What are You Teaching: Spiritual Rhythms

One of the questions I get asked frequently is, “What are you teaching students?” Whether it’s parents, church leaders, other student workers, or even students themselves, it seems at some point everyone is curious about what is being taught. This week I’m starting a new series we are calling “What are You Teaching,” which will focus on different types of teachings we utilize in our student ministry program.

Before I begin to talk about one of the areas we teach on, it is important to note that while we do focus on different teaching styles, themes, and topics, we also have to be aware of to whom we are communicating. Our program has two different days that we operate (Sundays and Wednesdays) and both draw very different groups of students.

Our Wednesday night program is more invitational in structure and is focused on discipleship and evangelism. This means when we teach on topics in this environment, we stay at an entry- to intermediate-level of understanding to make sure our teaching reaches the majority of those in attendance. In contrast, our Sunday morning programming is geared toward equipping and training our students to be disciple-makers. This means we often go deeper into topics and look at application that leads not only to heart transformation but outward replication.

While both programs are focused on discipleship, how we meet that goal looks different based upon who is in attendance. I would encourage you to think through those aspects of your programing in order to help you pick the right teaching for the group that is relatable, applicable, and transformational.

This week I want to talk about spiritual rhythms and why teaching on them is important. I believe it is easy to assume these rhythms are taught at home and/or in “big church.” But assuming this puts both our students and families at a disadvantage. It is also unhelpful to assume that your students are not being taught or equipped at home in these rhythms. All that to say, don’t assume either direction. Instead view this as an opportunity to explain spiritual rhythms, allow those who haven’t engaged with them to do so, and help those who already engage with them to broaden and strengthen how they do.

Teaching on spiritual rhythms is something that can be taught to students who fall across all parts of the spiritual spectrum. But we must be aware of which rhythms we are teaching to each group to make sure they are translatable and applicable. For instance, I wouldn’t necessarily teach on fasting and meditation on a Wednesday evening. Instead, I would begin by talking about prayer and spending time in God’s Word.

But the real question is what type of spiritual rhythms should we actually teach our students? I have found in my experience most students are not aware of rhythms outside of prayer and devotions of some sort. This may be a broader narrative about what is actually being taught within our churches and how that is reflected in families, but that is another conversation for another day. I think for many youth programs it would be helpful to start with more entry-level spiritual rhythms and then scale upward as you see your students growing and maturing in their walks with Jesus. With that said, here are some spiritual rhythms I believe we should be teaching our students.

Prayer: I believe it is important to teach our students about both personal and corporate prayer. You can show them different postures of prayer, different prayers styles (like thanksgiving, confession, supplication, lamenting, etc.), different communication styles, silence in prayer, journaling, and more.

Scripture reading, meditation, and memorization: Helping your students not just know how to read Scripture but also to meditate on it and memorize it will help them deepen their relationship with Jesus and give them greater opportunities to navigate the difficulties of this world. Take time to teach how to read Scripture and also how to study it. Utilize different strategies and resources to help students learn in different ways. Highlight different tools for memorization and meditation so student don’t just read but also apply the Word of God by allowing it to permeate their lives.

Fasting: This isn’t something that Protestant churches often talk about, but it is something every Christian should engage. Fasting is something that our current culture isn’t acclimated to because we don’t often have to do without for any reason. But training our students about what fasting is, why we do it, and the results of it will help them to not only grow as followers of Jesus but also as young adults.

Communion: There have been many times where I’ve preached and handled officiating communion in our church services. One of the things I love to do is explain what communion is and then encourage parents to walk their children and students through it. It’s a beautiful opportunity for parents to lead their families and also for students to see how and why we share in this moment with each other. This can also be accomplished in student ministry gatherings where you can go deeper into the remembrance, repentance, and restoration (there’s alliteration for ya!) that comes from this sacred moment.

Giving and service: I think talking about finances is often a difficult conversations for churches overall. Asking for money never feels great. But if we frame it from the perspective of giving and service it allows us to focus not just on the monetary piece but the heart motivation. Students may not be able to give monetarily but can give of their gifts, time, and talents. So look to explain why we give and serve, how we can give and serve, and what that accomplishes for the person and the body.

