6 Tips for Handling Suggestions

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

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

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

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

1. Listen well.

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

2. Think and pray before responding.

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

3. Ask clarifying questions.

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

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

4. Respond with grace and humility.

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

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

5. Clearly explain your reasoning.

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

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

6. Be willing to take guidance and make changes.

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

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

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

7 Ways to Prepare Leaders for Trips

Whenever you go on student ministry trips, you are probably taking leaders with you. Whether it’s one or two or maybe thirty, having leaders on a trip is essential. They help make sure everything goes as it should, they invest in your students, and they are the people who allow the trip to actually happen.

But if we don’t prepare them well for the trip, we will actually be hindering them and ourselves. We are the ones with all the details and knowledge of where we are going because we have been in contact with the host location. What we need to be doing as ministry leaders is preparing our leaders well so they can truly succeed and have the greatest impact in the lives of our students.

Today I want to share with you some ideas and tips on how to best prepare your leaders for upcoming trips.

1. Prepare and communicate in advance.

One of the best things you can do for your leaders is be prepared and communicate to them well in advance. The more they know ahead of time the better suited they will be to fully contribute and care for students. Make sure to communicate dates and times, location of the trips, what they should bring, and what you’re bringing like supplies, games, snacks, Bibles and pens, fidgets, devotionals for students who follow Jesus, and even things like power strips.

2. Have a leader meeting before you go.

One of the best things you can do for your leaders to help prepare them is to have a meeting before the trip. Being able to walk through who is going, room assignments, the schedule, expectations, and allow time for questions will help your leaders feel more at ease about the trip and will give them confidence as they go.

3. Prepare a leader packet.

Preparing a packet for your leaders gives them not just information but helps them to know what is happening and what is expected of them. When you put together a packet, include things like a site map, packing list, sleeping arrangements, small group assignments, schedule, questions for small group time, contact info for the camp, and all the leaders’ contact info so everyone has it.

4. Set up a group text for your leaders.

This is one of my favorite things about going on trips. We always set up a group chat to share information and pictures throughout the trip. There are lots of gifs and jokes between leaders, but also moments where we share prayer requests and praises. It also allows for information to get out quickly and everyone to see what is happening throughout the time at camp.

5. Go over expectations.

Sometimes on trips we just need leaders to hang with their students because the location handles everything else. Other times leaders need to be more hands-on and have various roles. The clearer you can outline those expectations and share them with your team, the better prepared they will be to lead and shepherd your students.

6. Find ways to bless them.

Whether it’s a personalized card, a leader gift bag, or a Starbucks gift card, something to encourage them and let them know they are loved and valued is wonderful thing to do for your leaders. By blessing your leaders you are showing them how much they mean to you, the ministry, and your students. This is a tangible and intentional opportunity for your leaders to know they are seen and valued.

7. Spend time praying together.

When you prepare your leaders ahead of time, spend some time praying for them, your students and families, and the trip. These moments allow you and your team to intentionally pray for all aspects of the trip and to pray specifically for the students who are going. God moves powerfully through prayer and by praying before the trip we are intentionally asking God to do big things in the lives of our students. By praying for God to work in the lives of students, it allows us to see how He intentionally and divinely moves in the lives of our people and the change that comes about.

How do you best prepare your team for trips? What are your best practices for doing this?

The Week Before a Trip

When this post goes live we are t-minus five days until we depart for our winter retreat. Every year we take our students to a camp in our area for a winter weekend filled with solid teaching, worship, small groups and discipleship, lots of fun, community, and hopefully a little bit of snow.

But let’s be honest: the week or two before a trip can usually be pretty stressful and busy. There’s all the trip details, making sure everyone is paid up, communication, packing for yourself, making sure your students bring what they need, regular work commitments, and all the other pieces that we know will pop up at the least opportune time. So the question is, “How do we manage and prepare well during those weeks?”

On today’s post I want to share a few tips for how to not only prepare well but manage your time and details to succeed during the prep week and your time leading up to camp.

Have someone else handle speaking.

