Helping Families Win: Resources [Part 1]

Parents often ask if I have helpful tools and resources for reaching and ministering to their students. Often it revolves around boundaries, discipleship, relationships, depression, sexuality, and technology. But there are many areas that parents, and really most people, feel ill-equipped step into much less lead through.

Today, I want to offer some helpful digital resources for parents that you may be able to share with them or utilize on your own to equip and empower your families. These resources will touch on many topics but should not be seen as a supplement nor a replacement to pastoral shepherding and engagement. They are simply meant to be an additional means of equipping and leading our parents well. Next week, I will share various books that I believe will also be helpful and allow us to step in and minister to parents and their students.

Center for Parent/Youth Understanding (CPYU)

CPYU puts out solid content for families that is designed to not only help them navigate the cultural issues facing students but also to help students grow in their faith and the discipleship process. All of the content that they put out is helpful but there are a few that I want to specifically highlight. Their podcast hits on a wide range of topics that would be helpful for parents to listen to and utilize in caring for their students. This could be something that you as a youth leader listen to and utilize in an equipping way for parents, or simply point parents to. They also have a new feature that they have started during the past year called Family TableTalk Conversations. These are devotionals that have been put together by a wide range of youth workers around the country in an effort to help families have meaningful conversations about faith and application. CPYU also has a Parent Page which is a subscription-based resource that provides a monthly newsletter filled with helpful insight into culture, trends, and the latest happenings in the lives of students. CPYU’s blog also contains resources that are incredibly helpful and provides links to other resources and ministries.

Sexual Integrity Initiative

This is a wonderful resource put together by CPYU and Project Six19 to provide information and resources for parents, youth workers, and educators to help students navigate their sexuality. This is a solid, biblically-grounded resource that deals with current issues students are facing when it comes to sex and sexuality. They provide seminars you can sign up to have at your church or parent meeting, research on a wide range of topics related to students, and lots of resources including trend alerts, suggested reading, media, fact sheets, and much more. This is a must-have website for youth workers and parents, and something I would highly suggest utilizing within your ministry.

Preston Sprinkle

Preston is at the forefront of research into issues on sex, sexuality, gender, and culture and his website offers a plethora of helpful information, insight, research, and perspective. Preston is passionate about researching and understanding issues pertaining specifically to the LGBTQ+ community from a biblical perspective that will bring about thoughtful insight and understanding for those who listen. He specifically brings in people from varied upbringings, backgrounds, and belief systems to help others understand and gracefully respond. His blog and Theology in the Raw podcast are some of the most helpful for anyone, parent or youth worker, who is helping students navigate this often changing conversation.

The Source for Parents

This is a website that was hosted by Jonathan McKee. This past year, Jonathan has taken some time off to focus on personal things, and the site hasn’t been updated recently as a result. However, the content on the website is still solid, applicable, and helpful. Jonathan offers up insight into movies and songs that have come out and couples them with questions and thoughtful conversation starters. The website also hosts a whole section on parenting help and advice, free curriculum to work through, and a youth culture page. These resources still carry helpful insight into how to care for and minister to our students, and I would highly recommend this website and any of Jonathan’s books.

Ministry to Parents

I came across this website a few years back and have been extremely thankful for it. This is a subscription-based company, but they also offer a free blog that has a ton of insight and helpful material. The big win with this website is the content you gain when you sign up and pay for a subscription. They offer subscriptions for both kids and student ministries or a bundle package for both. As a subscriber of the bundle package, I can tell you the resources they put out are so beneficial. They help you in creating newsletters and setting up a web page for the parents in your ministry. They also have games, conversation starters, book reviews, and even curriculum to help your students grow in spiritual maturity throughout their adolescent years. I would highly recommend buying a subscription and fully utilizing this resource.

HomeWord

This is a website that hosts content that has largely been produced or modeled after Dr. Jim Burns and his research. There are many helpful books and articles on his website, and his free blog offers hundreds of articles that are helpful to parents. A quick search for parents will yield a variety of topics and insights that will be beneficial and applicable to families, and there are also articles about culture and latest trends, an entire page devoted to families, and various other topics.

Socially Distanced Game Ideas [Part 2]

A little while ago we shared a post of socially distanced game ideas with the hope that it would help you as you continue to navigate the reality of ministry during this season. As time has gone on, it seems many of us are still in various stages of socially distanced ministry models. Knowing that it can be difficult to craft experiences that are meaningful and fun during this time, we wanted to provide you with a few more game ideas that are socially distanced.

The games below can be shaped to fit any style or size of youth ministry, whether you are doing small groups or your whole youth group gathers together. If you are looking for games that are more for small groups or groups meeting online, I want to encourage you to check out another post we wrote just for that. Before we jump into the games I want to remind you of few quick tips to make these games successful and safe.

  • Smile and have fun. The more excitement and fun you have, the more engaged your group will be.
  • Encourage social distancing. You don’t have to be an enforcer, but helpful and kind reminders will go a long way.
  • Provide hand sanitizer stations. If kids are touching one another or communal objects, have these areas for immediately after.
  • Encourage hand washing. Even with hand sanitizer, it is beneficial to wash often after activities and before eating.
  • Remind everyone about the rules. Whatever rules your state and church are following, make sure to encourage adherence to them for everyone’s safety.

Hula Hoop Rock Paper Scissors

You may have seen this one online as it has recently been making its rounds. The general premise is that you set up a course of Hula Hoops on the ground and have two teams line up and start at opposite ends. On go, the first person in line from each team hops into each Hula Hoop until they come face to face. They then engage in a sudden death Rock, Paper, Scissors battle. The loser returns to their line as the victor continues hopping toward the opposing team. The next person in line can only go once the loser has returned to their team. A winner is crowned when a member of an opposing team reaches the other team’s line.

Nuke ‘Em

This is a game that has been around for a long time, and typically involves a volleyball net or court. If you do not have a volleyball net, a sheet or even a rope stretched across a room will suffice. Divide your group into two teams and place each team on different sides of the net. To play the game, players must throw a ball over the net with the intention of getting other players out by having a player drop the thrown ball, hold it for more than three seconds, or if the ball lands near them. Players should attempt to catch the ball when it comes over the net. Once they catch it they can only hold it for three seconds before throwing it back over the net or passing it to a teammate. You are only allowed to pass the ball twice per volley. The team with no players left is eliminated.