Journaling: I’ll be honest, I am really bad at journaling. I can write messages, blog posts, devotional guides, and emails, but for some reason journaling escapes me. Elise is fantastic at journaling and has a way of truly putting her heart onto paper. When we journal as a spiritual rhythm it helps us share our hearts, put our thoughts about our faith journey to paper, and see how we have progressed in our relationship with Jesus as one of His disciples.

Worship: Worship is one of those things we believe everyone who becomes a Christian knows how to do. For some reason we assume that everyone knows what worship is and we don’t often teach about. But if we don’t teach our students how to worship, they will never understand it nor why it matters. Take time to make sure your students know worship extends beyond just music and singing. Highlight that different worship styles exist. Help students find their way to worship and show them how to make it a part of their everyday lives.

Sabbath: I’ll be perfectly honest and tell you until recently I really struggled in this area. I didn’t know how to intentionally pause and take time to spiritually refresh. I would assert the majority of our culture doesn’t know how to do this well either. We are so busy and so overwhelmed with everything that exists at our fingertips that we don’t usually find space to just refresh and be in the presence of Jesus. So create the opportunity for your students to experience these moments. Train them in what sabbath is and why it is necessary. Show them how it can be a full day, a week, a season, or even just a few hours carved out of a day. Help them to see what it does for their heart and soul, and how it draws them closer to Jesus as they are encouraged and refreshed.

Community and fellowship: I believe community and fellowship are spiritual rhythms that at times can happen naturally. But even as they occur naturally, they can become tribalistic and alienating to outsiders. Part of training our students in this rhythm is helping them see the beauty within the body of Christ that comes from diversity and differing opinions. When we highlight that the kingdom of heaven is made up of believers from different backgrounds, races and ethnicities, theological positions, and political views, it will help students understand the beauty of diversity and how they can have healthy, God-honoring relationships with believers who are different from them. This will also help our students understand how important fellowship and community is for the church as a whole and prayerfully help them stay connected with a local community of believers.

The Value of Home Groups

Back in 2020 when COVID first reared its ugly head, our ministry did what everyone else did: we went virtual. We shared teaching videos for small groups to watch and engage with via Zoom, we supplied online group games, and tried to host large group gatherings digitally. Like many of you, we saw our numbers gradually wane, and as we hit summertime our students were begging us to not meet online as they and our leaders (like all of us) were struggling with Zoom Fatigue.

Summer 2020 was spent searching for meeting alternatives, connecting with other youth workers to pick their brains and find new strategies, and browsing the internet for ideas on how to structure a youth group during a pandemic. Most of these searches yielded very few results. Everyone was struggling with the same questions as we never had to figure this out before, and our ministry education didn’t offer “YouthMin in a Pandemic 101.” Although I wouldn’t be surprised to see that course being offered now.

So I began to think through multiple strategies that would allow our ministry to continue, while still aligning with our vision, and meeting the need our students had for fellowship and community. Enter Home Groups. We came up with an idea that would allow our students to meet together in smaller groups around the community within the comfort of homes while all engaging the same material. We placed individual small groups in homes with leaders and provided them with a pre-recorded video lesson, games and activities, snacks, and discussion questions.

If you had asked me in the fall of 2020 if we would continue to have Home Groups after moving through the pandemic, I’m not sure how I would have responded. It was such a different style of student ministry that I wasn’t used to and it placed a lot of additional weight and responsibility upon my leaders to facilitate and lead their groups.

But enter summer of 2021. We took our students on a mission trip and for the first time we combined our middle school and high school students, and it was a rousing success. I saw my students love and care for one another in new ways. I watched my students step up and lead in a manner I hadn’t previously seen. I saw spiritual maturity in my students that was at least two years beyond where they should have been. What I was able to witness in my students was a depth, vibrancy, and spiritual maturity that had come out of taking a large group and going small.