The week of and perhaps the week before a trip, I would highly recommend having someone else speak at your gatherings. For most of us, the primary amount of our hours are focused on preparing messages for our students, and by recruiting someone else to speak you are giving yourself flexibility and opportunity to focus your time in other places. Whether it’s a youth leader, another staff member, a student, or a guest speaker, having someone else speak frees you up to focus on the trip. It gives you all the time you’d focus on study, prep, and speaking to now focus on making sure everything is handled before you depart for your trip.

Try to keep your schedule as open as possible.

The week before I go on a trip I try to not schedule any meetings or additional work items if at all possible. I will always have various meetings I have to attend, but I try to not add more to my plate. The more we add to our schedules, the more we will feel overwhelmed and behind. So try to keep your schedule open and make the most of the time you have to prepare for the trip and handle what needs to be done.

Over-communicate to families.

No matter what, you will always have people who miss or don’t pay attention to communications you send out. But trying to get ahead of those moments and doing all you can to clearly and concisely communicate will help immensely. I try to schedule and send all of my communications at least a week before parents would ask for them. For example, if I know parents will want a packing list two weeks before we leave, I try to send it three weeks and again two weeks before we go. That way there is a greater chance for them to not only see it but also to have a reminder sent in case they forget.

Have a planning meeting with leaders.

If you have ever served as a volunteer in student ministries, you probably know what it feels like to not have all your questions answered or what it feels like to be unsure about what to expect. The more we can help to prepare our leaders and give them the information they need, the better prepared they will be to lead and disciple your students. So find time before you go to help prepare your leaders mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Remember that these meetings don’t need to be very long and should also be about spiritually preparing and not just information dissemination. So spend time praying together for one another, the trip, and your students.

Create a personal packing list and a ministry packing list.

We have recently written about what to pack for trips as a leader. This is a really helpful resource for both ministry leaders and their team of volunteers. It may be helpful to have a concisely written packing list for your leaders at your planning meeting. On top of your ministry packing list, also think through what you will need personally. For me I always make sure to have different types of cold medicines and throat drops, braces for my ankles that tend to roll, spare clothes, some protein bars, and some extra games and snacks for my cabin. Think through what you’d like to bring and make sure you have your list ready for when you need to pack.

Schedule time off before and after the trip.

This is something I have been making sure that I do more often. Depending on what needs to be done, I try to take an extra day off the week before a trip to spend with Elise and mentally and spiritually prepare myself for the trip. After I get back I try to take a day off to catch my breath, decompress, and heal (for me that means going to the chiropractor and getting extra rest). These aren’t just meant to be comp days but days to decompress and refresh so I am able to minister and care for my people without leading out of emptiness or depletion.

Make a list of what needs to be done and when.

I love making lists and crossing things off as I complete them. And when it comes to trips, I make lists of what needs to be done leading up to our departure. Typically I make two lists for trips. The first one is focused on the big things that need to be done from the very beginning of scheduling the trip. This includes announcing the trip, payment deadlines and reminders, parent and family communications, departure information, and packing lists. The second list is one that is focused on the week or two before the trip. This has to do with leader meetings, social media reminders, final communications to families, texting groups for leaders, sign in procedures, packing for myself and the ministry, and anything else that needs to be accomplished.

What does the week before a trip look like for you? How do you prepare for your trips?

What Are You Teaching: All Church Series

Every now and then, our church does an all-church series. More recently, we have been using the spring semester to collectively work through a study built by multiple staff members to help our church journey in the Bible together. It involves all ages and happens in our services and in all the classes and groups that meet. But there are some unique challenges and circumstances to consider when doing these studies to help them succeed and truly be engaging for students and families.

Make sure your message relates to students. Sometimes when moving through a set curriculum for the church, there are applications and insights that are really beneficial but not always relevant and helpful to students. So look to make sure what you are teaching and encouraging students to apply is relatable to their lives and circumstances. Providing them with real and tangible applications will help them see how the Bible is practical and relevant to their lives.