You can add you own variations to this game to make it more challenging like:

  • Players may not move from their spot.
  • Players may only move two steps when holding the ball.
  • Catching the ball one handed allows a player who was eliminated back into the game.
  • Introduce multiple balls into the game.
  • Have a no jumping or no verbal communication rule.

Egg, Chicken, Dinosaur

This is a fun variation of Rock, Paper, Scissors that can be more interactive and definitely a lot funnier. For this game everyone starts off as an egg. And to be the egg you need to bend down and waddle around to find another egg with whom you can play Rock, Paper, Scissors. The winner of that round is whomever has the best two out of three rounds. Once they have won, the victor turns into a chicken and has to move around making wings with their arms and making chicken noises. When they find another chicken, they must engage in another best two out of three round of Rock, Paper, Scissors. The winner then turns into a dinosaur and must act and move around like a T-Rex. Once they encounter another dinosaur they will engage in Rock, Paper, Scissors again. For whomever loses, they can either revert back to the prior stage or go all the way back to an egg. But that decision will be for the game leader to decide.

Relay Races

Relay races can be anything from running through an obstacle course, to finding creative ways to get water into a bucket, to unique ways to accomplish everyday tasks. The reason these are fun and engaging is because it involves teammates completing tasks together and cheering their friends on as they seek to complete to win the game. Even seemingly simple tasks become more fun as you add fun and unique ways of accomplishing the task. Popping balloons seems boring until you tell everyone that they must pop it in a unique way. Getting water into a bucket feels easy until the method of getting water into the bucket is compounded by a cup with a lot of holes being your transportation device. If you are looking for ideas and creative games, this website has many helpful ideas and gives you options to be creative and unique in your game planning.

Pool Noodle Games

Pool noodles give you an easy way to play games with social distancing. But even better than that, pool noodles make any game more fun. Think about it: Duck, Duck, Goose is a children’s game, but the second you add pool noodles in as the method for tagging people it becomes a hysterical game. Think about utilizing pool noodles for any number of games that previously may not have been COVID friendly and now you have many options. There’s pool noodle tag, pool noodle hockey or soccer, pool noodle shark and minnows, pool noodle Jedi Battles, or pool noodle balloon basketball. A quick Google search will also net you multiple options and ideas that you can use based on your location, weather, size of group, and restrictions you have in place.

Simon Says

At first glance you may think that this is too childish of a game for student ministry. But this is a game that can be as much fun as you allow it be. You can have students moving and engaging in a lot of fun tasks that not only get them moving but laughing as well. Think about having them do push ups, run laps around the room, tell a joke to their neighbor, rub their head and pat their stomach, stand completely still, untie and tie their shoes, or whatever else comes to mind. The more engaging and excited you are the more willing they will be to engage and have fun with you.

Youth Group Bingo

This is a fun one that you can customize to your own group. There are multiple sites that you can utilize or if you are familiar with Canva, simply search Bingo and you have multiple pre-made and customizable options to choose from. Some websites will ask for you to sign up and create an account, but they still offer you a free option to create a Bingo card once you do.

The idea with this game is that you think through things that are unique to your gathering and put them in the boxes. This can be leveraged throughout the night and then whomever gets Bingo first has to come find you. Or you can have a certain time the game is active to protect small group time and the discipleship that is happening. Here are some ideas you could have listed:

  • Someone says the name of your program from the stage.
  • You sing a certain song.
  • The speaker says “Um, like, or hmm.”
  • The speaker quotes the Bible.
  • You see your best friend.
  • You brought someone new.
  • You wear the same shirt as someone else.
  • A certain phrase is said (the name of your church, a catch phrase the youth pastor has, or an inside joke to your group).

7 Ways to Encourage Others

This past month the staff at our church was given a challenge: encourage one another. We drew names from a hat and were told to encourage that person for the whole month, and at the end we would reveal who we were encouraging. It was like Secret Santa but in February.

As I reflected on what we were doing, I thought about the practical application this could have within our personal lives and the ministries we lead and serve. Today, I want to offer some ways to think about encouraging others within your spheres of influence. These people could be your volunteers, staff at your church, your neighbors, your spouse, or whomever you choose. This has been, and continues to be for many, a challenging season, and if we apply some of these to our daily rhythms we will encourage, strengthen, and empower those with whom we do life.

1. Write an encouraging note.

This could be as simple as letting someone know that what they have been doing has been noticed, or it could be more personal. The purpose of this is to actually give the person a tangible message. Handwritten notes or letters contain much more meaning than an email or text, and have a way of encouraging people in powerful ways.

2. Leave them their favorite snack.

One of my favorite things to do with my volunteers is find out what their favorite snack item is and then randomly send them that snack or give it to them at a camp or retreat. It sounds simple, but it holds meaning for that person because it shows intentionality and a relational connection.

3. Share an encouraging Scripture.

Sharing a passage of Scripture with someone is hugely encouraging. It can simply be a verse God gave you for that person, a passage to encourage them during whatever season they are going through, or a passage that reminded you of that person. What I would recommend is provide a little rationale with the passage so the person knows why you are leaving it for them.

4. Get students involved.

Encouraging your volunteers, other youth staff, or parents? Don’t forget to get your students involved. They can do something as simple as sending a text or video message to their leaders, or they can create hand-written notes to drop off or mail. Wanting to do a little more? Edit together videos from multiple students and share them with your leaders and staff. Students will remember special moments with their leaders, which can encourage your entire group. Plus fostering a grateful community is always a good idea.

5. Give them a gift card.

This may sound a bit impersonal at first, but let me say this: give someone a gift card to a place they enjoy. For instance, if you have a leader who loves tea, don’t get them a gift card to Starbucks. Consider getting them one to David’s Tea or a local tea shop. If they love online shopping then grab them a gift card to Amazon or their favorite retailer. You could also consider providing a gift card for them to use as a way to take their spouse or significant other out for a date night. The more intentional you are with the destination of the gift card, the more impactful and meaningful it will be. This will mean that you need to know what the person enjoys but as leaders we should be seeking to know our people and find out more about their lives.