Our students had actually grown and flourished spiritually in our Home Groups to a degree I had not seen previously because we inadvertently modeled what Jesus did with His disciples. Jesus always had large groups following after Him, but He often went deeper with smaller numbers, and from those smaller groups great fruit would be produced. What Jesus did intentionally, we had to wait for a pandemic to move us in that direction. And I am so thankful it did!

Today, now over two years since COVID entered our vocabulary, we have kept Home Groups as a part of our DNA. We have incorporated Home Groups into our programming once a month. We have also lengthened our small group time during large gatherings because we are seeing that’s where students grow and engage with the Gospel.

Home Groups take a lot of planning and organization, and at times can be a lot to handle. But the reward far outweighs the struggles. Sure, they look different now–no more video message, it’s all inductive Bible studies–but the growth and maturity still exists. We are seeing more students turn out to Home Groups than our normal midweek programming. Students engage with Scripture at deep and tangible levels. They desire the community and intimacy that homes afford. And honestly, I haven’t looked back and probably will not return to “normal” midweek programming ever again. Home Groups were a step of faith, but the reward has been amazing.

If you are looking to deepen the faith of your students, challenge them to think biblically about their lives, provide them with a place to fellowship and build community, and an opportunity to see discipleship happen in their lives, I would encourage you to consider Home Groups as an option. The reward goes beyond students and also impacts your leaders who are given the permission and opportunity to use their gifts and talents to help your students grow and flourish.

In what ways have the past two years reshaped how you do ministry?

The Importance of Discipleship

This past weekend I had the privilege of baptizing a former student who had become a leader in our youth group. This is a young man whose life has been radically transformed by the Gospel and someone I have witnessed grow and mature into the godly young man he is today. As we were walking out into the bay to prepare for his baptism, I asked him how he was feeling. “A little nervous because everyone is here, but excited because I know what this means.” I was, and am, so proud of this guy and how he faithfully and unashamedly follows Jesus.

As I reflected on this momentous occasion in his life, I couldn’t help but think about all the moments that led up to this one. Many people have continually poured into his life and helped guide him through some deep valleys and celebrated with him on the mountain tops. But as I thought about how people poured into his life, I had to ask this question: what would have happened if no one poured into his life? If no one poured into his life, I don’t know if he would be where he is today. It was through constant discipleship that this young man became such a strong follower of Jesus.

You see, this young man was not a bad kid but he could struggle to behave and he could push around other students due to his size when he was younger. It would have been easy to dismiss him as a “bad kid” or to find a “better” student to walk with. But, for myself and his leaders, we saw him as one of God’s children who He loved dearly and as such, someone we should love and care for. Because of that truth, this student was loved and discipled for many years and we saw great fruit come from that. He began to show up early to youth group to help set up, he began to talk about his faith in school, he led Bible studies and small groups, he mentored younger students, and he ended up coming back as a leader in our youth program. Discipleship works and it is a beautiful representation of what Christ did for His people years ago.

Our ministry is fully focused on discipleship. We spend forty-five to sixty minutes in small group each week. Our Sunday mornings are focused on table discussion groups that dig into our Sunday lesson. We encourage our leaders to meet with students throughout the week and to be actively engaged with their students and all that they have going on. Our vision statement is all about making disciples who impact this world by making disciples. Our ministry meets in smaller groups once a month in homes. It is why we are seeing more and more students have their lives changed by the power of the Gospel. Discipleship matters. This is why Jesus intentionally focused on a smaller group within the masses. It is because personal relationships, and intentional life-on-life moments that guide a student to Jesus, bring about change.

But what exactly is discipleship? Discipleship is defined as “one who accepts and assists in spreading the doctrines of another” by Merriam-Webster. When it comes to Christian discipleship, it is more than just having someone live the way we do, or espouse what we want them to. It is about them modeling their lives, hearts, and minds after Jesus. It is helping students see that the way of Christ is the way of life. It involves allowing them to see how Jesus works within our lives in order for them to see the reality of faith in action. Discipleship helps students surrender their lives to Jesus and place their full identity in Him and Him alone.

