The Value of Networking

This past week I had the opportunity to be part of a coaching cohort that was provided by our friends at Slingshot. It was one of the best things I have ever done for myself when it comes to ministry and growth as I came away being encouraged, challenged, and refreshed after what has been quite a difficult season.

This cohort was originally intended to start in late 2019, got bumped to March 2020, moved to fall of 2020, then to spring 2021, and finally October of 2021. While these setbacks and schedule changes were frustrating when they happened, looking at this past week I truly believe God had every intention of moving the cohort to this moment because He knew how many of us needed it in this season.

One of the many things I walked away with was the understanding that community and networking is highly important in our ministry contexts. Many of know and affirm this, but like everyone else over the last year and a half, have struggled to make it a reality. My hope and prayer for each of you reading this is that networking and community become a priority for you and that we radically pursue it in our lives. But I think for some of us, we may be curious as to why it’s important, and that’s what I want to share with you today. I simply want to point out a few key reasons networking is so important and hopefully encourage you to be a part of this as it is highly important to your sustainability and the sustainability of your ministry.

Vulnerability and transparency.

As we gathered at this cohort I was reminded of how good it is to be raw and honest with others. Many of us had been experiencing similar things over the last year and as a result we we able to be transparent and real with one another. What happened was not a moment of critique but a time of support, encouragement, and care for one another. As members of the body of Christ we are called to love and care for one another, but we can only fully do this when we are honest and transparent with one another. When we build networks and relationships, they help us to be real and honest with others who care about us and understand.

Community.

I think we all recognize the value of community, but if I am being honest, I think over the last year I was missing out on it. When you have a group of people who know you, care about you, are going through similar things, and can relate to what you are experiencing, you feel known and loved. This type of community isn’t always the easiest to find, but when you do it will help you in amazing ways. You will feel heard, you will gain insight, you will have people in your corner, and you will know you are not alone. Community is one of the best things that can come out of networking with others.

Being challenged.

At our cohort we talked about the complexities of leading in ministries and we took some deep and challenging looks at our current ministries, systems, and visions. And if I am being truly honest, this was really difficult for me. I was forced to work through areas I was weak in, to think about failures, and to look at areas I needed to cut. These types of conversations are never easy and are really challenging. But because of these conversations, I was forced to think critically about why I was doing what I was doing. It forced me to be reflective and to rethink what we were doing in our ministry. These types of interactions are not meant to be critical but instead to challenge us. When you are doing life with a community of people they will challenge you to grow, they will push you to adapt, they will provide helpful critiques, and they will be in your corner. Being challenged isn’t easy but it is necessary to help us grow and mature personally and within our ministries.

Personal growth.

One of the many things I loved about this past week was the ways I was able to grow and mature. I never want to get to the point where I feel like I know it all or have done everything, especially as it pertains to ministry. This cohort helped to challenge and make me more self-reflective as we took various leadership and personality assessments. Allowing for these assessments and godly men and women to speak into my life helped me to see areas that needed growth, it helped me learn how to be a better leader, and how to relate to other people in a more intentional way. When you engage in intentional community, networking, and education with people who care, you will see yourself grow in wonderful ways.

Collaboration and new perspectives.

During the past year I have missed this part of networking. And if I am being honest, I think we can become comfortable and complacent because we are used to the status quo. We do things one way because we have always done them that way. They may not be bad or wrong, but when we network with others we see things differently and in new and exciting ways. Networking affords you the opportunity to rethink, adapt, and improvise. You learn new tricks, find exciting opportunities, and build your toolbox. Collaboration helps you to do your job better as you are able to grow and experience new opportunities.

Shared passions and unity.

As I sat with youth workers from around the country last week, it was so evident that we all had shared passions. We all love Jesus, we all love students, and we all desire that our students love and walk with Jesus. This was so encouraging and refreshing. It was a moment where it was good to know I wasn’t alone. I knew I had a team and family of likeminded individuals around the country. People who shared the same mission and had the same heart for students that I do. This was something that I believe we all need. We all need encouragement and to know we aren’t alone, and networking affords us that opportunity.

My prayer for all of you reading this is that you know that you have a tribe. That there are people who love and care about students like you do. That you know there are people who understand and can relate to what you are going through. That you know that you are not alone. At the very least, my hope is you have found that refuge here at Kalos, and that you know we are in your corner. If there is anything we can be praying for or encouraging you with, please do not hesitate to reach out because we are a part of your network.

How to Work Well on a Team [Part 2]

Last week we began sharing some insights into how to work well on a team and this week we want to continue the conversation by providing a few more ideas. While none of these ideas is a guaranteed fix-all, utilizing them together will help you as an individual and your team grow and mature as you seek to serve God together. Today’s ideas are more directed toward self-reflection and growth but can also be applied and embraced within the team.

Strive to enhance the team not individual goals.

For most of us it is easy to default to seeking our own goals even when we are on a team. This isn’t always from a place of pride or ego, but from simple human nature and the way culture has shaped us to think of ourselves. But Christ has always challenged us to put others before ourselves, and Paul actually encourages us to die to our own desires to elevate Christ.

When it comes to working on a team we need to consider these truths and be willing to put aside our own desires and wants, seeking to elevate the goals of the team and the ministry you serve. It isn’t about self but instead about the team that is working to impact the kingdom of heaven through the ministry of which you are a part. This is not to say that your personal goals aren’t worthwhile or important, but instead to interpret them within the overall mission and vision of the ministry team.

Be for one another.

Being for one another is something we should focus on within each aspect of our lives. Whether your team is present or not, you should seek to speak well of them. We shouldn’t talk poorly about each other or try to point fingers because that will fracture the unity of your team. Being mindful of how we speak and represent one another will help us be for one another in all moments.