6. Take them out.

This is one of my favorite things to do with my volunteers. I love grabbing a cup of coffee or a slice of pizza with my leaders and encouraging them. I always try to pay for them, listen to how they are doing personally and in ministry, and find ways to pray for them. This is a practical and tangible way to care for and encourage your people.

7. Don’t forget important days.

This may seem obvious, but honoring important days is the perfect way to make others feel special and remembered. Whether it’s a birthday, anniversary, or other meaningful milestone, recognizing an important day in the life of others shows that you are paying attention and invested. Set a calendar reminder, or keep a planner where you note these days. Then use one of the suggestions above to celebrate the person, their milestone, and why they are a meaningful part of your life.

How to Co-Lead Well

Many of us have more than one leader working in our student ministries. Whether it is you and your spouse or you have dozens of youth leaders at your disposal, learning how to co-lead is highly important. In many of our ministry settings we must have two leaders for accountability and legal purposes. Whatever the reason may be that you have multiple leaders, co-leading (leading with another leader) is something we must learn to do well in order to have a successful ministry.

In order to lead well with another person, there are certain aspects that we need to consider and implement. Today, we want to examine a few of those and hopefully give you relevant and helpful ways to lead well together.

Communication

Part of leading well with others involves communication. Whether you are talking with your co-leader for a small group or the three others who are helping facilitate your gathering, communication will help everyone be on the same page, it will instill value and worth, and it will help everyone lead better. So communicate with one another before the program or group time. Communicate about where you see the discussion going, communicate about arrival times, or even about conversations you have had with the students in your group. The more communication there is, the better off you all will be as leaders because it helps you work as a team.

Game Plan Together

Another aspect of communication is planning with one another. As you lead with others you should work collectively to come up with a plan as to how you see things going. This could involve who will handle what aspects of a small or large group, it could involve who will facilitate discussion, or it could even be who will speak with a student about what they shared or did. Game planning together will bring a cohesiveness to your group and allow for all leaders to have a role in what is happening. Planning together will allow for each leader to feel validated and provide everyone with a clear direction for your group.

Know Your Strengths and Weaknesses

Working with others can be challenging at times and I believe part of this is because of our own weaknesses and strengths. Where we have a strength we see other’s weaknesses, and where we have a weakness we become frustrated or bitter because of someone else’s strengths. But that shouldn’t be our focus. Instead of fixating on how great we are or where there are missteps, we should look at what each person brings to the table and use them to collectively help our students grow. A weakness is only a weakness if we allow it to be. If you struggle with asking open ended questions but your co-leader excels at it, don’t get upset they are asking the questions. Maybe lean into your strength which could be one-on-one discipleship. Both are valid and beneficial, and when used together by a team it brings greatness to what you are doing. So communicate about your strengths and weaknesses with your co-leader(s) and look for ways to excel together.

Be for One Another

This is something that we all need to be mindful of, especially as we lead together. Leaders may not always agree, but it is important to show unity. It is important to not chop someone at the knees if they misspeak about a passage of Scripture and it is equally important to not bad mouth your co-leader if they are late to group. Speaking positively about other leaders not only instills confidence in your students for their leaders, it also allows you and your co-leader to grow closer together. This isn’t dismissing behavior that is problematic but instead allowing for you two to be for one another and supportive of each other. If a problem does arise, the best way to handle it is away from the students.

Be Honest with Each Other

Being honest is hugely important when it comes to leading with others. In both good and difficult times, honesty will help your relationship with your fellow leaders. If you are frustrated by something that happened, share it in love and look to be honest about the situation. If you need help or are running late, be honest about it. Be honest if you weren’t able to prepare as much as you would have liked. This allows for transparency and opportunities for growth and for truth to be spoken. It will also allow for frustrations to be alleviated and for you relationship to be built upon trust.

Helping Families Win: Family Devotions

A new series we will be talking about periodically is called Helping Families Win. Part of our role in leading students includes shepherding families and helping them succeed as they seek to follow Jesus. This series will look at proactive ways we can challenge, encourage, and guide families in helpful ways as they pursue godly living. Today we are going to look at helping families engage in devotions together.

Finding time to be in God’s Word can be difficult for anyone. I think if we were honest with ourselves we would acknowledge that there are seasons when it is difficult for us as adults to spend time investing in our relationship with Jesus. Work, family, stuff at home, yard work, play-dates, being a chauffeur, and trying to get adequate rest seem to overwhelm all hours of our days. Even in this new season of life where many of us are at home and being forced to slow down, we may not have been able to engage as much as we would have liked in our spiritual walk.

It is no secret that our growth as a Christ follower is intrinsically dependent upon how much time we spend in community with Jesus. But what we don’t always realize is that our students see how we engage in our relationship with Jesus and it directly effects how they engage in their relationship with Him. Our students should witness us modeling a relationship with Jesus in how we act and speak, how often we read our Bibles, and by how we allow the truth of the Gospel to permeate our lives.

We also need to model studying God’s Word with our students to help them engage in God’s Word and apply it to their lives. But there is a big question surrounding that: How do we do that, and how do we do it well?

One way to do this would be to actively encourage families to engage in regular family devotions together and leverage it as an opportunity to draw closer together with each other and Jesus. Family devotions do not need to be every day, they don’t have to be boring or childish, and they certainly do not need to be hours long. But they should allow for thoughtful conversation, opportunities for everyone to share and lead, and time of just being loved and supported by those closest to you.

What I would like to do today is offer some helpful tools, resources, and methods for doing devotions as a family that you can apply to your own family and share with families within your ministry.