As we seek to engage in discipleship there are some metrics we can look at in the lives of those we disciple:

  1. They put Jesus first no matter the cost (Mark 8:34-35, Luke 14:25-35).
  2. They follow Jesus’ teachings (John 8:31-32).
  3. They love God and love others (Mark 12:30-31, John 13:34-35).
  4. They honor and seek to fulfill the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20).
  5. They commit to building up the body (Ephesians 4:11-17).

It should be noted that it isn’t about doing all the right things or about focusing on works-based righteousness. We will all fall and mess up, and that is why it is about allowing the transformative power of the Gospel to impact the lives of the students we lead. These metrics help to differentiate between making disciples and mentoring. While both are good things, discipleship helps to create followers of Jesus who are passionate about His mission. As disciple-makers we should be highlighting these characteristics to our students and helping them to grow in them and reflect them outward. Discipleship is all about inward transformation that is reflected outwardly. Our inward transformation is reflected in how we act, speak, and engage with others because of the work that the Holy Spirit is doing in our hearts.

When we allow for discipleship to be the heart of what we do in student ministry we will see a radical change begin to take hold of our students. They will grow and make their faith their own, which will result in them beginning to disciple others in their faith. Discipleship is a replicating model that will allow your students to grow and mature as followers of Jesus, and we will bear witness to them growing as leaders of our faith.

Book Review: Attacking Anxiety

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tips for Self Care: Bringing Things to Completion

This week we are starting a brand new series called “Tips for Self-Care.” Installments will pop up periodically with the goal of encouraging you and sharing ways to care for yourself. Often in ministry we are so focused on caring for others that we forget or forsake taking care of ourselves. But the problem with that is this: not caring for yourself leads to depletion which leads to burnout which leads to bitterness and resentment which leads to leaving ministries and churches. The sad reality is that when we are leading from a place of depletion we aren’t only hurting ourselves but also those we are to minister to.

These posts will be shorter in length as they are meant to give practical and tangible ways to care for yourself so you can fully be the minister God has called you to be. These “snack sized” posts are designed to be encouraging and life-giving, and they come from a place of learning and experience that we have had to walk through ourselves. This week we want to talk about “accomplishing and completing things.”

Have you ever noticed how in ministry the work is never done? For every one student who’s tracking with Jesus, ten more a struggling with their faith. For every senior who graduates a new sixth grader or freshman starts. For every milestone you achieve another two or three new goals manifest. There is always another message, event, or activity to prepare for or attend. It just feels like there is always more to do and the work is never accomplished.

That weight can be overwhelming and debilitating because it bogs you down and continues to make you feel like you haven’t succeeded or accomplished anything. We are designed in God’s image and because of that we are designed to do good works and to help them come to completion. As ministers and children of God our heart yearns to do good works and to see them finalized because we are longing for the completion that we will see in heaven. But when we don’t see that happen it can just cause pain, sadness, and feelings of anxiety and depression. So how can we actually work toward accomplishing things when it seems the work is ever growing?

I think one of the easiest ways to combat those negative feelings and our desire for completion is to actually do tasks that you can accomplish. These don’t need to be ministry focused, although they can be, but they should be tasks that you can do and see through to completion. Here are some suggestions for things or activities to do:

  • Organize and clean your office.
  • Organize, clean, and/or spruce up your youth areas.
  • Read a book all the way through.
  • Cut your grass or plant flowers.
  • Fold your laundry.
  • Complete a puzzle.
  • Pick up a new hobby where you can see things accomplished (art, candle making, wood working, lettering, working on cars, landscaping, etc.).
  • Travel to destinations you have always wanted to go to but haven’t.
  • Save up for something you wanted to buy for yourself but haven’t yet.

All of these may sound like minor things but as you actually see them come to fruition, they allow you to release and decompress all while knowing that you have accomplished something. My suggestion would be to start small with what you are hoping to complete because that gives you more potential to actually see it through. If you seek to complete larger, more grandiose tasks, you may find yourself not meeting them as often and that will lead to more feelings of inadequacy and frustration. So seek to find ways to accomplish tasks in your own life and celebrate those moments! Be proud of what you have completed and be willing to share about it.

