Dealing with Disruptions

With the start of a new school year, I have heard multiple youth workers lament how there have been increasing disruptions within their ministries. Whether it’s students not respecting a speaker or one another, or inappropriate comments during youth group, or constant interruptions in small groups, this is a reality many of us face. And for many of us it can feel frustrating and discouraging. We begin to wonder if we are part of the problem or we just get upset to the point of perhaps yelling at a student. But instead of responding critically toward the student or ourselves, it would be prudent to step back and think about the situation at hand.

Before thinking critically about how to handle disruptions, I think it is helpful to think about the “why.” Why are these disruptions happening? Why do they seem to be manifesting in force right now? I believe if we take time to reflect on this past year and a half, we may see some rationale for why these disruptions seem to be occurring on a larger scale than prior years.

  • Students weren’t engaging in interpersonal relationships due social distancing and schools going online.
  • Students were engaged in relationships primarily online which allowed for anonymity and for increased boldness to say and do things they normally would not.
  • Some students were not receiving the discipleship they needed and were therefore not developing in spiritual, emotional, and relational maturity.
  • Students have forgotten how to engage in interpersonal relationships and their filters have been forgotten as well.

So what should we do if there are disruptions? How do we handle it well? Today, I want to provide you with some steps on how to handle these types of situations, but also to caution you to remember that there are never two situations exactly the same. There will always be differences, so how you handle the situation won’t always look the same. Therefore, these steps may not all be included, or the process for engaging the disruption may change. And that is okay. These are meant to be steps that simply help us see the whole picture and lovingly walk with our students even in difficult moments.

Speak with love.

Sometimes when disruptions happen we can respond in ways that are not always healthy. Responding with sarcasm, accusatory humor, or even saying something like, “Come on Nick, why do you always have to be distracting others?” will never help you get your point across nor help the group respect and follow after you. Instead, always speak in love. Look to model Jesus and seek to love even the most difficult student. We don’t always know what students are going through or why they are responding in the manner that they are. And when we bite back with a quick retort or cutting comment, that immediately causes students to pull away and build bigger and stronger walls. So always speak with love, be willing to be humble, and remember your calling. When you embody these things it will allow you to better engage and handle the situation at hand.

Never assume.

We are all really good at assuming. But just because we are good at it doesn’t mean we should do it. It is easy to assume how a student will respond because we work with them and know their family history. But we don’t know everything that is happening in their lives. They may be getting bullied. There may be abuse. They may be struggling with their identity. They may be having harmful ideologies. These moments when a student becomes disruptive are moments for us to step up and be the leaders that God has called us to be.

We are called to embody the love of Jesus and care well for our students. You may not know what that student is going through until a later date, or perhaps you will never know, but I can guarantee you this: if you respond in love, that will create a better opportunity for you to invest in and care for that student. On the flip side, if you respond out of frustration, more walls will be built and that student will become more withdrawn and less likely to trust. By seeking to understand and responding out of love you will be able to better assess and engage with the student and walk with them.

Don’t call out publicly.

This is a big thing to avoid, and if we are honest with ourselves we may be guilty of this. I think sometimes our propensity when students are disruptive or distracting is to respond in the moment. But when we do that we make it personal and we become the attacker. We have allowed for what the student is doing to be an attack on what we are doing and we take it personally because we are presenting the Word of God and students should listen and pay attention. But the problem now is bigger because instead of seeking to understand, we have made it about how that student is the problem and how we are the authority who will quell the problem.

Instead, what we should seek to do is love the student and engage with them personally. Show them that they have value and worth. Look to explain and seek to understand. See the student and not the issue. When you do this it allows you to invest into the life of the student and love them, which shows the student you truly care. I have often found when students are disruptive they are seeking to see if the youth leader really loves them and they are watching how they respond. They want to see if you are for them and if your words match your actions. So use this as a time to care for them and model Christ.

Look for the “why.”

As you engage with students don’t assume you know why they are acting out. Take time to dig deep, to ask them questions, and to get to the heart of the matter. There may be extenuating circumstances that are affecting the student and causing them to act out. We never know until we seek to understand and ask those questions. So talk with the student. Show them you care. Ask about their life. And seek to understand. When you do this you will begin to see the relational equity pay off and you will be able to engage at a deeper level with the student.

Do not use absolutes.

It is easy when talking to students to make statement like, “Why are you always the one who is disruptive?” Or, “Why do you never want to listen to the lesson?” Or, “Why must you always be a problem?” These types of absolute statements tell students that they are the problem and always will be the problem, and that they will never be anything other than a problem. This type of language is incredibly harmful and will stick with the student for much, if not all, of their life. So seek to use statements like, “Why did this happen tonight?” followed with concrete examples of other times if this has been repetitive behavior. But in that same vein, highlight how you have seen the student actually pay attention or be a leader. Don’t only focus on the negative, but seek to affirm and raise up the positive.

Challenge the student.

