do it. But it cannot be something that falls by the wayside. This is one of the most important pieces when it comes to these conversations. Following up shows our people we care and see them as more than just a conversation or problem in need of a solution. It shows them that they matter to us and that we value them and the relationship we have with them.

The goal isn’t for us to follow up and declare that we found an answer or we know what to do (although if that does happen, share it in the right moment in the right way). Instead, you can continue to show them that they matter and that you are invested in them. It can be a text saying you’re praying for them, it could be sending a card to them, it could be buying them a cup of coffee and not having a conversation agenda, or it could be as simple as giving them a hug the next time you see them (if appropriate). Whatever follow up looks like for you, make sure it is always a part of these moments.

Connect them with people who can help.

There are often moments in these conversations when you will realize you are not the best equipped person to be helping in that moment. That is okay! In fact, the more you are able to realize it, the better suited you are to make sure they receive the best care possible. As you listen and engage, think through who you can connect your people with to make sure they have the best care and help possible. This may not be something you address in the moment, but could be something you offer after the conversation. Be aware of the various organizations, resources, counselors, and other connections you can make within your church and community so you can refer and connect people with the appropriate professionals and help that is available.

6 Ways to Encourage Church Staff During the Holidays

During this time of thanksgiving, it has given me pause to reflect on how grateful I am for the amazing coworkers I have been blessed with. I truly have a wonderful staff team that is a joy with which to work. We don’t all have the same personalities or same drives and passions–aside from people following Jesus of course–but we all get along and have fun together.

The truth of the matter is that for church staff members, the holiday season is anything but relaxing. We usually end up getting busier and doing more because of all the planning and prep, parties and celebrations, larger than normal attendance, and the typical stress of the season. In the midst of all of these things it can be easy for church staff to get frustrated and forgotten. So how can we–whether we’re a fellow staff member, volunteer, or church attender–help to encourage and bless our church staff?

1. Remember important dates and moments.

Remembering staff birthdays, anniversaries, loss, and other key moments during this season is critical in encouraging them. You are highlighting that they are important and that they are important outside of what they do in and for the church. You are seeing them as a friend instead of just as a church staff member. You are prioritizing relational equity and showing them that they and their friendship matters to you.

This is especially vital for staff members who may be struggling during the holidays due to loss, stress, and busyness. People with key moments and memories during the holidays already feel passed over and forgotten (just ask someone with a December birthday or anniversary), so your ability to remember important events will help them feel loved, seen, and supported.

2. Meet up with them.

Whether it’s grabbing a cup of coffee together, bringing lunch to their office, or inviting them over for a meal at your home, these moments help church staff members feel valued and appreciated. Sometimes all we need is a friendly face and a heart that understands where we are at during the holidays. Don’t make these moments about work, but instead make it about them. Hear their heart. Ask good questions. Listen well. And speak words of encouragement to them. These aren’t times to talk shop but instead to simply be a good friend to them.

3. Speak highly about them and to them.

One of the things I learned in my cohort last year was the skill of precision praise. It isn’t simply saying “good job” or “nice sermon.” It is specifically highlighting what was done well, what was encouraging, and something you noticed that was important. To be able to encourage your church staff by speaking highly to them and giving them precision praise is huge.

Working in ministry means praise isn’t something we receive often. So taking time to specifically praise and encourage our church leadership is a wonderful way to encourage them. But don’t let it stop with just the face-to-face moments, speak highly about them and praise them publicly. If you’re preaching, make sure to highlight how awesome your team is from the pulpit. If you’re working with students, praise your coworkers in front of them. If you’re a church attender, speak well of staff in your conversations and interactions with others.

4. Write them an encouraging anonymous note.

Many of us have been the beneficiaries of anonymous notes, but usually they aren’t the encouraging type. But imagine showing up one morning with a note in your mailbox, under your door, or on your desk that is heartfelt and encouraging. All of a sudden your day changes. Your countenance is improved. You feel seen and valued. Now flip that thought and imagine being able to bring that to your church staff team. People start to feel encouraged. They are walking a little taller. The day seems to be going better. And all because you took some time to write encouraging notes. The power of a handwritten, encouraging note is massive and meaningful.