What are some ways you seek to accomplish and complete tasks in your life?

How to Teach Students about Intentional Fasting

Fasting. What comes to your mind when you reflect on that word? Perhaps you think of giving something up for a period of time like food. Maybe your mind goes to the struggle of being deprived of something you enjoy or desire. Or perhaps you default to times in Scripture where Jesus and others fasted.

Fasting is designed to help us reflect on our relationship with and need for God as we deprive ourselves of various elements in our lives. Over the past few years, Elise has intentionally engaged this topic by digging deeper into Lent and its purpose in our faith journey. Her passion and insight has challenged me to reflect on this rhythm of fasting and to incorporate it into my life at various levels.

Recently I decided to take a fast from social media for 2-3 months as I am on a mental health leave of absence from our church. During my leave of absence I have decided to make a conscious effort to fast from various things and activities that have pulled me away from God and added to the weight I’ve been feeling. Social media compounds the stress and anxiety because I see what others are going through and take that weight and responsibility to help them onto myself. I feel and grieve with them. I carry their hurt and pain. Social media in essence helped me feel valued and needed in a really corrupt sort of way.

As I have reflected on this reality, it has helped me to understand how detrimental social media and the effects of it can be in our lives, especially the lives of our students. Social media compounds their relationships, induces anxiety and depression, and conditions them to find their value in what others think and say about them behind a perceived veil of anonymity. Imagine what their lives would be like if they gave up social media for a set time. What would change? What would be different? What could happen to their relationship with God?

I know it seems that I am harping on social media, but my desire is to point out that if we fast or release an element from our lives, we could see and embrace vast benefits from that decision. Fasting isn’t something I often find mainline Protestant churches talking about, but it is something we should be embracing and challenging our students to put into action. So what are some ways to help students engage with fasting?

Help them see the “why.”

Often fasting can be seen from a negative viewpoint. Not that it is a bad thing but it requires us to sacrifice something. Sacrifice is often what we focus on, rather than the benefit of the result(s). It is important to help students know why fasting is good and what it is designed to do. So focus on helping them understand fasting and the benefits of it. Help them see that in releasing something, they open up space for God to work in and through them in new ways. These types of conversations will help to not only set the tone and rationale for fasting but encourage your students to pursue it wholeheartedly.

Challenge them to begin in small and attainable ways.

Sometimes we tend to bite off bigger chunks than we can handle. I see this with students during summer break when they make bold predictions for how they will spend all summer working on their relationship with God only to get to September and have rarely cracked open their Bible. The same is true with fasting. We will often take big and bold steps but eventually we will struggle to consistently keep them which leads to frustration that then leads to stopping the fast because it appears we have failed.

Instead, encourage your students to start small. Ask them to consider taking a small thing out of their lives instead of a large thing. Have them consider fasting for a day each week rather than the entire time. Then challenge them to scale upward as they continue to see success. This method will allow them to see change and be able to obtain it and also to grow.

Help them to think about what they “can’t live without.”

Often with fasting we can give up the “easy things,” and I think the same is true for students. But fasting should be more than just giving up something easy or something that doesn’t truly matter to us. It should be about giving up something that is important or impactful in our lives so it forces us to focus on Jesus even more. Encourage your students to think about giving up something they feel like they can’t live without. Challenge them to give up something like their phones or sugar or shopping.

Challenge them to keep a reflective journal.

I am horrible at keeping a journal. In as much as I enjoy writing and sharing, I do not enjoy keeping a journal. This probably due in large part to actually not enjoying writing because my hand cramps, but also because it is hard to see what I am experiencing written on paper. In that moment it just feels real! But that is exactly why we should be keeping a reflective journal, especially in a time of fasting. It helps us see the authenticity, the emotion, and the growth. It challenges us, pushes us, and helps us to see our desperate need for a Savior. So challenge your students to keep a journal and to see how they grow through this time.

Help them spend intentional time with Jesus.