Don’t teach the same thing that is taught in the services. This is a big deal because part of our vision for students should be to help them engage the church holistically and not just student programming. If we are teaching the exact same message with the same points in student programming that is taught in the sermon, students will tend to default to only the student gathering and forgo the Sunday service. This isn’t beneficial and further drives a wedge that doesn’t need to be there to begin with. Instead, even if you are teaching on the same passage from the sermon, look to find different insights and understandings. Highlight how passages can provide various applications and interpretations. Bring in new illustrations and ways to immerse students in Scripture, and help them discuss what they’re learning in both contexts.

Collaborate with others. One of the best things you can do in these types of series is talk to other staff members and leaders to see what they are teaching. This will not only provide you with insight and creativity, but will hopefully afford you new and intentional opportunities to partner with other ministries. If the adult groups are looking at a particular aspect, it may be helpful to both adults and students to know what each group is doing as there is a high potential students’ parents will be in the adult group. This provides overlap and a platform on which to engage ongoing conversations within families.

Remember everyone may not be on the same page. It is important to remember when going through all-church series that some students may not have a full grasp, if any, of the material you are walking through. So make sure to do due diligence and help students fully understand what is being taught. Also, remember that students may not be present at each level of the study due to other commitments and so summarizing what has been taught is important and also helps students continue to remain engaged.

Encourage students to be a part of the broader conversation. Make sure your students know everyone in the church is going through the series, and that they have a voice because they are the church. Encourage them to engage in conversations with family and friends. Challenge them to ask deep and meaningful questions. Provide outlets and opportunities for them to engage with church leadership on these topics and series.

What are You Teaching: Reading & Studying the Bible

“Only eight percent of global teens believe the Bible is the word of God and read the Bible several times a week.”

This is a stat the Barna Group posted on their Instagram account last week which caught my attention. It didn’t really surprise me, but it did cause me to reflect on how we can better equip and encourage students to read and study Scripture on their own.

If your students are anything like me, I wasn’t taught Bible study methods growing up. I was given a series of Bibles over the years, and found myself navigating through them on my own. Teen study Bibles helped to some degree, but I wasn’t taught what to do when I had personal devotional time. So I just read passages and tried to make sense of them, often failing to do so.

I can’t help but wonder if the students in our programs have had similar experiences. If they have, it’s no wonder they don’t want to read the Bible. If you don’t know how to understand it or where to start, it can feel like a daunting, confusing, and sometimes boring task. Students should be equipped to read, study, ask questions, and understand, so that they can uncover the beauty, depth, and purpose of God’s word.

In this third installment of the What are You Teaching series, I’d like to offer some ways we can help encourage, train, and engage students in their personal Bible study.

Translations: A simple place to start is by making sure your students not only have their own Bible, but one in a version or translation that is easy for them to understand. If the language/wording used is difficult to follow, chances are students won’t stick with it for very long. So look for a solid version that is written in a way that is clear and easy-to-read. Check out this past post for some suggestions.

Audio Bibles: Some students hate reading, or struggle with it. Others find themselves so busy with school, activities, and other commitments, that it is genuinely difficult for them to carve out time to read. Whatever the case may be, don’t forget that an audio Bible is an option. It may help your students to read and listen at the same time, or they can listen while driving or riding in the car between activities. For others, it may help them to calm their mind before going to sleep or while getting ready for school in the morning. If they’re interested in listening, they can download the YouVersion Bible app for free and listen to audio recordings of multiple versions.

Bible study methods: So your students have a Bible, now what? Make sure they are equipped to study it on their own. Some basic study methods include O.I.A. (Observation, Interpretation, and Application), Discovery Method, or S.O.A.P. (Study, Observe, Apply, Pray). These will help your students as they encounter Scripture on their own. You may also want to supply them with pre-scripted studies, that either you or a trusted source have created. Check out this post for some suggestions.

Recommended reading: As you get to know your students, you will learn their passions, interests, and struggles. Rather than have them start reading anywhere, guide them to passages that will appeal to and capture their interest, speak to their season of life, or help them get to know Jesus better. Sometimes students struggle to read the Bible because they arbitrarily open it and read wherever the pages fall. Or they may try to read through a book and get bogged down in a confusing story. Help them connect to the Bible by making personalized reading recommendations.