It may be easier to be for one another when the team is present, but your conversations outside of the team should also reflect that mentality. If you are not honoring and supporting one another in your private conversations then you are not for your teammates. I am not saying you cannot vent or share how you’ve felt with those who you are close with, but be mindful of what you say. Is it simply sharing frustration or is it being critical of your team?

Pray for each other.

Whether your team is united or not, praying for one another should be a high priority. Praying for one another helps to unite a divided team and brings strength to one that is already united. When you pray for others you see them as real people rather than just a teammate or someone who frustrates you. Prayer allows for teams to be for each other but also to be intentional in how they relate and work with each other. Praying for your teammates allows for you to care for them and love them as Jesus does, and is a way to protect your team from faltering by relying on God to carry you through all moments.

Have important conversations in person.

This is actually a piece of advice I give to everyone when it comes to relationships. Texts, emails, and even phone conversations can often be ambiguous and they tend to embolden people due to distance and the inability to actually see the other person. In many ways, conversations that aren’t in person allow us to think of the other person in a non-relational way. We have actually dehumanized them because we feel empowered and emboldened to say things we normally wouldn’t in person.

When you have important conversations in person it allows you to see, hear, empathize, and sympathize with the other person(s) involved. You are able to read facial expressions, observe body language, and hear inflections and emotions rather than trying to interpret them from afar. You see the person as a real individual and it challenges you to lovingly speak truth while caring for them in the same moment.

Be willing to be humble.

Sometimes when we work on a team we may not always be humble, not because we don’t want to, but because we aren’t always thinking that way. On a team we may have a propensity toward trying to win, or push our ideas, or think we know better than the rest of the team. These feelings aren’t always intentional because our society seeks to cultivate a “me first” focus and direction. But if we don’t seek to understand our emotional and relational intelligence we could actually harm relationships with our team. When working with a team be willing to be humble and choose to die to yourself. Be willing to elevate the team. Be willing to not always have your ideas be the ones that are chosen. Be willing to encourage and love your team. This type of approach will allow for your team dynamic to flourish and for relationships to be strengthened.

Try new things and ideas.

As we continue to grow and mature sometimes we get stuck in our ways and habits. We have developed our rhythms and ways of doing things. But the beauty of working on a team is hearing about and participating in new ideas and methods. So take time to try new things, be willing to adapt, and allow yourself to be stretched. These opportunities will help you grow as an individual and a leader, all while working with and encouraging your team.

Reflections on the Intentionality of Christ

Have you ever been struck by something in Scripture in a new way? A passage that might have felt old and familiar suddenly seems brand new when read through a different perspective? This happened to me recently as I was reading Luke.

I was working my way through the book and came to the passage describing Jesus’ birth in Luke 2. This is a passage I could probably quote from memory even though I’ve never set out to intentionally memorize it. I often think of it in the context of Christmas, with warm feelings, and memories of illustrated versions of His birth coming to mind. It’s all quaint, cozy, and clean.

But this time through, since it was summer, I separated my stereotypical holiday perspective from the passage and looked at it through a different lens. I tried to focus on the reality of the account, and what that reality, as conveyed by the author, was teaching the reader about Jesus. I’ve been struck by the manner of His arrival on earth before, but this time I was struck by the intentionality of it.

We who are Christians believe God is all-powerful, that He can do anything. And by extension, that means that He could have chosen any method or means of coming to earth. But he chose something unexpected, and honestly, unnecessary. He didn’t have to choose to be born in ancient times, in a filthy barn, to a woman who by all appearances had gotten pregnant by being an adulteress.

In our humanity I think many of us would imagine God arriving at minimum with basic comforts, in a clean hospital or at least a nice bedroom. We would imagine that there would be much attention around His birth, that He would at least be middle class, maybe even wealthy, He is God, after all. He has everything and can do anything, he wouldn’t even have to come as a helpless infant. But we see none of this, in fact we see the exact opposite. And from this reality, I am forced to come to terms with the truth that God chose a humble, difficult, and dirty life for Himself. It was intentional.

This reality calls me to examine His life more closely, to look at nothing as coincidence, and to also realize that I can learn the same things about my life. If Jesus was intentional with where He placed Himself, and how He arrived there, does He not also do the same for me? This view is both a challenge and an encouragement, especially as I look at my life as a servant of Christ and a student leader. It means that it is no coincidence that I was born in this time, that I experienced the things that I have experienced, and that I find certain people in my life.

The intentionality of Christ calls me to look at my life as intentional as well. The reality of intentionality forces me to take a closer look at the world around me and my place within it. Rather than looking toward the next thing, trying to change my circumstances, or wishing I didn’t have to deal with __ (fill in the blank with whatever person, circumstance, or social norm bothers you most), I need to stop and realize there is purpose behind what may seem random.

We have been called to serve God in a time and place that is unique to all of us. And I believe He places us when and where we are to accomplish things He wants to uniquely use us to accomplish. This can feel like a burden, but it can also feel like a beautifully redemptive gift. No one else is exactly like us, and this means that we are crafted specifically by the Creator for the things He has intended us to do.

I think there have been times in my life where I have missed the opportunities God has placed in front of me. I have wasted a lot of time trying to accomplish my own plans and objectives with little care for the people and world around me. I know I have missed open doors through which to step and actively do the work of God. I know I’ve worried more about myself and my needs than others. And while I have regret about those times, I can’t continue to live there. I have to move forward, realizing that guilt only distracts me from what is in front of me now.