As you talk about fasting and the why, help students to spend intentional time with Jesus. When we fast it isn’t meant to just be difficult but to point us back to Jesus. When we desire something we don’t have, we should be reflecting on what God has given to us and using the time to grow in our relationship with Him. Help students to take those moments of longing or desire and show them how to be motivated through them to spend time with Jesus.

Create a space for students to come and fast.

This is a bit outside of the box, but imagine if you had the space in your building to set aside a room or rooms where students can come and spend time with Jesus uninterrupted. You are creating a sacred space for them without distractions that is designed for them to focus on Jesus as they release items or rhythms they have been holding onto. Let me encourage you to design the space with intentionality. Have comfortable seating. Think about the space and the smells (maybe don’t have the room right by the kitchen). Have water bottles out and soft worship music playing. Put out guided prayers or meditations. Have Bibles and Scripture passages set out and leaders available to talk with and pray for students. These types of thoughtful gestures and application will help your students create worshipful rhythms and highlight the necessity of spending time on their relationship with Jesus.

New Year, New You

Happy new year! For many of us the start of the new year involves changes of some kind as we seek to be healthier. I know for Elise and I, we have started the new year by engaging with the Whole30 program. This is a program we have done in the past and after the last few years we knew we needed a reset and an opportunity to get healthy again.

But dietary or healthy eating is only a singular approach to our holistic lives. And I would assert that as we approach this new year we need to be thinking about our entire health and well-being. Being purveyors of the Gospel can be a heavy weight at times. Trying to balance the teaching and expediting of God’s Word, caring for and ministering to the people under our care, trying to balance commitments and priorities, dealing with criticism, and simply seeking to accomplish daily tasks at work and home can feel overwhelming and at times unbearable. The reality is that these things and many others can be weighty and hard to deal with which will lead to unhealthy habits and our willingness to let healthy habits fall to the side.

So how can we as ministers of the Gospel make sure we are holistically healthy? I think it begins by looking at five key areas in our lives that should be healthy and allowing for those areas to be worked out in other areas of our lives. I hope to look at these areas and prayerfully help you think through what a healthy life looks like for you.

Mental.

Mental health is important, and with the way the last couple of years have been, your mental health is probably feeling pretty taxed and depleted. I know for me there have been times this last year where I’ve felt overwhelmed, exhausted, and mentally done. But it is highly important for us to take care of our mental health. If we allow our thoughts to wander or to increase doubt or frustrations, we will find ourselves ready to throw in the towel.

So what should our response be? I think we should find someone to talk with. Whether a trusted friend, a ministry partner, a mentor, or your spouse, having someone to talk to and process with will do wonders for your mental health. I would also encourage everyone to find a counselor to talk with. Counselors have a way of getting us to open up, think critically, identify issues that should be dealt with, and come up with action steps. The stigma attached to mental health needs to be rolled back, because without a healthy frame of mind, we will be frustrated and unable to fully give to the ministry God has called us to.

Physical.

Let’s be honest: serving in ministry isn’t exactly the best career path for our physical health, especially if you serve in student ministry. The candy, pizza, soda, energy drinks, constant snacking, and eating like a student will eventually catch up to you. I will be thirty-six this year, and I can attest to that reality. I don’t lose weight how I used to, and the snacks just seem to hang around…the midsection that is. That is part of the reason I am doing the Whole30 because I want to rebuild a healthy relationship with food and to cleanse from all the garbage I have been eating.

But here is the thing: just doing that for a month isn’t enough. In order to stay physically healthy and to maintain a lifestyle that will help you be in ministry for the long haul, you need to adjust how you take care of yourself physically and make the necessary changes. Consider starting small and just trying to eat better. Stop the late night snacking, stop eating all the snacks students eat when they eat them, and start trying to eat more foods that are around the outside aisles of the supermarket.

Going beyond that, it’s also beneficial to start trying to exercise or just be more active in your everyday life. Making these types of changes will help you to feel better overall. You will find your body being more rested, you will have more energy, you will sleep better, and you will ultimately find yourself being more apt and ready to engage in ministry because of how you are feeling and the way your body is strengthening.