5. Get them a gift or organize a secret Santa.

One of the ways that people feel seen, valued, and encouraged is by receiving a gift. These gifts don’t need to be large or extravagant, but instead could be as simple as a small gift card, a bag of candy, or something that the individual will value and appreciate. Taking time to leave a gift for a team member or surprising them with a special item is a wonderful way to encourage them. But don’t stop with just one staff member; consider organizing a secret Santa for the whole staff team and use it as an opportunity to help spread joy and encouragement among the entire staff. Moments like these bring joy and smiles and they help your church staff know that they matter and are appreciated.

6. Bring in baked goods for the staff.

I love to bake. It is a way for me to decompress because I love to be able to control and manipulate recipes, as well as see people enjoy the items I make. I know, I know, my Enneagram type is showing. But stop and think about the last time someone brought baked goods into the office or to you personally. How did you feel? What did that moment do for the rest of your day? How many cookies did you eat? Okay, okay don’t answer that last one. It’s the holidays so calories don’t count.

My point is this: baked goods show people they matter because you put time, effort, and thoughtfulness into creating those items for them. So bake your favorite holiday recipe. Bring in some scratch made cookies. Share some pumpkin bread with the team. Bringing in baked goods and sharing in conversations while people enjoy them will be life giving and special for your church staff.

What are some ways that you have encouraged your staff team?

6 Quick Tips for Speaking Prep

Part of being a student pastor, or even a volunteer leader, is speaking. Whether to your own youth group, preaching in a service, or at camps or retreats, we will all be faced with this part of the job at some point. Speaking in and of itself can be intimidating and taxing, but if we aren’t preparing well, that intimidation can become overwhelming. So what are some ways to prepare well when we do speak?

1. Study and know your material.

This is something we should always be doing when it comes to presenting God’s Word. We should spend time in the Bible, explore commentaries, utilize additional materials (libraries, topical books, early church writers, theologians, and wiser church leaders), and our own knowledge and interpretation to know what the text is saying and how to make it translatable and applicable to our audience.

2. Pray…a lot.

The need for prayer cannot be overstated. Whenever we are getting ready to take the stage and present the Word of God to an audience, we need to remember that it isn’t of our own power or prowess, but it is the power of the Holy Spirit working in and through us. He allows us to use the gifts we have been given to reach others. So tapping into the power of the Spirit and relying upon Him to sustain and guide us, as well as providing the words we need, will allow us to be more effective when communicating and presenting the Gospel.

3. Seek feedback and insight.

Feedback and insight are things I haven’t always had or pursued, but now that I do have them, I see how vital they are. Seek out input and critiques from people you know and respect, and allow them to help shape you and the messages you give. If you don’t have this option available at your workplace, consider reaching out to local peers, ministry connections, college professors, or even coaches (check out Slingshot Group for some great options) to help you grow and mature in your gifts and skill set.

4. Practice.

Practicing is something that I do regardless of the audience or where I am speaking. I practice at least twice, and if possible, practice in the location where I will be speaking. Practicing should include working on your speech and word usage, mannerisms, movement, crowd engagement, and even eye contact. The more you practice, the more familiar you will be with your message, your space, and your audience, which will help you best present the message that God has given to you.

5. Know your audience and venue.

This is something that you can’t always do (i.e. you’re guest preaching in a new environment) but when you can, it is hugely beneficial as it allows you to connect in deeper and more meaningful ways. When you know the community you’re speaking to it enables you to establish relationship and rapport which will give you permission to engage in deeper and more intentional communication. Also, when you are familiar with your venue you can take advantage of the stage, seating, lighting, atmosphere, and relatability with your people.