I hope the intentionality of Christ empowers you to step into any situation you face with courage and boldness, realizing you are here for a reason. You may not know the reason, it may feel incredibly uncomfortable, and you may want to pursue something else that looks better. If that’s the case, I encourage you to read Luke 2:1-20 and ask God what He wants to teach you from the birth of Jesus. May His story encourage your heart and remind you that His power works within you to accomplish His good purposes.

Tips for Hosting Great Leader Meetings

Our fall program is about to start up and that means we are having our annual team training. We bring together our leaders from all aspects of student ministry and gather for four hours of training together. Now you may have started that last sentence saying “that sounds awesome” but as you got to the end you probably thought something like, “four hours…are you nuts?!”

I know it sounds like a long time but today I want to share with you a few tips about why I think it works. These are tips that we don’t only embody at our fall training but incorporate year round, and I believe it’s the thoughtfulness you will read about in these tips that make our training successful. And as an answer to your follow-up question, no, we don’t do four hours of training every time we gather…we aren’t crazy! It is just that one. So, here are some tips that I think will be helpful for your next training session.

Make it inviting.

How do you make a meeting invitational aside from asking people to come? Think about the setting, ambiance, and attraction. When we host training at any point, we try not to have it be at the church but instead in homes. It makes the meeting more inviting and comfortable because of the setting and location.

Another way to make it inviting is by having food. This may seem like a simple touch but food really does add value to any meeting. It helps people open up, it sets a tone, and it shows that you care. But let me offer some advice about food: don’t do typical youth group fare. Look to up the game because these are your leaders and without them you wouldn’t have a program. Even if you can only afford a few bags of candy, spring for the Hershey Nuggets instead of the store brand. It will communicate value, worth, and appreciation to your people.

A final way to make it invitational is to consider having a time of fellowship, activities, and/or a meal together. Our fall training is hosted by an amazing family who affords us their whole home that includes a pool. So for the end of our training we host a lunch for our leaders and families followed by a time for everyone to swim. It’s a blast! We have kids, students, and adults engaging in fellowship and enjoying time together. If you don’t have a pool, bring yard games or different activities to bring people together.

Make it informational.

As you work through meetings there has to be a purpose to why you are there and what you are talking about. Whether it’s programmatic changes, generational training, or other updates you may have, take time to talk through information that is important to your program. This shows your leaders that there are always growth areas and opportunities for everyone to develop.

Some ways to make this more team-oriented and inviting can include:

  • Have volunteers lead training on topics that they are both passionate and knowledgeable about.
  • Talk about topics that are relevant to students and culture.
  • Make the informational time interactive through question and answer sessions, games, small group discussions, or even by bringing in a guest speaker.

Make it relational and have fun.

I love to build in times for fellowship during training. I make sure to keep the beginning time open to talk, eat food, and fellowship. One of the best things to do during training is to incorporate a meal or food to some degree. If it’s breakfast time get some pastries, do a pancake bar, and make sure to have coffee and tea. If it’s lunch or dinner grill out, have a s’mores bar, or a baked potato bar. Whenever you provide food I would encourage you to think of things outside of what you normally do for students (i.e. walking tacos, pizza, etc.). This shows your leaders that you value and appreciate them.

Another great option for fellowship is to include various fun activities like a fire pit, swimming, yard games, a karaoke contest, team competitions, or even a friendly game of 9 Square. These moments not only allow for your leaders to have fun and release stress but also to connect with one another.

Make it creative.

As you think through training and what it can look like, try to make it creative and not the same training you have done year in and year out. Have different types of team building activities, bring in different people to lead, change up the location and ambiance, or make it a themed training. When you get creative it makes training more inviting and intentional, and it will help make your leaders desire to be a part of what you are doing.

Incorporate prayer and worship.

Whenever we are facilitating a training we always need to remember why we are doing what we are doing. We are simply functioning as disciple-makers and shepherds who have been entrusted to care for His people. As such we should be bathing any training or gathering in prayer and worshiping God because of all He has done and will do. Praying over the year, the ministry, students, and families helps us to shift our focus and remember that this only accomplished through Christ. This allows for us to rejoice in, trust, and acknowledge God’s control and know that the year and everything that happens is all a part of His plan.

Tips for Recruiting Volunteers

Summer trips are wrapping up, the final vacations are commencing, and youth ministries are preparing for the fall. And as we prepare for fall programming many of us are working to finalize and recruit volunteers. Each year we are inevitably faced with the need for new volunteers for a host of reasons. Whether you took over a ministry and volunteers left, your ministry has grown, or volunteers have just stepped back, we all know the pain, panic, and difficulty that comes with seeking out volunteers. In this post I want to provide some ideas to help you grow your team and recruit volunteers who are right for your ministry.

Start early.

This is something we should strive to do. The sooner you start recruiting the less you need to scramble as the next semester or school year approaches. It also gives you the opportunity to truly find people who are committed to the ministry and the vision of the ministry. It affords you greater flexibility and opportunity because you have more time to think critically about who becomes a volunteer and where they will fit.

Ask someone else with connections to help.

This is something I’ve learned to rely on greatly in my last few years of ministry. Some people are fantastic at networking and knowing individuals and their gifting. Our senior pastor’s wife is that person for me. She sends me tons of names of people but includes insight as to why they would be valuable for our ministry. Now it is important in utilizing someone who has this insight to help them know your needs, qualifications for leaders, and the vision of the ministry. This will help in the filtering process and give you more quality candidates to choose from.

Lean into parents.

Parents can make really good volunteers. Some student ministries utilize them and others don’t. It all depends on the program, the vision and purpose, and the relationships between parents and students. Parents bring a ton of insight, wisdom, and a desire to see students grow and because of this, they can be incredibly valuable to the ministry. Many of them are also available during youth group time because they have already carved that time slot out of their schedule.