When you are engaging with a student and talking about the difficult moments, use this as an opportunity to not only highlight the difficulties but also to challenge the student. Speak truth into their lives. Affirm their strengths and what they bring to the group. Challenge them to be better and be the leader they can be. Help them to see that what they do matters and that they can help to bring about proactive and beneficial change in the lives of other students and the group. When you tell a student that you love them and see potential and great things from them, you are telling them that they have value and worth. You are telling them that they matter and are needed. This will help students see that they can and should be looking to be different and to lead out.

Bring in parents.

This is typically a last resort for me, because students hate having their parents know that they misbehaved. When a student is disruptive it rarely qualifies for bringing in a parent, but depending on the severity of the situation it may be warranted. In those moments do not seek to simply be right or prove your case. Share the facts and the reason it warranted calling in the parents. But also highlight that this is not something that means the student is cast out from the ministry. Let parents know you are for their student and for them, but that the behavior needs to change because it is negatively affecting the group. Allow for the parents to work through a solution and be willing to partner with them and the student. I would also say that whatever discipline the parents decide on, do not write off the student. Continue to love them, pray for them, and walk with them. It may not be received right away, but remembering that this student is still a part of your program and one of your sheep will allow for you to care them in real and tangible ways.

How to Work Well on a Team [Part 2]

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

Strive to enhance the team not individual goals.

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

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

Be for one another.

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

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

Pray for each other.

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

Have important conversations in person.

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

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

Be willing to be humble.

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

Try new things and ideas.

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

How to Work Well on a Team [Part 1]

When it comes to working on a team, whether a student ministry team or an all church team or even as a volunteer, there are unique challenges and opportunities that come with that role. Often these challenges and opportunities will manifest in different ways with each individual and that can make the team dynamic feel stretched or challenging. The question we must be thinking through as members and leaders of these teams is how can we set them up for and contribute to their success so the Gospel ultimately succeeds. Today I hope to share with you some insight that I have learned from working on teams that will prayerfully help you and the teams you lead or are a part of be successful on your mission to reach people for Jesus.

Communicate clearly and consistently.

When it comes to being on a team one of the biggest things to focus on is clear and consistent communication. What you say, what you don’t say, what your body and facial expressions communicate is highly important. As you work with a team think about how what you say, how you say it, why you say it, and when you say it is received by those on your team. This will help you to be self-reflective and to think through motive and purpose behind what you are communicating. Clear and consistent communication also removes ambiguity and allows for clarity amongst the team so everyone is on the same page and knows if there are differing emotions, expectations, or alignments within the team.

Listen well.

This is something that we can all work on. Listening well in life is important but as you are working with a team it is even more so because poor listening leads to poor communication and no clarity or direction. So as you come together as a team be willing to listen to and hear from other people well. Don’t come with presuppositions and do not presume that you know what they will say or motives behind what they do. Instead seek to understand by listening well and look at the heart of what is being communicated.

Be willing to help even if it isn’t your job.

Often times we can get hyper focused in our roles and only see what we need to do. Or we can make excuses about how we can’t help due to busyness, time, or it isn’t part of our job focus. But that is born out of selfishness, and instead we should die to ourselves and seek to help one another. When you see your facilities team setting up or cleaning up from an event (even if it isn’t one of your’s), seek to honor them by helping them out.

Now I will say this: being willing to help others does not mean you sacrifice everything in every moment. You need to make sure you are setting and honoring healthy boundaries to make sure you are staying healthy holistically. It is okay to say “no,” but we need to make sure it is for appropriate reasons and not out of selfishness.

Bring your ideas to the table.

Part of being on a team means that someone has seen your skills and value, otherwise you wouldn’t be on the team. So share your thoughts and ideas. An idea not shared won’t ever come to fruition. But it is also important to remember to value and encourage the ideas of others. It isn’t only about getting your ideas across to the team, but it also includes valuing and affirming other ideas that are presented. Ideas and thoughts from a team provide meaningful insight, creativity, and opportunities for growth and they should be valued.

Be honest with your thoughts and feelings.

This point goes hand in hand with the previous one. When it comes to working on a team, open and honest conversations are hugely important to the health and well-being of the team. So if you’re feeling a certain way about the team, a teammate, or even how you are viewed or utilized, make sure to share that. It isn’t easy in the moment, it will feel uncomfortable, and the tension may be palpable. But actually engaging with one another and being honest is hugely important and will make the team stronger.

I would like to offer a few suggestions on how to do this that will be helpful in having these conversations:

  • Be honest, but be full of grace and humility in doing so.
  • Do not assume or presume about others. Don’t walk into a conversation assuming the worst. Go in knowing God is at work and working all things out for His glory.
  • Be willing to receive. Sometimes you will need to be talked to about how you have been engaging others, and you need to be willing to receive that well.
  • Be willing to hear out your teammates. Hear what they have to say because at the end of the day they may not know how things were received or heard, and by doing this you can help shape future conversations and interactions.
  • Pray for your teammates. In these moments prayer is hugely important as it helps us focus on God and it centers our hearts in how we engage with others as a result.