>> An easy way to encourage families to step into doing devotions is to simply text a devotion out to their family each day. For families who haven’t done devotions together before, this is an easy first step for them to try it out. In fact here are two pre-made texting devotional s you can use: Text Through the Bible and Textable Devotions. As you think through how to apply and use these, I want to offer a couple of suggestions:

  • If you are not currently doing family devotions, start small. Text these out each day and then choose one day a week to talk through them as a family. Try to keep it to a half hour to start, and then see if it develops into something bigger.
  • If you are doing family devotions or have done them, try to incorporate more times that you meet as a family. Try for 2-3 times a week but still keep it roughly half an hour to start and build on it from there.

>> Another great resource is this video by Parent Ministry that gives insight into how to help your students engage in God’s Word and develop healthy spiritual rhythms. It is a quick clip but dripping with truth and helpful ideas.

>> David R. Smith wrote an article on enhancing in-home devotions and he offers some very helpful tools and tips, as well as some resources for you and your family.

>> As families begin to pursue more intentional and engaging opportunities together, it is helpful to give them ways and methods for studying the Bible. We shouldn’t assume everyone knows how to do this, so giving resources and ideas on how to study the Bible will be helpful. A few Bible study methods that I find helpful are the O.I.A. Method, the Discovery Bible Study Method, and the SOAP Method. These three methods offer helpful ways to engage with Scripture and help families know how to ask questions as well.

>> Other helpful digital resources include biblegateway.com, www.bible.com, www.openbible.info/topics/, net.bible.org, and www.blueletterbible.org. These websites not only host the Bible in digital formats, but they also have additional resources like commentaries, Bible studies, cross references, maps, and much more. These are helpful in giving parents and families a more in-depth look at God’s Word and helpful insight for answering any questions that develop. It is also important to remember while we may think everyone knows about these websites, that isn’t the case. Families don’t always know about resources or which ones to trust, and by simply recommending them, we are helping share beneficial resources for their family.

Being intentional and pouring into the spiritual growth and development of your family is a priority that we must be running after. My prayer for you is that these resources help you and your family deepen your walk with Jesus, and that we develop families of disciplemakers who are radically changing the world for Jesus.

5 Ways to Develop Volunteers

Whether we oversee a small youth group or one that attracts hundreds of students, we can all agree that having volunteers is essential. Spiritually mature, veteran youth leaders are appealing, and I think at times we wish all of our leaders were like that. But rarely will that be the case. We will always have young or new youth leaders step in to serve, which is a good thing. What we need to think through is how to help develop our young leaders into mature, veteran leaders. Some may get there of their own accord, but it is our responsibility as ministry leaders and shepherds to help them grow and develop. So what are some ways we can do this?

1. Meet with your volunteers.

Regardless of the size of your program, I would encourage you to know your leaders personally by meeting with them. Part of helping leaders develop and grow means establishing a relationship that will allow them to know you and your heart for the ministry. These don’t have to be super formal or exceptionally long meetings, but they do need to be personal, intentional, and formational. I love meeting with leaders for coffee or lunch, or having them over for dinner and games at my home. During these times we build our relationship, talk about how they are doing, share prayer requests, ask about their experience with the student ministry, and share life together. Sometimes these meetings involve talking about difficult topics or challenging leaders to grow, but often those conversations are easier than most because we have already built relational equity and established trust. Meeting with your leaders will help them grow, know they are loved, and refresh them as they guide students under your leadership.

2. Cast vision well.

Vision-casting is a big part of developing leaders. There are some volunteers who can come, have fun with the students, and lead small groups amazingly well. But if we are not sharing the “why” and the purpose of what we are doing, it’s easy to lose focus. Volunteers will lead differently, the focus of small groups may not be consistent, and messages and guidance will vary. As the shepherd of your leaders, it is imperative to talk about the purpose and vision for what you are doing, which gives everyone the same perspective and target to pursue. Doing this will bring unity and passion to your leaders who will then impart that to the students they are interacting with, and it will provide consistency on all fronts.

3. Give volunteers responsibility and ownership.

Leaders volunteer because they love what they are doing, and have something they can bring to the table. It’s important to identify where they are gifted and allow them to have more responsibility. If you have a leader who loves to sing and lead worship, consider asking them to form a youth worship team. If you have a leader who is passionate about speaking on a certain topic, build that into your teaching calendar and allow them to speak. Should a leader have an idea for how to improve the ministry, ask them to share their heart and consider implementing it with them. When you release ownership and empower your leaders with responsibility, you will see the ministry grow and flourish, and you will experience exponential buy-in from them. They will know you trust them with ownership and it releases you from having to do everything or be the only face of the ministry.

4. Recognize and challenge them.

This is something that I think we can always work toward doing better. All of us know that without our volunteers we wouldn’t have an effective ministry, but how often do we tell them that? Do you thank them for coming each week? Do you recognize and affirm them when you see them shepherd students well? Are you sending them a note to thank them for loving students even when it’s hard? We must be leaders who value and love our volunteers, and a tangible way of doing that is by recognizing them for both things we may consider great and small. It shows our leaders that they matter and that we see them and what they are doing.

We need to challenge our leaders as well. There will be times we need to gently remind or encourage our volunteers to lead. There are going to be moments when we need to speak direct truth and challenge them to grow. And we may need to speak with them about mistakes they made and help them right what went wrong.

Both encouraging and challenging your volunteers should be born out of love and a desire for them to succeed and grow as they lead in the ministry. That means these conversations are built upon a loving relationship and they know you truly care about and want the best for them. I would also encourage you to follow up on these conversations as well. Don’t simply look for a one-off chat, instead look to use these moments for ongoing leadership development.

5. Listen to your volunteers.

This is one of the biggest things you can do as the leader of your ministry. The reality is everyone has an opinion and not all of them are helpful. I think if we are honest with ourselves, hearing new ideas or critiques can be hard in the context of ministry. We have poured our hearts, souls, lives, and much more into not just a career but a calling. And because of that we take it personally when someone speaks about doing things differently. But if you have been faithfully seeking to meet with and empower your leaders, they will believe in what you are doing and will offer helpful suggestions and ideas.

A good leader listens to their people because they bring ideas and changes with the same passions and desires they see in you. They aren’t coming to cast your ideas to the side but offering new and creative ways to do things. That means they believe in what you are doing, and they are also doing what you brought them in to do: lead. They see ways to not dismantle the program but help it grow and develop. Listen to their insight, challenge them to think about implementation, give affirmation, look to apply what they said, and allow them to be the ones who lead out with their ideas.