Spiritual.

As ministers of the Gospel the sad reality is our spiritual health can often suffer as we seek to love and care for others as we point them to Jesus. But that cannot be the case for us. If we continue to pour out without being poured into, then we will eventually be giving from nothing which will lead to burn out, bitterness, and potentially walking away from our faith. Instead I would challenge you to think through your spiritual rhythms and how your relationship with Jesus is doing. Are you spending time just being present with Him? Are you reading your Bible on a consistent basis outside of what would be considered work? Is your prayer life something you are actively engaged with? Are you finding your passion for Jesus growing and being something you look forward to?

If you answered no to any or all of these questions let me encourage you to take a break. I don’t mean walk away from ministry but perhaps consider taking time (a weekend, a week, a sabbatical, or whatever works in your environment) to just breathe, commune with God, and reset your spiritual relationship with Jesus. If you are growing in your relationship with Jesus, the better suited and prepared you will be to lead, disciple, and point people to Jesus. So make sure to protect, engage with, and strengthen your relationship with Jesus to be the affective minister God has called you to be.

Emotional.

Emotional health isn’t something we always think about. In fact, I would assert that our emotional, relational, and mental health are the ones we are willing to let slide more than perhaps our physical and spiritual health. And I believe the reason for that is because our physical and spiritual health afford us a bit more control over situations and circumstances. We can see the results of physical health and we can set rhythms to help ourselves grow in spiritual health. But when it comes to our emotional health, we don’t always see how we are doing, whether positive or negative.

Let me encourage you to talk to someone you trust and ask their honest opinion about how you handle your emotions. Consider doing a self-evaluation on how you engage various circumstances, relationships, and tensions.

  • Ask yourself if your responses are healthy and beneficial.
  • Ask yourself if you know how to communicate how you are feeling (consider utilizing a feelings wheel in this case).
  • Ask yourself how you respond in moments of stress, tension, or moments when your emotions are running high.
  • Ask yourself how you are feeling about yourself, your job, your relationships, and your personal life.

These questions aren’t meant to give you a clinical diagnosis of your emotional health, but instead are intended to help you think about how you are doing emotionally. If you find your responses to these questions being unhelpful or potentially problematic, I would encourage you to reach out to someone to talk to (both a friend or mentor, and a professional). When your emotional health suffers, you suffer, your relationships suffer, and your ability to effectively minister suffers. So seek to assess how you are doing emotionally and to grow in your emotional health.

Relational.

Relational health is hugely important and I would say there are two key aspects to consider in this area. One, think about how you engage and care for others (the outflow) and two, think about the relationships you have and whether they need to be tweaked (the inflow). When it comes to our relational health it is highly important to think about how you are treating and engaging others. For many youth workers, they do this part well. In fact probably too well to their own detriment. They give and give and give, and even when they are on empty they give even more. Focusing on and caring for others is a huge part of our role, but we also need to think about our own relational health. If you just continue to give until you are on empty that isn’t helpful to anyone.

This brings us to the second part of relational health: the relationships you have and their affect on you. Often we are outwardly focused, but it is important to think inwardly as well since this is how you fill up your tank. You may have relationships that are life-giving for you, but you may also have relationships that are life-draining. So think through the relationships that you have and consider if some of them need to be improved, restricted, or removed for your health and well-being. There may be relationships in your life that are draining you and potentially toxic. Seeking to improve or change them by releasing certain relationships will be difficult in the immediate moment, but potentially life changing going forward.

What life or ministry changes are you making this year?

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.

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.

Ways to Stand Firm in Seasons of Struggle

Culturally and religiously we find ourselves in a complicated and challenging moment, whether brought about by the movement of time, our political climate, or pressure from influences outside the church. Things might feel different, unsettled and uncomfortable. You may have found political or theological disagreements to have fostered deep rifts between your family or friends. Perhaps someone who once walked closely with you on your spiritual journey has now walked away from the faith completely.