6. Be mindful of what you eat and drink day-of.

One of the things I learned early on from friends who are singers is there are certain food and drink items that can adversely affect your vocal cords. Dairy, sugars, and to some degree caffeine, can all have negative affects on your voice such as dry mouth, lack of vocal range, and lack of inflection. I love coffee and drink it almost every morning. But if I am speaking that day, I don’t add sugar or any creamer, and I try to be done with the coffee at least two hours before I speak. Also, make sure to drink lots of water in preparation for when you speak. The more water your mouth and throat have, the better your range and vocal abilities will be.

What are some things you do to prepare for speaking?

How to Pick a Retreat Destination

With the fall semester just beginning for many of us, you may not be thinking about trips just yet. Or perhaps you have a fall retreat coming up and you’re starting to prepare all the information and building out schedules and details. Regardless of where you are in the planning stages, it is important to think critically about where you are going and why you are going there.

Those of us who serve in student ministry know how important trips and retreats are in the lives of students. These moments help our students grow and mature in their faith as they are able to hyper-focus on spiritual disciplines, rhythms, formation, and transformation in a condensed but intentional time. Because of that reality, we must be intentional in choosing the locations for these trips so as to best care for and minister to our students. Today I’m sharing some practical things to look for in the places you plan to take your students so they can have the best possible experience.

Find a place that matches and supports your vision.

Whenever our ministry is assessing where we will be taking our students we look to see if it supports our vision of disciple-making. That means we want a place that has longer small group times, opportunities for service, challenging and deep messages, as well as fun and engaging activities. What you want for your group may not be what we look for, but what matters is that your values and vision are complimented and supported through the elements offered by the camp or retreat center.

Choose a location that is cost-effective.

We all serve in areas that can vary widely from a socioeconomic perspective. This means what some students can afford in one area is not necessarily the same in another. That doesn’t mean we need to sacrifice on the quality or benefits of the retreat site, but instead look for one that is affordable and cost-effective.

The truth is students don’t need all the bells and whistles to make camp enjoyable and memorable. They instead need one they can attend, where they can build meaningful relationships, have fun doing a variety of things, and make lasting memories. So think about where you are going, if it is financially accessible for your students, and how you may be able to assist those who cannot afford to go.

Pick a place that has good activities.

Activities perhaps aren’t always the focus when we choose a retreat destination, but should receive more attention. I am not saying they should be the determining factor in where you take your group, but they should play a role in your decision.

I have been to many beautiful and cost-effective camps that had very few on-site activities. This was always a little disappointing to our groups; they hoped camps would offer different aspects than normal youth group gatherings. It is also important to make sure that the activities are age appropriate. It is possible to have an amazing camp and facilities but the activities may be designed more for elementary day camps and not youth groups. So consider where you are going, and what activities they offer in which your group will enjoy participating.

Find an experience your students will remember.

What makes camps and retreats memorable? The camp we take our students to in the winter isn’t the most beautiful or top of the line. But for our group, it doesn’t need to be. They offer all the things we are looking for: quality speakers, intentional small group times, fantastic activities, and really good meals. What makes this retreat so memorable for our students are the sessions, small group time, the activities like tubing runs (including one onto a lake and nighttime), the camp director who engages with each student, and the team-building competitions.

Whatever makes a trip memorable for your students, find a place that will compliment those things. But always use discernment with this as well. Just because a student remembers a joke the speaker told, or the pranks they pulled, or a random camp romance, doesn’t mean you should choose that location again. Find memories that are valuable, meaningful, formational, and contribute ultimately toward your vision for your students.

Choose a place that will best help your students grow.

What is the purpose of going to a retreat or camp for your group? Whenever I take students on a trip, I don’t want them to just go on a vacation. I truly want it to be spiritually formational for them and to see them wrestle and grow in their relationships with Jesus. I know there are many camps that host amazing experiences students love but ultimately are summer hangouts with Jesus sprinkled in. I have nothing against those camps, but when I think about what my position entails and what I am called to do, I need to make sure these trips are helping me meet my goal and objectives.