Leading Students Well in Chaotic Times

This past week we saw something unprecedented in modern times: the US Capital was marched upon and breached. It was a moment that as I watched it unfold brought me back to the moment I saw the Twin Towers struck in New York and then collapse on September 11. The pain, hurt, grief, frustration, and brokenness I felt made my soul weary and longing for the return of our true Savior.

But as I sat and pondered the events of this past week and scrolled through social media, I saw how my students were reacting. Their reactions varied and ranged across the political landscape, but what struck me so deeply was the level of engagement and reaction they displayed. The last year has been nothing short of difficult for our students. They have faced a global pandemic, figured out how to engage with online education, struggled with loss of income, wrestled with racial equality, and still attempted to navigate the normal difficulties of teenage life.

Students are struggling right now, and we as their pastors and leaders must give them the space and place to process, engage, and respond. They are asking deep and meaningful questions, they are searching for answers, they want to understand, and are seeking clarity, wisdom, and knowledge. The reality is we are all processing and hurting, but as leaders we have an obligation to lead out and shepherd our people well. We must be a voice for truth, a listening ear, a shoulder to cry on, and a reflection of Jesus to our students. Today, I want to offer some steps you can take to engage well with your students as they are working through the realities and difficulties of our world.

Be approachable.

In order for us to have these conversations, students most know that they can approach us about these issues. Students will wrestle with various topics and issues, but they won’t always be willing to share them with you if they do not think you can be trusted. It’s imperative to be someone who shows they can be trusted and someone who will listen and be available.

Create the space for conversations.

This goes hand-in-hand with being approachable, but it takes it a step further. Be someone who not only allows conversations to happen, but also engages in them. Don’t shy away from talking about heavy, difficult, or deep topics. Embrace the conversation and engage with your students. In doing so, you are creating a place for students to be real and honest about what they are thinking and processing. Students need to understand that you are willing to talk about things and when they bring their thoughts to you, that you are going to listen and walk through it with them.

Listen well.

Speaking of listening, we need to be leaders who listen well. Often as leaders we tend to want to fix problems as they are presented to us. This means that while students are sharing their problems with us, we are not listening to them fully because we are already figuring out how to fix their problem. This type of listening is often called “Passive Listening” and honestly isn’t really listening. It actually devalues the speaker because you aren’t giving them the forum to truly share and be heard. What I would suggest is something called “Attentive Listening” which you can read about further in this book by Charles Allen Kollar. Kollar’s suggestion of “Attentive Listening” means that you are listening in a careful and alert way and bringing in the beneficial aspects of passive and active listening. You speak back words, phrases, or paraphrases to the speaker and you help them think through solutions after they have finished speaking.

Listening well means you don’t just look at the problem and the solution, but you value the person and you show them they have been fully heard. Students want to be listened to and valued, and allowing them to share and be heard will build mutual trust and respect.

Do not be dismissive.

There are times in many of our lives where we may be dismissive of someone and their ideas, beliefs, or ideologies, whether we meant to or not. It could be because we scoff at the idea that is presented. We respond sarcastically. We try to flaunt our own knowledge. We could say it is a non-issue. We tell people that this is just how it is. When we do this to anyone or when it is done to us, we feel dismissed and diminished. We feel dumb, ignored, and cast to the side.

Students are so aware of when this happens, and when it does they shut down, refuse to engage, and frankly they stop trusting you as a safe person. I am not saying that we need to have an open theology or hedge on our doctrinal convictions. But I do believe we need to allow students to present what they are thinking and why, and then walk through a thoughtful and biblical response with them. Bring them into the process, value their time, hear their heart and thoughts, and challenge them to grow.

I would also encourage you to not allow for lack of time to keep you from engaging with students. Sometimes we can be dismissive because when students ask a question or challenge what is being said, it isn’t an opportune time to respond (i.e. while you are teaching). So instead of just telling them to be quiet, ask them if you could take them out for coffee later and discuss further. And then make sure you follow through.

Be willing to hear both sides.

Throughout 2020, politics and the surrounding topics littered our conversations, and an observation I saw was how divided the lines were. It wasn’t just generational either, although that was a big piece, it was more partisan in its divide. And people on either side were unwilling to hear the other side or even consider what they were saying.

Often this happens within ministries as well. We simply stick to our views and theologies rather than give other views a honest consideration. Let me explain it this way: you may hold to a literal seven day view of creation, but a student holds to an old earth view that includes a non-literal view of the creation account. How do you respond? Do you make a firm stance on your theological hill? Do you tell the student they are wrong? Do you allow them to share their thoughts and ask to grab coffee and study the topic together?

We can tend to hold onto our theologies, dogmas, and personal beliefs so closely that we close off any other views or insight. It is so important to not live in a one-sided bubble but to be listening to other thoughts and viewpoints even if we don’t believe or agree with them. Doing so will not only allow us to grow and have a deeper foundation of our own beliefs, but value students and their insights as well. It will also open doors to build bridges between differing view points or “sides.”

Admit when you are wrong, don’t know, or need to search for info.

I am not the brightest bulb in the socket and I know it. In fact, at our church there are many staff members who are much smarter than I am. And working in student ministry has shown me how important it is to have a grasp on wide variety of topics and what the Bible says about them. But there are a great many topics I don’t know about and questions I don’t have an answer for.

In light of that, it is so important to admit when you don’t know and let students know that. But don’t simply say you don’t know, let them know you will look for answers and get back to them. My line has always been, “I don’t know, but I am going to ask George” (our senior pastor). And I do, and will typically get 3-5 books to read through. But then I bring the student into the study and we look at it together. I also would encourage you that if you are wrong in something you said, admit it. It is incredibly humbling, but man is it a great way to lead from a place of humble servant leadership. Students will see that you aren’t perfect, but in seeing that they will respect you all the more for leading outward and upward.

Seek understanding and clarity for where others are coming from.