Start a study: Consider helping students grow further by hosting an in-depth Bible study for those who are interested. You can use this time to equip them further, challenge and encourage them, and address topics with which they may be wrestling. This is another opportunity to personalize it to your group, helping them see how the Bible connects to their real life situations.

Questions: For a while it seems in some churches, asking questions about the Bible was almost taboo. Help continue to break that stereotype for your students by encouraging them to ask questions about the Bible. Host a “stump the pastor” night or an “ask me anything” about the Bible. Even if you don’t know all the answers, take time to do the research and come back with information. Students are naturally curious. Encourage them to bring their questions to God, He can handle them all.

Creativity: Tap into creative ways to read, study, and process the Scriptures. Help your students see that it isn’t just about opening the Bible in a quiet room. God is creative, and we can interact creatively with Him and His word. This may look like artistic representation of Scripture through drawing, painting, or Bible journaling. Students may want to write their own music, spoken word, or poetry in response to what they’ve read. They don’t have to share their creative response with anyone but God, but if they want to, consider hosting an event for them to share their creations and the story behind them.

Make it personal: Do you believe the Bible is the Word of God? Has it changed your life? Have you wrestled through difficult passages? Share this with your students and bring them into your story of encountering Scripture. Students need to see adults who believe in God’s word and how it has been a part of their lives. They need to see that it can be a real and important aspect of the Christian life, and not a boring part of their to-do list to check off. Students connect with personal stories and will benefit from hearing yours.

What are You Teaching: Culture and Worldviews

Current events, cultural movements, worldviews, and relevant topics in the lives of students present great opportunities to dig deep and critically think about practical biblical application. But in order to handle these topics well, we need to be mindful of what is happening, how we approach them, and what the Bible says about them. Last week, we kicked off this series by discussing spiritual rhythms and today we want to continue by engaging the topic of culture and worldviews.

Speaking on these topics is paramount to our ministries because it helps our students see how the Gospel is relevant and applicable in our present reality and culture. Students are seeking to understand how they can be Christians in a world that is juxtaposed to Christianity, and at the same time trying to understand how the issues of today are guided by God’s Word. So as we teach on these areas, it is important that we help students see how the Gospel transcends time and space and the real applications it has for us now. This will allow our students to make biblically-informed decisions and help to elicit needed change from a Godly perspective.

Know your topics. If we are teaching about a topic our students are dealing with, we owe it to them to be well-versed and knowledgeable about that topic. For instance, if you are going to teach on sexuality, it would be beneficial for you to know the correct terminology, culture perceptions, and biblical insight. This will allow you to engage your students where they are at and you will be able to help them understand how to apply the Bible to these types of conversations and cultural settings.

Dig deep into current cultural contexts. I think sometimes it is easy for us to simply present what the Bible says and believe that our students see the application within their spheres. But the truth of the matter is it can be hard for students (and really anyone) to apply what the Bible says to modern context. The Bible doesn’t speak to every circumstance in our present culture, but there are principles and truths that do apply. Helping our students understand how to apply these truths means we must first understand their cultural context. We need to know what issues they are dealing with, why certain issues are important to them, and how to help them navigate cultural distortions of biblical truths. By doing this you can help your students prepare to engage this world with biblical truths that are covered in love and grace.

Know the pressures your students are facing. This is more than just knowing the cultural context, it is about knowing your community and students and the pressures that are uniquely surrounding them. No one group of students, communities, or environments will be exactly the same. So it is important to know the tensions your students are encountering. It may be issues with technology, sex and identity, or social justice concerns. Mental health could be a big factor for your students, or it could be socioeconomic status, or questions about faith and God’s goodness. Whatever the pressures are, the only way you will know them is by engaging your students, families, and communities and seeking to understand their key concerns.

Be aware of how your students think and engage. It may surprise you how your students think and what they believe. They may have differing opinions than yours on biblical truths and principles, and that is okay. Students, like everyone else, need to formulate their own views as they make their faith their own. This doesn’t mean we sit by passively and treat them with kid gloves, but instead we take their opinions and views into consideration and don’t just shut them down. Allow them to push back, ask questions, and formulate a biblical worldview as they navigate their faith.