Now I will say this: it probably isn’t prudent to have a student’s parent be their small group leader. For some families this may work, but for a large majority of them, the student may shut down and not feel comfortable sharing all the time. So if you are going to utilize parents, be thoughtful in where and why you place them where you do. Have conversations with parents and their student and consider what would be the best win for your ministry.

Utilize your current volunteers.

This is a great opportunity for you to lean into your team and allow them to provide insight for the ministry. If you have leaders, ask them who would be a good fit as a new leader. Ask them if they know people who would do well in student ministry. Ask them who they would recommend. They know your heart and vision for the program and they are invested in students. Because of that, they can provide wisdom and insight into who you should be asking.

Another great opportunity would be to ask them to do the recruiting. Having that personal connection means a ton and it allows for your leaders to truly lead outward. They become excited about the program and you are elevating their leadership status and giving them the trust they deserve.

Ask former volunteers.

This is something we should consider each year. Volunteers stop serving for a variety of reasons, and we should remember that they were and still are capable leaders. A helpful place to start when it comes to recruiting volunteers is to start with those who have already served. I have had leaders who faithfully served for four years and then took time off, but promised to be back after a time of refreshment. You may also have former volunteers just waiting in the wings to be asked, and I want to encourage you to do so. Even if they cannot volunteer, you are making personal connections and reestablishing relationships which could lead you to someone else through a connection with your former leader.

Engage in personal conversations.

This is one that will require much of your time but it is arguably the most important and beneficial. It is often through a personal ask that you will be able to recruit more volunteers because it establishes a connection, allows you to share your heart, and it highlights a need. These conversations will take time but they will generate results. Whenever you are afforded the opportunity to meet or talk to someone, I suggest that you take it and leverage those opportunities to discuss what it means to volunteer and why it is worth it. These are moments that will greatly benefit you and your team as you engage with people and they are able to get to know you, your vision, and your passion.

Go old school.

This isn’t something I default to because studies prove that personal conversations and connections generate better results, but we cannot deny that sometimes in order for people to fill a need they need to be made aware that there is one. Some of the ways that we can share about a need include bulletin announcements or on your pre-service slides, announcements from the stage or pulpit, and emailing or cold calling people. This may sound like a lot of work that may not generate a lot of results, but they may generate some, and some is better than none.

A final word of advice. So often I see the need for recruiting new volunteers happen when a new pastor or youth leader takes over. The reason for this is volunteers step back when a pastor or beloved staff member leaves. While I totally understand the why behind this, we as youth workers must seek to leave better. We may not intend our volunteers to leave a program because we do, but they can and will unless we do better.

I believe what we must be doing is looking to build a program that isn’t dependent upon any one person, but instead built on Christ. I tell people often that my desire is to have a program that isn’t about me or my staff, but that students come because they have leaders who love them and disciple them, and a place that is safe for them to hear about Christ. By doing this and saying this our leaders will realize the program isn’t about us but about leading students to Jesus and hopefully will incur a better attitude and longevity in their service, and better set up the incoming leader for success. Look to build a program that isn’t built upon ourselves but on Christ, and speak truth into your people before, during, and after your tenure and help them to continue to stay and move forward with their students.

How to Care Well for Students [Part 2]

Last week we kicked off this conversation by talking about how we need to be prepared and ready to care for our students as we walk with them through life’s moments. In this post, I want to share some insight in how to help students move forward in this process.

These ideas are framed to help students grow and take steps forward by utilizing resources that will set them up for success in the long term. Change isn’t always instantaneous and we want to make sure we are setting our students up for lifelong, healthy changes that will be sustainable. But in order to do this well we must realize there are steps that need to be taken and they don’t always require us as their leaders to carry the bulk of the load.

My hope in sharing these ideas with you is that this sets you up to do what you do best: love and care for your students as you point them to Jesus. But I also hope that in sharing these ideas, you realize it isn’t all on your shoulders. Understand that you can only do what you are able, qualified, and called to do. In those moments outside of your control these ideas will enable you to ensure that your students are loved and cared for well.

Start small.

Often times it is easy to shoot for the end goal. We know where students should be and they want to meet a goal, but we shouldn’t simply start with the end in mind. In order to have a better chance of achieving success, we should start with a step-by-step process. Set up smaller goals that lead to the end goal and in doing so you are giving the student more opportunities to grow and celebrate as they meet these goals. It also affords you the ability to reset and reestablish as needed because if a goal is missed it isn’t the endgame. Often if we simply seek to meet the ultimate goal and fail, there is a strong possibility that we may give up on the goal because of a strong sense of failure. But if it is simple a step toward the goal that isn’t met, it affords an opportunity to reset, adjust, and continue moving forward toward the goal. It also will give you more insight into your student and their strengths and weaknesses which gives you the greater ability to minister to and care for your students.

Normalize asking for and getting help.

This is a big thing to do as you care for your students. This is becoming more and more accepted but there is still a stigma attached to asking for and gaining help on various issues. But by encouraging your students when they ask for help and championing receiving help, you are giving your students permission to do the same and easing the stigma that has been pervasive within our culture.

Another way you can do this is by talking about it in a positive way and doing so often. The more you talk about it, engage it, and highlight the benefits of asking for and receiving help, the more you will help your students get the care they need and deserve.

Bring in qualified help.

We are not experts in everything, and as such we must acknowledge that there are others who have more skill, training, and knowledge in various areas. And that is okay. What we must do though is know who has what skill sets and expertise so we can utilize their areas of wisdom and knowledge to better care for and minister to our students. So build helpful networks, grow your own knowledge, be willing to hand off well, and utilize the resources at your disposal. Doing so will not only guarantee that your students get the help they need, it also allows you to make sure that your students are receiving holistic care and will grow in an appropriate way.