However you are feeling in this current moment, and whatever you are dealing with spiritually, mentally, and emotionally, will impact your ministry. It may not be sudden and obvious, but over time, our experiences and thoughts begin to shape how we speak and act. Left ignored, they can lead to places we might think we’d never end up.

I want to encourage you, if you do feel like you’re struggling in this moment, questioning where to go and what to do, there are some active steps you can take. It isn’t a fix-all, easy answer, because the difficult times take perseverance and work. But it is worth it to care for your soul, to dig into the difficult places, and to do the hard work when it comes to your relationship with Jesus and the ministry to which you have been called.

If you missed our encouragement post from September 2020, you may want to start there. Then read on for some practical ways you can deal with doubt and discouragement in this season of life.

Pursue Scripture first.

There are a lot of places to seek help in challenging times. There are also a lot of voices to which we can listen. Some will be truthful and helpful, while others will not. Some will pull us toward Christ, while others may guide us in a different direction. In seasons of struggle, it is imperative to look to Scripture first, and to ensure that the voices you are internalizing are voices of godly truth. If you know God’s word in your heart, you will quickly be able to determine his voice from the others.

In as great as self-help books and videos can be, do not give up reading Scripture on your own and seeking it for help and direction. That is not to say that books and other resources shouldn’t be utilized, but remaining in Scripture will help you to determine if other sources are truthful, helpful, and correct. Part of our daily battle is keeping our mind and heart focused on God and his ways. This can be a struggle, especially in the hard times, which is why fighting to make time in Scripture a priority is so important.

Seek godly counsel.

In difficult seasons it can be easy to draw inward, whether we don’t want to admit how we’re feeling, we don’t trust others to understand, or we feel like we need to deal with it on our own. Add the element of less human interaction due to pandemic-induced lock-downs and restrictions, and it can be doubly easy to keep things to yourself. Now more than ever it is vital to let people in.

Whether you talk with friends or a mentor whom you respect, or you see a counselor or therapist, it is imperative to bring others into your life. Talking through your thoughts and feelings is important, as is getting an outside, godly perspective from someone you trust. Discussion can help bring clarity as well as help you feel understood and heard. Sometimes we can get something in our heads and hearts that may not be accurate or helpful. Talking with someone you trust, and who will bring a Christ-honoring, biblical perspective can help you sort through truth from lies.

Satan likes to make us feel isolated and alone, both from each other and from God. Isolation in these relationships can lead to isolation holistically, which can pull us in a dark direction. Resist the urge to battle alone and instead bring in others who can walk with you, support you, and speak the truth.

Work through it.

I think sometimes in Christianity we can lean on quick, “easy” answers. Things like, “because the Bible say so” or “that’s what God wants” can roll off our tongues and through our minds with little effort. But the truth is that difficult seasons call for more than just easy answers. They call for wrestling with reality, asking tough questions, and seeking answers that can stand up under the hardest of life’s circumstances. We don’t do ourselves, or others, any favors by speaking and internalizing pat, cliche answers that feel good in the easy moments.

Internalizing simplistic ideas about God and faith can leave us feeling empty when times get tough. Things can easily unravel when those simple ideas or pat answers don’t make sense or feel impertinent. The good news is that God and his word can stand up to the worst this world can throw at us, but it may require more work on our part to uncover them. This is why I want to encourage you to work through the difficult seasons and hard questions. You may not arrive at an easy answer, but I know that God has met me in every painful, heart-wrenching moment and the rich truth of Scripture has spoken to my troubled soul time and time again.

This approach doesn’t make things easier. In fact, nothing will make this life and its struggles easier. But it has made me stronger and more resilient to face the darkness. Rooting my life and faith in something eternally substantive gives me hope even when my surroundings and circumstances feel bleak. When I feel like giving up I know I can’t because I believe what he says is real and true.

In this season of life, wherever it finds you, lean into Jesus and your community. Do the hard work to fight the good fight, for yourself and those to whom you minister. May God encourage your heart, mind, and soul, and may he empower you to do the work to which you have been called.