My position states I am to help students grow and mature in their relationship with Jesus and anything we do in our ministry should be focused on that purpose. So when I am considering where to take students, I must be thinking in that way in order to achieve what I was hired to do. Whenever I look at camps or retreat centers, I look for places that will help students grow in their relationship with Jesus, and still have fun and creative aspects they will enjoy.

Find a site that enables you and your leaders to engage with students.

Sometimes you may find a retreat center that requires you and your team to handle all the details. You need to be the speaker or you need to book one. Your team has to handle the worship leading, meal prep, activity coordination, and all the other details. While that isn’t inherently a bad thing–especially if you are equipped to do it–it may not be the most ideal situation for you and your team to engage with the students.

So consider the requirements that extend to you and your team, and ask if they are the best way for you to minister to and care for your students. If not, you may want to look for a camp that takes care of the details and enables you to spend the trip simply being present with your students.

Making Leader Training More than Just Informational [Part 2]

Last week we kicked off this two-part series by thinking through a few ways to make leader training more than just informative. Information is helpful and beneficial but it’s important to do more than simply focus on giving information. If all people do is receive information there can’t really be any transformation because there’s no care, practical application, or really any reason for your people to keep coming.

My hope with these two posts is to encourage you to think about how and why you do leader training. The ideas we are presenting are meant to help you think outside the box. And perhaps incorporate new aspects that will not only generate better leaders, but will help develop leaders who develop leaders, all while valuing and caring for them holistically.

Pray together.

Prayer is something I cannot overemphasize enough. I think every ministry has this intention and every ministry leader, hopefully, prays often for their ministry. But when was the last time you prayed together with your volunteers? Is it consistent? Is it allowing the Spirit to guide and direct you, your team, and ministry?

When you gather for training this presents the perfect opportunity to pray with and for your team. This is an exciting opportunity to engage in prayer in new and different ways. You can pray all together for the ministry, or you can pray in smaller groups for one another. You can go on a prayer walk around the building praying for where your students gather and for the entire church, or you can even spend some time in silence praying. Trust me when I tell you that if you consistently pray with your team, be prepared to see God move in powerful and bold ways.

Practice spiritual rhythms and formation.

This runs hand-in-hand with prayer while moving past just one rhythm, and seeks to engage your team holistically from a spiritual perspective. Often training sessions can focus on how to lead small groups, caring for students, safety requirements, and other areas that are very important. But when was the last time you stopped and intentionally trained on spiritual rhythms?

Training your leaders on prayer, spiritual gifts, fasting, journaling, time with Jesus, and various other aspects is hugely important. I think it is easy to assume our leaders know all of these things and further still we may assume they are practicing them. But if they were never taught them, how can we expect them to teach and lead our students through these rhythms? Let me encourage you to take time to actually walk through spiritual rhythms and help your leaders grow in formational ways so they can lead your students deeper in their walk with Jesus.

Change locations.

This is an easy idea but not often one we think about. It is easy to default to trainings at church or in the youth room. But what if you moved it to someone’s home? Better yet, a home with a pool, or a fire pit, or a backyard where you could play games together. Being able to take training offsite or outside of where you meet normally allows you to be creative in your training, it gives your leaders freedom to think and process in a new environment, and it provides a change of scenery which can often lead to new thought processes and perspectives.

If you can’t meet offsite, consider changing the environment you train in. Move things around, bring in comfortable seating, change the lighting, make it comfortable and inviting with decorations. These little touches help you to show intentionality and change a space that perhaps we have become used to.

Provide resources.

Resourcing our leaders is a great way to both help them grow personally and get something into their hands that will be beneficial going forward. This could be handouts and studies from Barna Group, devotional guides for them to use with their small groups, a podcast, helpful tools and resources from Fuller Youth Institute, various assessments like DISC or spiritual gifts, books to read as a team, or even resources specific to your own ministry. These resources aren’t meant to just be things you get into their hands but resources that will help them grow and continue to excel as the leaders God has designed them to be.