Bring in parents.

This is one area that is extremely important when it comes to caring for students, but also one that requires wisdom, tact, and an understanding of the relationship and dynamic that exists between parents and students. Depending on the reason that a student comes to you, it is extremely important that you bring parents into the conversation and care, but it is also something that could be terrifying and difficult for your student.

For example, if a student wants to be baptized and grow in their faith by being mentored by you, it would be helpful to talk to the parents about their student’s decision. But that could prove difficult if they aren’t believers or it could be a hugely beneficial conversation because perhaps they have been praying for this moment.

Or consider that a student comes to you acknowledging that they are self-harming. It is extremely important to bring parents into the conversation for a litany of reasons, but the student may be terrified of this because perhaps they think their parents won’t love them. Or perhaps the parents are putting pressure on their student that is pushing them to self-harm. Or maybe the parent will show how deeply they love their student and walk with them.

Regardless of the circumstance, bringing in parents will afford you the opportunity to administer better holistic care for your student, their parents, and their relationships. Yes, this may make the situation more difficult and tricky but the benefits far outweigh any of the difficulties or potential stressful moments.

Go with students.

When a student comes to you and opens up about something that is outside of your scope of care and you refer them to someone else, or if they are challenged to talk to their parents, or if they simply have to go to someone for whatever reason, go with them. This not only shows them that you mean it when you say you love and care for them, it also provides them a support network in what can be a terrifying moment for them. You have become a trusted advocate and you are showing them they are not alone. And in many ways your presence in these moments will help to soften them and make them more manageable for the student. So wherever a student goes after they confide in you, go with them, be for them, and love and care for them in those moments.

Stick with them.

This last point is so important in making sure we care well for our students. Change and growth takes time. And let’s be honest, sometimes taking time with students is hard and we want to walk away because it seems like they aren’t growing, don’t want to change, or just give up. But if we turn away from them in the moments when they need us most, we are almost certainly setting them up for failure.

So instead of walking away, dig in and continue to love and care for them even when it is hard. I am not saying that you should give all of yourself and constantly have your face spit in. But I am saying don’t simply cast away a student for lack of change. Love them, pray for and with them, challenge them, and continue to be with and for them. How you care for them may change throughout the process, but the important thing is to continue loving and caring for them regardless. This shows them that you believe in them and are for them, which is arguably what students truly need to incur lifelong change and growth in their lives.

What has worked best for you as you have you loved and cared for your students through long periods of growth and change?

How to Care Well for Students [Part 1]

Many of us are returning from trips this summer and while there you probably had students open up to you about their struggles, sins, hopes, and dreams. These are the moments we have been praying for. The moments when God grabs their hearts in big ways and moves them toward change and seeking direction. And when that happens they often seek out their leaders and pastors for insight, direction, and help in attaining these changes.

These types of moments aren’t limited to camps and trips; it could just be a simple night at youth group when students are sensing the Spirit of God moving in their lives. Regardless of when or how these moments happen, we must be prepared and ready to walk with them and help them move forward in making the needed life changes. Today, I want to provide you with some helpful ways to do just that, and next week I’ll share a few more that have to do with taking steps forward in this process with your students.

Establish trust.

This is paramount to helping your students grow and mature in their relationship with Jesus. In order to care well for students they first need to trust you. If students don’t trust you, they won’t be honest with you. So be a person they can trust. Be someone who not only honors what they share, but also someone who follows up and truly cares for them. Doing this will allow your students to see that your actions and words match, which then allows them to trust you which will give them the opportunity to be honest with you when God moves in their lives.

Listen.

Students are going to come to you with a wide range of topics and if we are honest, some of those topics are not exciting nor do they grab our attention. Students could spend hours talking about video games or the new meme that is going around. And I think for many of us, it is easy to disengage during those moments. But what I have seen and learned is that students will use those discussions to test the waters with their leaders. They want to see if you care about them and they measure our level of care by how we listen.

Are you paying attention? Have you maintained eye contact? Did you ask clarifying questions? Or did your mind wander? Did you look at your watch or phone? Students see all of this and truly want someone who will love them and listen.

What I have also seen is that these types of conversations are also the bridge to a larger, more serious conversations. Students are looking to see if you can be trusted to listen to something seemingly insignificant so they will be able to discern if you can be trusted with heavier, more personal conversations. At camp this summer, I had a student who opened up and shared their heart with me because I spent time getting to know them in middle school. They said “Nick, the reason I came to you is because I knew after our first conversation when I was in middle school that you are a safe person who cares about me.” So seek to listen well and honor your students as you care for them.

Ask clarifying questions.

This is a big one as you seek to listen well. Part of listening well is seeking to understand and you do this by asking questions. But be intentional with those questions. Seek to gain a better and fuller understanding of what is being shared. State back what you heard and ask if that was correct. Ask about how people felt. Seek to understand what brought the student to this moment. Find out who else was or is involved in this moment. These type of clarifying questions will help you in how you minister to and care for your students.

Utilize leaders.

This is huge because it not only gives students a wider support network but also affirms and values your leaders and their gifting. Bringing in small group leaders to walk with students helps them to build a network of people who will walk with and care for them. If a student is open about a struggle they are dealing with on a continual basis, you have afforded them multiple contacts to reach out to should they need help. This can be a very real life-saving opportunity and it will help to ensure that your students are cared for and have people in their corner. By bringing your leaders in you are also giving a wider ability to offer care and affirming your leaders. You are allowing them to take the leadership role you have entrusted them with and care for their students.

Follow up.