Give practical application. This is a big one for students. So often they want to contribute to change, growth, and progress, and the application we give should help guide them in how to meet those desires. If they care about justice, help them find ways to advocate in your community and nationally. If it’s about providing food and clean water, guide them to local food pantries and national organizations they can support. If it’s about race and equality, help them find ways to engage their communities in dialogue and movement toward practical change. If it involves changing perspectives and views that may be harmful in the church, show them where to serve, how to elicit change, who to talk to, and advocate with them.

Present biblical truths with grace and love. As I shared above, students will often have differing views than what we may present. Whether it’s because of personal preference, experience, or cultural impact, their views may not always align with the truths of God’s Word. Even when what we present counters their views and perspectives, we must always remember to share these truths with love and grace. Students don’t often hold differing views just to disagree and cause tension, but their views are often informed by relationships, sympathy and empathy, and cultural trends and norms. Because of this, we must be willing to engage in dialogue and discussion that both hears and understands our students and their views, but also lovingly presents the truth of the Bible. Remember it isn’t always about being right, but instead helping to shape and guide our students to an understanding of God’s Word and helping them make their faith their own.

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.

6 Quick Tips for Speaking Prep

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

1. Study and know your material.

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

2. Pray…a lot.

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

3. Seek feedback and insight.

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

4. Practice.

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

5. Know your audience and venue.

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

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

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

What are some things you do to prepare for speaking?

Words of Advice for Couples Starting Out in Ministry

This month we celebrated our ninth anniversary of being married. As we have reflected on the last nine years of marriage and fifteen of knowing one another, we have become acutely aware of things we wished we had known starting out in ministry together.

Within the last month of our engagement Nick lost his job. During our first month of marriage, we moved into our first home together, Nick got his first full time ministry position, and began commuting an hour and a half to his new job. About a month later we moved to our second place in a brand new town, Elise went from working in an office to working remotely, and Nick began working fifty to sixty hours a week.

The rest of that first year was filled with so many other unique challenges and blessings, and each of them forced us to grow and mature together. Looking back on that time there are so many realities and truths we wish we had known then that we have learned along the way, and we wanted to share with you a few tips to help you succeed not just in your marriage but also in your ministry as a couple.

Prioritize your relationship.

If I (Nick) am being honest, this was a struggle during our first couple of years of marriage because of my job and all of its commitments. I had my first full-time ministry position and it demanded a lot of my time. I was working sixty hours or more a week, my days off were not matched with Elise’s, and there way too many moments when we would simply see each other before we went to bed.

Looking back I truly wish I had prioritized our relationship over the ministry I was serving. Ultimately those first couple of years added much more weight and difficulty than we should have had, but I did not stand up and start making changes until a couple of years in.

Ministry is a calling from God but our relationship with our spouse should be our first priority after our relationship with God. Ministry then is a tertiary priority in the grand scheme of our lives. Let me encourage you to learn from my missteps and put your relationship with your spouse first. Prioritize time together. Make date nights a non-negotiable. Continue to go out on dates and vacations. Stop doing work at home. Spend time together and find ways to retreat and be with one another.

Listen well.

I don’t know if you are like me (Nick) or not, but there have been times when I would come home from work and just feel done. After being around people all day I don’t talk much and sometimes I am guilty of switching off. But there are also days that I would come home and I was/am a fire hose of words. I just dump everything on Elise and go a mile a minute when I am talking.

Neither of those options are beneficial to our relationship. I either am not listening or halfheartedly listening to Elise in the first scenario or I am doing all the talking and none of the listening in the second. What I have learned throughout our years of being together is that focusing on our relationship and truly listening to Elise is so important. When you allow your spouse to share about their day, you are prioritizing them and your relationship. You are highlighting that they and their day are just as important as yours. My advice would be to always seek to find balance in listening which means considering what and how much you say.

Over-communicate.

In light of what I just shared above, this may seem counterproductive. But hear me out: I am not saying that you need to talk all the time and that your relationship is simply both of you competing for time to talk. I am saying that a priority in your relationship should be communicating often and clearly about what is going on. Early on, I didn’t communicate all of the things that I needed to do for my job. In fact it would often be last minute where I would say things like “well, it’s time for me to go to work” without having shared my working hours previously. And honestly, that is the quickest way to devalue your spouse and make them feel like they aren’t a valid member of the relationship.