Sometimes students just like to be contrarian and other times they are asking questions or disagreeing because of something that happened in their lives or because of what they have been told. Don’t assume you know why a student disagrees or that you know why they are challenging you. Be willing to dig deeper and find out why a student believes what they do. I asked a student one time why they didn’t believe in hell thinking it was because they thought since God was love everyone would go to heaven. But I found out it was because a grandparent had passed away who wasn’t a believer and they didn’t want to think they would lose them forever.

That understanding changed my whole approach to how I engaged with them and my responses to their questions and thoughts. When we pause and truly listen, when we ask questions, and when we dig deeper, it will allow us to better understand our students and better serve them.

Be willing to change your views.

This is a tough one, and to be honest, I hesitated even putting this in because I know it will ruffle feathers. We tend to have our views and theologies and we hold to them firmly. But if I can take a moment and ask a question: what if our theologies were perhaps incorrect or not fully informed? Should we not think about a new approach? And even if they are correct, shouldn’t we be willing to hear arguments against them and think critically about what we believe and why we believe it?

I share this because I often see students having differing views than their leaders, parents, and older generations and that is a good thing! They should be exploring and asking questions. They should be pushing on the status quo. And they should be asking “why” questions. This allows them to think critically and formulate a deeply personal relationship with Jesus. But if we only respond out of fear or frustration or from a viewpoint of “this is how it always has been,” students will stop engaging with us because they do not see you as a safe person and thereby will not trust you.

So should you hear a viewpoint different from yours, be willing to hear what is said and truly consider it. Be willing to consider you may not have it all figured out and that perhaps. just perhaps, the idea a student shares is accurate and correct. I am not saying capitulate on doctrine, but be willing to think critically about personal convictions, political beliefs, and denominational viewpoints.

Seven Ways to Help Yourself Grow in 2021

As we enter into a new year it’s an appropriate time to intentionally think through ways we can grow and develop. The only way we can continue to pour out and into others is by making sure we are being poured into and growing. I will be honest with you, this wasn’t always something I was focused on, especially early on in ministry, which led to burnout and bitterness toward the church and others. As I continued to serve in ministry, I realized how essential it is to make sure that I was growing and developing personally so I could lead and care for others. Today I want to share some proactive ways to help yourself grow and become a better leader.

1. Spend intentional time with Jesus.

This one seems pretty obvious, but I think ministry leaders can tend to forsake their time with Jesus because it seems we are constantly spending time with Him as we serve. But those times of study and preparation do not always aid our own individual growth. As followers of Jesus we must be intentional with carving out time to personally spend with Him. As we do this, we will be refreshed, challenged, and stretched in our faith which will give us fresh opportunities to lead out and pour into others. Self-care must start with our relationship with Jesus because that will directly impact every part of our lives.

2. Focus on healthy decompression.

Let’s be real: ministry can suck sometimes. It can be weighty, heart-wrenching, hurtful, challenging, and so much more. For many of us, we can carry this weight even after we leave the office because we empathize and sympathize so deeply with our people. But the problem with that is we often do not know how to release and decompress. I want to encourage you to find healthy ways to decompress and allow yourself to breathe and move forward. You are not dismissing the difficult moments or the pain of those you care for, but instead allowing your heart and soul to heal and refresh.

Decompression can look different from person to person, but we each know what we need and what brings us relief. It may be taking a day away from technology, or a weekend retreat, it could be reading a non-ministry related book, it could be fishing, or it could be binge-watching your favorite shows or movies. Whatever decompression looks like for you, make sure you are utilizing it. Decompression allows you to rest and catch your breath, and it gives you opportunities to relax and heal.

3. Take and honor time off.

Time for full transparency: I suck at this one. I am someone who was a workaholic and I can easily fall back into that model. Over time I have gotten better at actually utilizing my days off during the week but I am not great about using my vacation time. But this is something we all need to do. Jesus even carved out time during His earthly ministry to get away from everything, and in the creation account God set aside an entire day for rest. I wrote recently about Sabbath and honoring it, but we need to take this even further and utilize the time we are blessed with to rest, refresh, and refocus. No one is meant to work every hour of every day. So make sure you set healthy parameters for when you are and are not working, honor your days off, and use your vacation time.

4. Be willing to try something new.

Sometimes we get stuck doing the same things because we have always done them. This can be true in our personal lives and in our ministries. So be willing to try something new this year. Step out and push yourself to engage with life in new and creative ways. Perhaps you could pick up a new hobby or skill, maybe it is being willing to explore or to travel, or it could be as simple as building or growing a relationship with someone in your life.

With everything changing due to COVID-19, now is an amazing time to start something new in your ministry. You could implement a leadership time, you could challenge your students to engage with a daily Bible study, you could find new ways to minister to and engage with parents, or you could completely switch up how you do programming. Doing something new will bring about fresh change and a renewed perspective on how and why you are doing things.

5. Find a mentor.

One of the best things for your personal growth and development is to find someone who can speak into your life and ministry as a mentor. A mentor is more than a friend, they are someone who knows you and is willing to speak truth into your life in an effort to challenge, encourage, and stretch you. I highly recommend finding someone who is older and has a heart for or history in ministry to walk with you. This will give you opportunities to share, decompress, grow, and be encouraged throughout your life. A good mentor will not simply encourage you or tell you what you want to hear, but will directly challenge and push you by speaking truth and helping you to be stretched in all aspects of your life.

6. Be wholly present wherever you are.

One of the greatest ways you could grow this year is by being wholly present in every circumstance in which you find yourself. It is easy for many of us, myself included, to allow our minds to wander during conversations or meetings. But if we were to commit to being wholly present we would see some amazing changes. We would see relationships strengthened, a greater ability to contribute, we would remember more, and we would be able to relate better to and walk with those in our lives. Being wholly present allows you to fully appreciate where God has called and placed you, and it also brings value and authenticity to all your relationships.

7. Find something that is not ministry-related to enjoy.

This is similar to decompression in that it could be a way you decompress, but it doesn’t have to be something you use all the time for decompression. Often we surround ourselves with our ministry and its components, which isn’t a bad thing, but that doesn’t afford us the opportunity to rest and enjoy other aspects of our lives, or look at things from another perspective. Ministry is our calling but it isn’t our identity. Christ is. So everything we do, whether ministry or otherwise, should be Christ-centered.