After the initial interaction with a student, make sure to follow up with them. Depending on what is shared will necessitate when the follow up should be (i.e. if it is more severe or life-threatening, the follow up should be fairly quick, whereas a less severe scenario may be in a couple of days or longer). The follow up shows a student that you heard them, love them, and are committed to walking with and helping them. This is an opportunity for you to truly care and engage in the discipleship process with them.

Follow up will look different depending on what was shared but should at the very least involve a text or phone call, but in the best circumstances, should be an in-person meeting to talk, process, and come up with a plan to move forward. This is also an opportunity for you to pray with them, share Scripture, and help them to see things from a biblical perspective.

What has been the best method of caring for students that you have used or implemented?

Motives + Ministry: Asking the Hard Questions

In the realm of ministry, if you’re a leader, you have a following. If you have a following, you have a platform. And if you have a platform, you have power. This can be easily noticed in the era of technology, social media, and constant connection. But if you look back over time, it’s always worked this way. People who are followed, listened to, and emulated always have power.

How we as ministry leaders use the power we possess ultimately comes down to the motives of our hearts. And if we aren’t careful to check our motives, we can easily be swept away in the allure of having a platform, building a following, and achieving our version of success.

None of us is perfect, which is why at times it’s important to ask some difficult questions of ourselves. It’s vital that we check our motives, and realign our desires and priorities with God and his directives. Failure to keep ourselves in check can lead us to a place that might look alluring, but ultimately takes us where we don’t want to go.

Today I want to suggest a few questions to ask yourself, and things to think through as you consider your leadership, your goals and aspirations, and of course, your motives.

Ask: What is my short-term goal, what is my long-term goal, and do they align?

It’s not wrong to set goals for yourself and your life, but I would encourage you to fight to make sure they align with God, his word, and his calling for your life. In whatever you hope to achieve, remember that he is the one who will open doors, provide for you, and lead you to where you should go. Don’t bypass what he has for you or overlook it in pursuit of something you believe to be better. Sometimes the best things he has for us are in the most unlikely places. I encourage you to be present where he has you, and to give your best and your all.

In different seasons of life, you may have different short-term goals. But when you step back and look at your life, what is your over-all, long-term goal? What do you feel God calling you to do with your existence? What do you hope to accomplish with your life? At the end of your days, what would indicate a life well lived? Keep the answer to these questions in mind as you set short-term goals. In the day-to-day it can be easy to be distracted by momentary things, whether fame, financial stability, or experiences. Don’t let short-term goals cloud your vision for your life and calling. Fight to keep the short-term in line with the long-term.

Ask: How am I going about getting to where I want to be?

In a day when it is so easy to build a widespread platform thanks to the connectivity of social networks and the internet, it can almost be an expectation that to be successful in any field you must be an “influencer,” and have an online following. You may have a goal of gaining a certain number of followers on Instagram, or readers on your blog, or subscribers to your YouTube channel. You may feel like this will open doors for you in the future, giving you more notoriety, validity or importance.

While I don’t think there is anything wrong with sharing about God, what he’s teaching you, or what you’re doing in ministry online, I think unchecked it can lead to more. A social media platform can easily go from a way to reach people to a way to use people, leveraging them to get what you want. Things can quickly become less about sharing a message and more about you, the messenger. And in this, your focus can shift from God to yourself.

Whatever your goal, and whatever you’re pursing, be wise in how you get there. Don’t lose yourself, or your pursuit of Christ and his calling, in the process. This brings to mind Jesus’s words in Matthew 16:26 (and if you remember Michael Tait’s stint as a solo artist, the song “Empty), “What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?” Don’t let the things of this world woo you away from your true purpose.

Ask: Who am I trying to emulate?

Is there someone you idolize, whose career you’d like to achieve, or whose leadership style you imitate, who you feel is showing you the way you should go? Is there someone you are trying to be? When it comes to ministry, it can be easy to put other ministry leaders on pedestals, wishing we had their qualities, platforms, possessions, or opportunities. We can even try to become them, imitating what they are doing, how they dress, or their speaking style. While it’s not wrong to appreciate other leaders, left unchecked it can lead to a form of worship.

Besides the obvious issue of idolizing and worshiping a person, pursuing someone else’s life and ministry means ignoring your own. And over time you will miss out on becoming the person God has made you and intended you to be. The best and only person whom you should be trying to emulate is Jesus. He will lead you in the best direction you could ever go, to become the best person and ministry leader you could ever be. Don’t give up the best for a life spent imitating other people.

Ask: Do I have love?

This may sound like an odd question to include with the others, but stick with me. Lots of times when Christians read 1 Corinthians 13, it’s at a wedding, or some other celebration of romantic love. But I think its scope is much more broad, applying also to our lives at leaders and ministers of the Gospel. We can achieve a lot, accomplish important things, do good work, and preach amazing sermons, but absent of love, it all means nothing.

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

1 Corinthians 13:1-3

Absent of love, our efforts are futile. 1 Corinthians 13 verses 4 and following go on to spell out what real love looks like lived out. It manifests Christ-likeness in our lives, shaping us into not only effective ministers of the Gospel, but people who look like Jesus. So as you’re thinking about where you want to go, and working to get there, are you cultivating love in your life? Are you keeping the “main thing” the main thing?

Asking yourself these questions ins’t intended to make you feel bad, or so that you can punish yourself if you get off track. The idea is to build in course-correction, which may become necessary with the passing of time. There is a reason why we find repetition so often in the Bible, and it’s because we are prone to forget. Let us not forget or grow weary of fighting the good fight, it is absolutely worth it.

5 Ways to Vacation Well

For many of us summer is a time for vacation. We anxiously anticipate our time away and the ability to decompress. And we long for time with those closest to us that is uninhibited.