What aspects do you make sure to include in your leader trainings?

Making Leader Training More than Just Informational [Part 1]

We just finished hosting annual fall training for all our student leaders and it made me reflect on how our structure of leader training has changed throughout the years. We have gotten into the rhythm of hosting quarterly trainings and while they all differ in focus, the heart and vision remains the same. Each session will focus on some sort of training or equipping, but will also incorporate other elements to make them more engaging, fun, relational, and formational.

Today I want to share a few easy ways to make your leader training more than just informational. I am not arguing for the elimination of information and equipping, but instead would argue that we need to make our training more holistic in its approach. We should think about the information but also the relationships, the spiritual formation of our leaders, and the element of fun.

Provide food.

One of the best ways to make leader training inviting, relational, and community-focused is to have food. Food is attractive to people and also helps to break down barriers. There is reason that Jesus taught around a meal or used imagery of food to help people understand what he was talking about. Food just makes gatherings warmer and more inviting.

So have snacks, share a meal, provide coffee and donuts. Be intentional with the food, don’t just throw out leftovers from youth group, but show your leaders you care in a very tangible way. You don’t need to blow your entire budget on the food, but be thoughtful with what you get.

Have fun.

I think fun is drastically underrated when training happens. Often when we are training we focus on information, policies, and making sure everyone is on the same page. Perhaps you have noticed like I have, how those types of meetings cause people’s eyes to glaze over or they start nodding off. But what if you threw in some fun activities as well?

Try incorporating some type of group game like charades or Scattegories. Set up a volleyball net or 9 Square and just play together at different points. Or set up a church-wide scavenger hunt for your leaders with prizes. These moments help take a mundane, typical training and make it more inviting and fun, which encourages your leaders to continue to come and participate.

Incorporate team building.

Team building can get a bad rap at times. I know I have definitely been at trainings, conferences, and gatherings where the team building was actually more traumatizing than informative and unifying. If you have ever done team building with mouse traps, you know what I am talking about. But there are so many more options to make team building actually focused on building a healthy team.

There are classics like the human knot. There are some newer options like doing a Shark Tank-themed game. You could present challenges to the team that they need to accomplish with certain limitations placed on them. There is the activity that has a teammate leading another teammate who has a blindfold on. A quick Google search lists many different options including ones that focus more on unity, ones designed to make you think and problem solve, and even ones that require little preparation and are easy to run. These are all great ideas and can lead to healthy interactions, debriefs, and unification of your team.

Bring in someone new.

Sometimes a change of the speaker or leader helps in great ways. We have a cool opportunity to work with a local school that is focused on providing education free of charge to families in financial need. We have many students from that school attend our program, so we brought someone in from the staff to share about how we can best minister to and care for those students. It was awesome and so much fun, and frankly better than anything I would have said about what we could do.

So who could you bring in? Maybe it is a volunteer to talk about how to lead small groups, perhaps it is a parent or another youth pastor, or maybe you could bring in a school employee or a local counselor. These new faces will allow your leaders to see the benefit of hearing from others and hopefully help them grow and become better leaders.

What sets your trainings apart? How can you encourage your leaders to attend them?

How Student Ministers can Engage Their Community

It can be easy for ministries to focus on what is happening within their environment only, or within the church. But our mission isn’t simply to focus on what is happening within our walls but instead to look outside of them as we seek to reach the world with the Good News.

We may train our students and volunteers to reach others, but unintentionally focus on just the ministry we lead. If we are seeking to lead by example and want to model what we teach, we must step out in faith and engage with our community in proactive ways. But how do we do that? Today I want to share a few ways–some more simplistic and others more encompassing–we can actively engage and reach our communities.

Be a part of the community.