One of the greatest things you could do for your growth is to find something outside of ministry which affords you the opportunity to live for Jesus in situations you may not have before. This could be as simple as being a coach for your child’s sports team, joining a softball league, grabbing wings with your neighbors, hosting a book club, or playing golf with some friends. Prayerfully these will afford you opportunities to be around those who may not know Jesus and also give you insight into how people are doing outside of the scope of traditional ministry.

Ministry Ideas During Lockdown: Subscription Boxes

At one point or another we have all heard about a subscription box. Whether it was on social media and we saw an add for a coffee subscription or for a candy from around the world box, we all know the general idea. Typically you sign up at a reduced fee and choose how often you would like to receive a box full of goodies from a specific company.

Today I want to talk about how we can incorporate this idea into our student ministry program. With many ministries once again being relegated to an online format, this can serve as a new and exciting way to engage your students outside of the “normal” Zoom meetings. I want to share with you some ideas and considerations as we think through how to implement the idea of a subscription box into our ministries.

Purpose

As you get ready to send these out, consider what your purpose is for these boxes. Is it simply a way to encourage your students and have fun? Or is this a way to encourage your students and challenge them to grow in their faith? I would highly recommend that these boxes don’t just contain fun elements but that there is a way to encourage and challenge students to grow in their faith. An easy way to do this is to send along a Bible study that everyone who receives the box is expected to do. Last week we shared some ideas and resources for easy and ready-to-use studies. You can also let them know that you will have a group time for follow up and discussion on the Bible study.

Frequency

Should you send a box weekly or monthly? This will largely be based upon budget and this will then shape what you include in your boxes. Monthly seems to make more sense due to cost, but weekly gives you more connectivity with your students. This is something you should think through before sending your first box, and I would encourage you regardless of your decision to stick with it. Don’t jump from monthly to weekly or vice versa because it will cause disruption for your students and families. Pick one option and stay with it.

Paid vs. Free

Typically subscription boxes are not free, but as we think about our students this may be an important option. Your budget and intended recipients will dictate how you offer the subscription. I would highly encourage you to consider offering these for free. I know that budgets are being restricted for ministries everywhere, but household budgets are also reducing. This would be an amazing opportunity to offer something to students for free that helps to encourage them in their faith and know they are loved and valued.

If you do not have the budget for sending these out for free, consider trying to offset the cost however possible. Whether it is by doing a lot of the prep in-house or by putting some of your budget toward the cost. These boxes do not need to compete with the scale of the ones we see on Facebook, and truly they are designed to simply encourage and challenge your students. So think about sending handwritten or notes created for free on sites like Canva, instead of getting ones done at Staples. Utilize gifts from within your ministry or the church in each box to offset cost. Things like this will help to minimize the cost and bring a smile to the face of your students. I would also encourage you to make sure that no student is excluded due to cost. If you know there are students who can’t afford to sign up, consider adding a scholarship for them in some way. Whether you ask church members to help, you use part of your budget, or you partially scholarship them, this will be a way to make sure everyone can participate.

True Subscription vs. Automatic Delivery

When it comes to subscription boxes, people need to sign up in order to receive one. You could consider doing this within your ministry but you should probably acknowledge that not everyone will sign up. Whether you offer a paid or free option, consider sending out the first box “on you” to all of your students. If you are asking for students to pay, cover the cost for the first one and include a note asking people to subscribe because you believe it will encourage them and help them grow in their faith. Then you can include a price for them as well and a way to sign up.

If you are going to cover the cost regardless, consider still having a sign up and encouraging students through a note on the box to do so. Give them a few easy steps for signing up and allow them to take the initiative and generate buy-in to this new option.

Mail vs. In-Person Delivery

When thinking about how to deliver these boxes, think through dropping them off in person or mailing them. Everyone loves personalized mail, but it may cost you a significant amount and with the delays happening due to COVID-19, you are not guaranteed that it will arrive on time.

A great option is delivering these boxes to your students in person. Whether you deliver them all, or your leaders jump in to help, this will be an added blessing to your students because they get to see you and have an interaction. It may be with masks and socially distanced, but you still get that time to say hello and tell them about the box and how you hope they will join you in this.

What to Include

This is where it gets fun! These boxes should be focused on encouragement, spiritual growth, personal connection, and fun. When you incorporate these elements, the ideas are endless for what you can include. I would highly recommend being intentional with what you put in each box. Here are some ideas:

  • A personal note. Use the note to encourage the student you are writing to. Let them know you miss them and can’t wait to see them. Also, explain the items in the box and the function for the Bible study should it be included.
  • Snacks. An easy way to a student’s heart is through food. Buy a few twelve packs of soda and put a can in each box. Purchase some individual bags of chips for everyone, or buy larger bags at your local dollar store. Throw in some small pieces of candy or a single full size bar. A granola bar and fruit snacks are also great options. A bottle of water or a reusable water bottle is also a great option.
  • A pen. If you are encouraging students to participate in a Bible study, put a pen in the box to help encourage them to do it. If you have pens that are branded with your student ministry name or logo, throw those in. Or buy some fun ones at the Dollar Store or in the Target bins at the front of the store.
  • A notebook or journal. These are a great way to encourage students to write their notes from the study, journal their prayer requests, or just write about what is happening in their lives. These could easily be ones you have on hand with your logo already on them, or a spiral bound notebook you picked up at Staples. The nicer they are the better, but take cost into consideration.
  • Filler. This may seem kind of simple, but part of the fun of getting a gift is opening it and finding what is inside. So consider shredding a bunch of different color paper and using that as an easy but fun filler within the box that will help it look nice and complete.
  • A schedule. This will serve as a helpful reminder for students about when the boxes will come and when you will do your discussion of the study.