But perhaps you’re like me and you aren’t good at vacationing. Sure, you can get away and make it to your destination. You can post all the amazing photos where you’re smiling and the backgrounds are beautiful. But we know deep down we haven’t truly taken time away; we haven’t truly vacationed. We may have left the physical location of our jobs and ministries, but they have not left us.

What I mean is many of us carry the weight of our ministries, volunteers, students, and more, even as we are on vacation. We check our emails when we think no one is looking. We post on our ministry’s social media. We text and engage with students and church issues throughout our trip.

I don’t think this is born out of any warped theology or perspective, but rather out of a desire to wholly engage with our ministry and calling. We don’t want to disengaging because we feel the weight we carry and we acknowledge that we have a passion and obligation to care for our people. But let me ask you this: at what cost?

If you cannot retreat and refresh you will burn out. If you place the whole weight of your ministry upon yourself, you are arguably forgetting that the ministry doesn’t hinge on you but upon Christ. And if we are not wholly present with our families and those we are called to care for first, we are actually doing more harm than good to ourselves and others. Today, I want to present you with a few tips on how to vacation well and actually step back while you refresh. This may be difficult at first, but trust me when I tell you that it is needed and necessary, especially after this past year.

1. Let people know you’re taking time off.

This is hugely important because communicating that you will be away means you should be receiving less communication. We work in a tech savy ministry, and we are always getting inundated with texts, messages, videos, and memes. None of these are inheritenly wrong or bad, but they are part of our job. If we engage with them, we are missing out on our own time to rest and refresh. So communicate to your students, families, co-workers, supervisors, and the church that you will be away.

This isn’t wrong to do, even though it may feel like it. We may feel like not responding is hurting someone or pushing them further from Jesus. And yes, there will be emergencies when you may need to engage, but it is extremely important to remember that you are not people’s savior. We are simply employees of the Savior. We cannot work ourselves into the mentality that we are the only ones who can help people. But rather we should feel comfortable knowing there are others that God has positioned to help. So breathe easier and release.

2. Set up social media posts ahead of time.

I don’t know if your ministry utilizes social media, but we do a ton. We have a whole social media plan in place for each week. Sundays serve as a day of reminders and updates via video; Mondays are our weekly devotional; Wednesdays serve as a reminder of youth group that night or of events during the summer; and Fridays are our day to engage with our audience. Because there is the pressure to post on social media and continue a rhythm, it is important to schedule these posts ahead of time. That way you do not need to worry about hopping on your laptop or phone for “a few minutes” to post. Instead you can schedule them out so you can be wholly present during your vacation.

There are multiple apps that allow you to cross-post on multiple platforms, and I would encourage you to think through which platforms you need to post on. You truly don’t need to post the same content everywhere, nor do you need to utilize every social media tool that is out there (maybe I’ll write more about how to leverage and choose social media at a later time). What we are doing is simply using Facebook and Instagram and scheduling posts through Facebook’s Business Suite. You can post just to Facebook or Instagram, or you can post to both. And you can also schedule stories as well since that is where students seem to engage the most on Instagram.

3. Turn off notifications to your phone or leave electronics at home.

This is one that may leave you feeling a little anxious, but trust me when I say that this is one of the best things you can do. Turning off notifications for email, social media, calls, and whatever else is work-related will give you a feeling of freedom and rest. It will stop you from thinking about work and all the details and allow you to focus on your time away. This will require a bit of work as you will need to turn off notifications for various apps and functions ahead of time, or another way to work around this is to turn off your phone completely. Doing this will actually be a way of releasing and letting go of an object that arguably has a lot of control and power in our lives. Just as a quick aside, turning on Airplane Mode doesn’t stop notifications because if you connect to Wi-Fi they will still come through.

Another way to engage this is by simply leaving your electronics at home. Leave your laptop, phone, tablet, or whatever else is work-related at home so they are not constantly pinging you with notifications. Now if you can’t leave your phone for various reasons, consider what we said about turning off notifications. And if you need a tablet or laptop, consider doing the same thing as with your phone or having a secondary electronic device that doesn’t have all those apps and functions on it.

4. Turn on out-of-office responses.

This is a pretty easy one, but one we sometimes forget to do. Turn on your “out of the office” response for your email, voicemail, and whatever else is used to contact you. Doing this will allow people to understand why you didn’t respond right away and it will take the pressure off of you so you don’t have to shoot out a quick text, call, or email saying why.

5. Leave work at home.

This is a big one, especially for me. I can turn off notifications and such, but I will often make the excuse that the book or blog or article that I am reading isn’t for work. But I know deep down, it is. If you are going to take time away from work, take time away. Bring books and things to do that will help you refresh in mind, body, and soul. Take items that will rejuvenate you and bring life to you and your relationships. So put down your books on how to be a better communicator, leave behind the blogs on how to engage with students, and instead pick up your Bible or take a book that is nourishing to your soul and engage with them during your vacation.

The whole purpose with this is not to say that work is bad or wrong, but to help us fully get away and rest. If we are not healthy and refreshed we cannot lead well. And it isn’t wrong to engage or respond to a text, but we all know it isn’t a simple response. It is deeper than that because we engage fully with our ministry and our people. A simple text means our minds wander. A response to an email can pull at our hearts and thoughts. A phone call that was to be two minutes can turn into an hour. But it isn’t just those moments; it continues because our minds and hearts will focus on those things and not the rest and refreshment we need. So look to escape and refresh this summer…you deserve it!

Caring for Volunteer Leaders on Trips

Many of us are preparing for summer trips after a year of not having them. You have planned for hours, you’ve prepared your team, hosted trainings, figured out all the details, and now you’re ready to go. But what about your leaders?