For some leaders this is easier said than done because they live in their community. For others this will be more difficult because they don’t necessarily live in the town where their church is located. That is the case for us. We live about fifteen minutes outside of our church’s community, but that reality shouldn’t stop us from being a part of the community. Instead we have to be more intentional in being a part of it.

Make it a priority to go grocery shopping in your town, go to the local parks, visit the schools, go to National Night Out, go to Christmas tree lightings, visit local corn mazes, and whatever else may happen in your community. The key isn’t to do all of things, but instead to be intentional in engaging with your community at points and venues that matter most. This not only engenders you to the community but allows you to become a part of it. In so doing you have now become a vital and needed part of your community.

Utilize local businesses.

I love to do this because it helps our church reach people, and it also allows us to give back to the community. This can be done in a variety of ways including using a local printer for your bigger projects, having local restaurants or dessert shops cater your events, utilizing local promotional product vendors instead of national agencies, and by engaging with community centers to rent them out. There are other ways you can utilize businesses but the important part is that you are connecting with them and building relational and spiritual bridges that provide opportunities for your church to be the hands and feet of Jesus.

Connect with schools.

Schools are a natural place for youth workers to get connected. For some youth workers this is easier to accomplish because they may only have a single school district that is connected to their church. For others, this is pretty difficult because they may draw from multiple school districts. Our church draws from five major districts and that doesn’t include the private schools, Christian schools, and homeschool students. If that is where you find yourself, you may be scratching your head at how to reach out to all of your schools. Let me encourage you to not look at this as something only you can tackle. Work with your team and leaders and share the load.

Regardless of where you find yourself as a youth worker, we all can connect with schools in really simple and meaningful ways. Email the administration to encourage them and let them know you want to be a resource, and drop off donuts for the front office or the teachers. Reach out to the Christian clubs and ask how you can help them out, drop off fresh baked cookies with notes from your church staff team, connect with the athletic director and see if they need a chaplain for their games. Ask your students how you can help them make an impact, and make sure to swing by for See You at the Pole. Even seemingly small things can have a huge impact when it comes to connecting with schools.

Collaborate with parachurch ministries.

If I am being honest, this is not something I am very good at. I often forget to reach out to these ministries in partnership and that is a big misstep. Recently, I was able to connect with our local Young Life chapter, and it was an awesome opportunity to share life with one another and consider how we can work together for the Gospel. As we chatted, I realized just how many of my students were participating in this parachurch ministry and it dawned on me that still other students were probably participating in others. If that is the case, why not come together to have a greater impact and reach?

Many parachurch ministries will reach students we may not have the opportunity or ability to reach, and their desire is to connect students with a local church. It is a perfect discipleship track, and one that churches and ministries can collaborate with and assist. Working with parachurch ministries gives both of the ministries an opportunity to not only reach more students but to have a more profound impact on the community.

Serve in the community.

This is one that probably feels the most burdensome because it adds a lot more onto our shoulders. But the truth of the matter is that it is only burdensome because we view it that way. Service for the kingdom of God is never meant to weigh us down or to feel overwhelming, but instead is a wonderful opportunity to help the Gospel go forth.

Often we may view service as another aspect of our job, and while that may be true to a certain extent, I believe we can leverage it so as to make service outside of our job feel taxing and unfair. But service is a gift and an opportunity. It is a way to put our gifts from God to use and to bless others. It is allowing the Spirit to work in and through us as we seek to love and care for others. So my encouragement first and foremost is to not let service become just another task, but instead let it flow from a heart that has been transformed as you love others. The more that you embody this mentality the more it will be replicated in students as they serve.

With that said, it is important for us to find ways to engage with our community through serving within it. It could be as a coach for one of the sports teams (and it doesn’t need to just be for students). It could be by volunteering in afterschool programs. Perhaps it is by hosting a lunch for the teachers in the school. Maybe you serve at the local foodbank. Or you could do neighborhood cleanups. The key with serving in the community is doing so of your own accord to help people see Jesus. It allows you to engage with people and to begin building relationships with the ultimate goal of helping them know Jesus.