Follow Up

This is the big piece to these boxes. Follow-up includes making sure that students received their boxes, it is encouraging them to do the study, and it is actually hosting a meet-up to talk through the study in the box. Hosting a meeting whether digitally or in person will allow you to connect with your students, help them grow in their faith, and give you insight into how they are doing. I would encourage you to lead the first one or two meetings, but then allow students to step up and lead as well. This will give them ownership and a desire to be more invested in the studies you are sending out, as well as helping them grow as leaders. A fun way to see who will be leading next is by throwing in a special note or item in a student’s box that says they will be leading for this week or month.

Ministry Ideas During Lockdown: Bible Studies

As many states continue to enforce stricter protocols while COVID-19 cases rise, ministries must continue to adapt and look for ways to care for their people. A huge part of what we do as student ministers and leaders is discipleship and helping our students continue to grow in their knowledge and love of God’s Word. But the question is: how do we do that well? Or perhaps you are asking: should we do this on Zoom or another digital platform? Today I’d like to offer a couple of ways we can continue to help our students grow through Bible studies during this time. At the end of the post I’ll share some of my favorite places to find studies that are both free and paid.

Mailed Bible Studies

This option allows for you as the youth leader to put together a Bible study packet that you can mail, email, or drop off to each of your students. Your method of delivery may vary depending on restrictions in your area, how many students you have, and your optimal communication methods overall. However you get it into their hands, make sure it has a few key items.

  • The Bible study itself. If it doesn’t have questions with the Bible study, consider adding some open ended questions of your own instead of just asking your students to write down their thoughts. This will generate more organic and thought-provoking content.
  • Directions. This is an important part. Sometimes we need to give our students a little extra guidance on how to move through the study. This is especially important to remember because all of your students may not know how to actually study the Bible personally.
  • A pen. This may seem silly at first, but the fact that you are giving them a pen means there is an expectation. You want them to not just read the study but to engage with it. You are challenging them to truly invest in God’s Word and understand it’s truth.

We also need to make sure that we cast vision for our Bible studies. If you just send one out to your students with no premise they are less likely to jump on board than if you had communicated the plan and the heart behind it. Consider texting your students about what you are doing and why you want to do it. Then make sure to invite them into the study with you and ask them if they would like to do it. In doing this you are creating buy-in and helping them to see that you value them and want them to be a part of this journey. Cast the vision and desire for the study in your communication. Let them know why you are doing it, and also clearly communicate the format of the study. Is it daily, weekly, or monthly? Are you doing the study together or is the expectation they do it and then there is a conversation about it? Thinking through these questions will help ensure a successful time of growth and conversation with your students.

The next thing to think through is engagement. You must make sure to engage and encourage your students as you do the study together. Send out texts asking how they are doing with the study or if they have any questions. This will serve as a subtle reminder but also as a way of helping them in the study. Make sure to let them know it is okay if they miss a day or two. It isn’t the end of the world if they fall behind and they shouldn’t be kicked out of the study. Life gets busy for all of us and that shouldn’t count against them.

Lastly, we need to consider the interactive piece. Much of this depends on where you live and what types of gatherings you can have. Below, I go into a little more detail about digital engagement, so here I want to talk about in-person interaction. Consider gathering at your church, a local coffee shop, or at a local community hang out spot and talk through what you have studied. You may need to have multiple meetings depending on the limits on gathering where you live, and this would be a great opportunity to allow your leaders to step up and serve in a new leadership capacity so you aren’t the only one running all the meetings. Whenever I do Bible studies or discipleship in this manner, I don’t work through all the questions but rather pick and choose which I think will drive more engagement and deeper discussion. Doing it in this manner allows for flexibility and freedom when moving through the conversation. Also, make sure your students know that they are expected to engage during this time and a simple “yes, no, or I dunno know” doesn’t count. Everyone doesn’t need deep answers but everyone does need to participate.

Digital Bible Studies

In this method I would recommend following all the steps above except the in-person meetings. Instead, add an interactive online piece in place of in-person time together. A key piece I would highly recommend doing (if you are able in your area) is dropping off the Bible study in person. Even if you cannot meet in-person for the study, consider dropping off the materials and maybe a small “study package” for each student. As a way of encouraging them, include a can of soda, some snacks, a handwritten note, a small notebook, and few other small items to begin the study with you.

If you are like me, you have probably seen a drop off in numbers whenever you switch to an online youth meeting. I believe the reason for that is students (and honestly all of us) are experiencing “Zoom fatigue.” Students are drained from all the online content and having to see themselves and their peers on screens for hours on end with no break. They are constantly analyzing and thinking about how they look, how they are perceived, and how they are being judged. So with all of that at play, how do we make this work?

First, you must make sure that your level of excitement and buy-in is clear. Students know if you want to do something or if you are passionate about it. If you seem down or upset that you can’t meet in person, they will feed off of that. So make sure you let them know you are in this with them and excited to grow together.

You also need to set clear expectations with this. Make sure your students know what you desire of them for this study and what they are committing to, but also clearly communicate what the expectations are when you meet digitally. Do they need to have the camera on? Do they need to share? Will there be group conversation? Are they expected to be at each meeting? Providing this information ahead of time will allow them to know what they are committing to.

It’s also important to send out encouragement to your students. Whether this is through a phone call, a group or individual text, an email, or a handwritten postcard, make sure you are reaching out to them so they know you are invested and care about them. I would say that the more personal you can make the encouragement, the more buy-in you will receive. Digital meetings can feel impersonal, so personal engagement and encouragement will help your meetings succeed.

Make sure that your time together isn’t just the study. Utilize your time to engage with one another. Check in with your students. Ask them how they are doing, how has their week been, what was one good thing and one hard thing that happened. Consider playing a game with them (you can find some easy small group game ideas here). This will help open up communication and allow everyone to relax.

Finally, make time spent in the study engaging. Try to get everyone participating, whether that is by you asking everyone for an answer or if it is by rotating around the “room” for each question. I would also recommend allowing one of your students to run the meeting time each week. This will allow your students to engage and participate more, and ultimately it will help to foster a family type environment where people feel loved and valued.

A few helpful places to gain some easy and ready to use Bible studies include LeaderTreks, Download Youth Ministry (make sure to select small groups on the filter category), and She Reads Truth and He Reads Truth (both sites having reading plans as well that are free for girls and guys).