Instead, let me encourage you to over-communicate. Make sure your spouse knows your schedule. Communicate about what you have going on, who you are meeting with, ministry events, and your commitments. This is even more important if your spouse isn’t serving with you. One of the best ways to do this is through a shared calendar. We use Google Calendar and it is awesome! It has truly helped us be on the same page and to know what is going on. But at the same time, this cannot be your catch all. While a calendar is helpful, it is not a replacement for a true conversation that values the other person by sharing life and happenings with them.

Be honest.

Sometimes in relationships it is easy to just pretend that everything is okay. This doesn’t come from a malicious place or out of a desire to be deceitful, but more out of protection for our spouse. We think that by not sharing and avoiding the realities that we are facing, we are somehow sparing them further pain and struggle. But the truth is that the more we do that, the more distance and tension we are adding to the relationship.

I have struggled for years sharing how I am feeling with Elise. Not because I am trying to hide anything but that is just not how I was raised and with extensive trauma (ministry and personal) in my past, I don’t always know how to share. But as I have walked through this most recent season of struggling with mental health, I have come away with a renewed passion for how important honesty and transparency is in marriage.

As you are honest with one another it allows you to have not only a place of refuge and encouragement, but also someone who loves and supports you. Being honest strengthens the bond you and your spouse have and enables you to engage with anything because you know that you are always for one another.

Encourage and challenge one another.

Another key aspect to remember is that you and your spouse are a team and as such, you should be for one another. One of the ways Elise always is for me is by encouraging me and challenging me to utilize my gifts fully. I can often talk down about myself or the skills God has given to me, but Elise constantly encourages me and challenges me to reach my full potential. It is easy when you are first married to do this, but often as time goes on this can fade because we assume our spouse knows how we feel about them.

One of the best ways you can truly care for and support your spouse is by being in their corner. Help them to see the good. Encourage them and speak highly of them. Challenge them to grow and see their gifting from God. As you continue to be more supportive and encouraging to your spouse you will see the greater opportunity for growth and depth within your relationship with one another and with God.

Surrender your expectations.

Before setting off on a journey of marriage–and ministry–it’s normal to have expectations of how you think things should or will go. If you’re like us and you went to Bible college, you may think you have a pretty good understanding of ministry, theology, and how to “be a good Christian.” The reality is that college or seminary can only give you so much information. A lot of life, marriage, and ministry involves learning along the way. You will discover things and have experiences you never could’ve prepared for, and things will be both beautifully amazing and crushingly difficult.

Our encouragement is to let go of expectations, and the need to control. Instead, hold everything in an open hand to God and seek to learn and grow from what He is doing. He will give you the skills and abilities you need and His strength will carry you through both the difficult and the amazing. And let this apply to your spouse as well. Don’t look for ways to control them, instead strive to love them for who they are, celebrating their unique complexities as designed by God. We all long to be loved for who we are, and that is something we can seek to offer each other. As we do that, we create a safe space for each other to be shaped by a loving God as we individually and collectively seek to become more like Christ.

Speaking Tips for New Youth Pastors

Is this your first ministry position? Are you feeling your pulse quicken and heart beat faster as you stand before your students? Is this your first time speaking to a group that is now yours to shepherd and lead?

We have all been, or will be, in that position at some point. Whether it’s your very first ministry position or your first time speaking in front of a new youth group or audience, speaking can be difficult. We can all feel rushed, overwhelmed, ill-equipped, terrified, and more. But when you are stepping in front of your group for the first time (or first few), it can be terrifying and that can lead us into some patterns that aren’t beneficial.

We can tend to speak too long our first few times and if left unchecked it becomes a habit we don’t know how to break. When we feel uncomfortable we can make jokes or poke fun at people we shouldn’t. When we think students are disengaging or being disruptive we can snap and get upset. Not having a plan in place and thinking through how communicate and speak well will lead us into a place that is very difficult out of which to rise. Today I want to offer you some tips on how to speak well to your group, especially if you’re a new youth pastor or in a new role.