Most of us have volunteer leaders who go on trips with us, but how often do you consider blessing and caring for them before, during, and after the trip? Our leaders give up vacation time, finances, time with family, sleep, and much more to engage in these discipleship moments with their students. As the leaders of the ministry we serve in, we have an obligation to care for and bless our people, especially during these moments. So how do we do this well?

Consider covering the cost of the trip for your leaders.

This is something that could be huge in caring for and encouraging your leaders. I know that this may not be an option for all ministries, but I would encourage you to think about implementing this in some capacity. Our leaders already sacrifice so much to come on trips that having them pay for the trip can feel a little insulting. So consider implementing a way to cover some or all of the cost for them.

  • Contact the camp or organization you are partnering with and see if they offer a reduced rate for leaders. Many offer reduced rates and some don’t make leaders pay at all. It never hurts to ask.
  • Consider building the cost of paying for your leaders into your annual budget. If you plan for it ahead of time, you can prepare your budget accordingly. This doesn’t have to be used to cover all of the cost if you aren’t able to, but it could be used to offset the overall cost.
  • Consider breaking down the cost of your leaders into the cost that students pay for the trip. Before doing this, make sure it is okay with your church leadership. Some will not allow this, others may ask you to hold parent forums to explain it, and still others may simply give you the green light.
  • Set up a scholarship fund for your leaders. Do not let this dominate over providing scholarships for your students, but have this as an additional way people in your church could show that they care about pouring into the next generation and the leaders who care for them.

Acknowledge them before others.

I love bragging on my leaders and letting them know how awesome they are. But even more than simply saying it to them, acknowledge them in front of others. Talk about how necessary leaders are to your church body. When a leader does something awesome for their group, recognize that to the group. If they did something to help, acknowledge them before the youth group.

Now I will say be cautious in how you do this. Some leaders do not like to be recognized for various reasons. So do not seek to embarrass them or potentially make them feel put out by doing this. Knowing your people and how to best encourage them will give you clarity in how to proceed in recognizing them.

Keep your leaders in the loop.

This includes before, during, and after the trip. Let them know about key things like schedules, objectives, training, and all other important details to keep them in the loop and not having to rely upon spur of the moment decisions or changes. When you do this, it not only gives them an understanding of what is happening but it also tells them that they are valuable and you see them as equals on this trip. You are elevating them and highlighting how critical they are.

Provide them with an intentional gift.

If I am honest, this is probably one of my favorite things to do for my leaders. I love being able to bless them with a gift before we go on a trip to show them how much they mean to me, our students, and our church. The gifts will largely depend on budget, number of leaders going, and the length and intensity of the trip. Do not feel that the gift must be extravagant or expensive. Instead seek to provide an intentional gift that reflects how much you care about them. If you can tie it into your trip somehow, that’s an added bonus. I also try to find gifts that our leaders can use outside of the trip in everyday life. Here are a few suggestions for gifts to give to your leaders:

  • A backpack or drawstring bag that has your ministry name and/or logo on it. And added plus would be filling it with a handwritten note, snacks, and different “supplies” (see the next point for more info) for the trip.
  • A water bottle or Yeti that features your youth group logo.
  • A nice warm blanket for those winter trips.
  • A nice journal with their name on it and a handwritten note from you on the first page.
  • A hoodie, t-shirt, or zip up jacket. Consider putting a fun saying, your logo, or your leaders’ names on them as well.

Have a leaders-only space or trip survival bags.

Whenever possible, find ways to bless and encourage your leaders throughout the trip. This could be by designating a leader-only space that has comfortable seats and couches, snacks and drinks for leaders only, and has a place for them to just breathe. It could also be by giving them trip survival bags. These are bags with resources to help them get through the trip and can have a mixture of practical, funny, and relational resources. Here is a quick list of some items to put into the bag or have in a leader-only lounge:

  • Chapstick
  • Earplugs
  • Advil, AdvilPM, and Tylenol
  • Candy bars
  • Non-chocolate candies (i.e. Skittles, Starbursts, gummy bears, licorice, etc)
  • Tea and coffee
  • Gatorade or Propel
  • Energy drinks
  • Sleep masks
  • Water bottles
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Airborne
  • Chips and snack mixes
  • Cookies and sandwich crackers

Check in with each leader during the trip.

While you are on the trip, make sure to intentionally connect with each leader and make sure it is more than a 1-2 minute check-in. Carve out time to truly sit and listen to how they are doing, what has gone well, what they need encouragement for, and pray for them. A great way to spend the time is to buy them a cup of coffee and share the time it takes to drink that coffee simply listening to and encouraging them.

Thank their family for letting them come.

This is one you can do before, during, or after the trip or use a combination of these to reach out to families. We don’t often consider the sacrifices our volunteers make so recognizing their families and thanking them for allowing their loved one to come is a big deal. It could be a text or phone call beforehand. It could be a handwritten note. It could be a public thank you before the trip. Maybe it is a text midweek with a photo of their spouse or parent shepherding students and a quick thank-you for letting them care for their students. Or maybe it’s a follow up note after camp talking about how God used them.

Write them a card.

Nothing says “I love you” and “I see you” more than a handwritten card or note. I love to send our leaders to camp with a personalized thank you note because I want them to know how valuable they are. But I would encourage you to consider giving out notes or cards during the trip as well. Highlight how you’ve seen your leaders serve and lead, point out how you have been encouraged by them, and consider giving them a gift card or credit to the snack shop if there is one. I would also suggest writing a follow up card after the trip to each of your leaders thanking them. These types of intentional notes will generate buy-in and commitment to the ministry because your people will see that you are committed to them.