Keep it short.

Sometimes when we start off with a new group we can tend to be a little too talkative. This doesn’t come from a bad place but from a desire to be clear, to make sure everything is communicated, and to build relational equity. But talking for too long actually detracts from all of those points.

Instead, look to keep your lessons to 15 minutes or less. You can always build them up to longer lessons as you build rapport and relationships within your ministry. A good metric to assess the timing of your lesson is to ask yourself if it could be broken into two shorter lessons. If it can be, it is most likely best to do so.

Know your group.

The more you know your group, the better prepared you will be to communicate with them. You may be wondering how to do this, especially if you are in week one of your new position. A few easy ways to build relationships early include getting to church and youth group early to meet people, initiating conversations rather than waiting for them to happen, playing games with your students, and connecting with your leaders before gatherings. If you put these aspects into place, you will begin to know more about your group, which will allow you to connect and engage with them at a deeper level.

Know your material.

This is something that is hugely important. I know most, if not all, of us would say we strive to know our material and what we are sharing. But how comfortable are you when something or someone throws you off your game? In a new setting you never know what could happen: a student could interrupt, your setting could be unusual and distracting, or someone could try to distract you. In those moments do you feel comfortable enough to disengage from teaching to engage the moment and then reengage with the teaching? Knowing your material means you are comfortable and able to audible when needed, and that you can handle whatever comes your way.

Slow down.

I don’t know if it’s because I grew up in the northeast or if it just comes natural, but regardless of the reason I tend to be a fast talker. But when I talk fast, things can get lost or misunderstood. When people start in a new pastoral position the propensity can be to talk faster in an attempt to cram as much material as possible into each lesson. But this is not an ideal way to communicate. Instead slow down, be purposeful and intentional, and make sure to clearly articulate your points. Doing this will not only ensure that what is shared is heard but also retained and prayerfully applied.

Engage with your group.

This is a key point and one that I think many of us can struggle with. Whenever we stand before a group we have our expectations about how the group should function and how they should engage, respond, and focus on what we are saying. But have you noticed how our expectations and realities don’t always go hand-in-hand? You may want the group to be quiet and hyper-focused on what you are saying, but they may want to ask questions and interrupt. How do you handle that? Do you allow your frustration or unmet expectations to show?

Let me encourage you to engage with your group during your speaking time. Don’t get frustrated but instead respond well. When they make a joke, laugh if appropriate. If they ask a question, engage it. If they don’t seem like they are paying attention, consider alternatives to calling it out (pause and highlight the lesson’s importance, pause and pray to center hearts, consider that it may be best to dialogue in smaller groups, etc.). Engaging with your group shows them that you see and value them, and that this isn’t meant to be a top down, authoritative lecture but instead a discipleship pathway.

Control your emotions.

This is a good thing to do in any setting, but especially in front of students. Students are highly intelligent and they can easily assess how people are feeling based upon body language, interactions and conversations, ticks you may have (eye rolls, sighs, facial expressions, looking at the clock, etc.), or a failure to look at them as you speak. All of these highlight our internal emotions and students are acutely aware of them.

So as you engage with and speak to your students, make sure you are controlling your emotions. Don’t allow your frustrations to boil over into an outburst. Don’t get angry at your students for not paying attention. Don’t become passive aggressive in your comments. Instead pray before, during, and after you speak for a gracious heart and a joyful spirit. Be vigilant in practicing the Fruit of the Spirit. Practice smiling before you speak. Studies actually show that smiling releases endorphins that help you feel happy and relaxed. So take five to ten seconds before you speak to pray and smile.

Have fun.

This is one aspect I always try to remember. Yes, this is a career. Yes, we are expositing God’s Word. Yes, we are seeking to disciple students and help them on the path of living for Jesus. But as we do that, I believe we can also have fun. I truly believe that Jesus had fun and enjoyed life with His followers, and that we are to do the same. So when you are speaking, smile, tell a joke or funny story, be personal, and laugh when things don’t always go according to plan. The more fun you have while you are speaking the more value and passion you will have for the calling God has given you.