Next week we will conclude this conversation and look at our final points on how to work well on a team. In the in-between time, what have you done or seen that helped teams work well together?

Tips for Hosting Great Leader Meetings

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

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

Make it inviting.

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

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

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

Make it informational.

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

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

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

Make it relational and have fun.

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

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

Make it creative.

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

Incorporate prayer and worship.

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

Building Sustainable Summer Programming

Summer is quickly approaching and with guidelines being lessened, it seems more ministries are ramping up for programming. This is such an amazing feeling after what can only be described as a very long and difficult season for all of us. We are excited for the opportunity to gather together. We are eager for nice weather and the ability to fellowship outside. We can sense the newness and anticipation to gather sans masks, to be with those we love and disciple.

But in that same vein there is a propensity to scale our ministries upward quickly and build out massive events and outreaches. Or perhaps you have been told by church leadership that you must have an event per week throughout the entire summer that brings in a certain number of students. These aren’t bad ideas or desires but we need to focus on building a purposeful and intentional ministry that is sustainable. To try and build something bigger and better without the ability to continue it will hinder future growth and the ability to continue to minister to our people. In order to think through how we are structuring and building our summer programming, I want to offer you a few things to consider that will help you in creating a meaningful and purpose-driven ministry.

Make it sustainable.

Whatever you decide to do for the summer, it should be something that you can continue in some manner in the fall or in subsequent summers. You want to have programming that not only can exist in the moment but has longevity as well. It should be something you should be able to reproduce and can continue with in months and years to come. Whatever you plan you need to make sure that you also are able to sustain it personally. My fear is that many youth workers are adding more and more events and gatherings onto their already overflowing plates. Continuing in this style of ministry and work ethic will lead to burnout and bitterness. Instead, I would challenge you to think through if what you are planning is sustainable for your ministry and for yourself. Are these gatherings reproduceable and sustainable within my ministry context? Can I continue with these gatherings or have I reached my capacity? Can I continue to give or am I completely spent? Asking these questions will allow for you to assess how and what you are implementing this summer and if they are sustainable for the long term.

Make it purposeful.

Whenever we think through hosting an event or gathering we should think through the vision and purpose of the event. It shouldn’t be something we have just to have, there should be intentionality and focus to it. Understandably you may be in a position where you have been told to just host events throughout the summer, but think through how you are hosting the event, what it’s purpose is, and how you can use it to empower and grow your ministry as you make disciples. Our ministries should not simply be a place to hang out and have fun, they should be a place where students can come, be loved and challenged, and spurred on in the disciple-making process. So as you plan out your summer, think about how your events and gatherings can embrace your ministry’s focus and vision and utilize these events to further that focus.

Know your demographic.

Now you may already know who attends your church and your ministry, but during the summer there will be times of transition. Some towns lose people during the summer because everyone goes out of town for vacation. Other towns gain people because people come there to vacation. And still others will remain steady in their numbers. When you understand how your community shifts during the summer it affords you a greater opportunity to reach your people. If you know you are a town that draws in tourists, you may want to shift your programming during the summer to be more relational and outreach focused. If you find that your ministry largely retains your students, consider taking advantage of the time together and doing a deep dive on issues they are facing. Or if you have a smaller group and they have expressed a desire for more relational opportunities, host events where community is a highlight. Regardless, you should know who you are trying to reach and how many people to expect. When you know your audience and how many are coming you can build outward and scale your program accordingly.

Less can be more.

Summertime is often when many student ministries ramp up in programming. For some reason we believe that the more opportunities we can host and offer our students, the more likely they are to come. I don’t disagree in hosting events and gatherings, but I don’t think we should try to be all things to all people. If we try to host things all summer long, and offer activity after activity, we will end up feeling burnt out, our leaders will be exhausted, and we will come to see we cannot necessarily compete with everything else summer has to offer. Students will not come because they are working, or at the beach, or at an amusement park, or just relaxing at home.

I would suggest that instead of having a programmatically heavy summer, you approach summer from a less-is-more mentality. Host more focused and intentional gatherings. Lean into your small group leaders and encourage them to gather with their students in intentional and relational ways (getting ice cream together, going to the amusement park, having a movie night, etc.). These types of opportunities will allow you to engage at a deeper level and champion disciple-making because these gatherings are intentionally focused on that vison. Hosting a barbeque will allow for more intentional conversations and for there to be lifelong impact, where a large party style gathering may be fun but will not necessarily have the transformational opportunities we desire.

Take advantage of what you have.

It is so easy to look around and see what everyone else has and is doing. We desire a larger facility, a place with a pool, an outdoor space, all the game equipment, an indoor café, or a space to host worship bands. But if we only look to what we don’t have, we will forget what we do have. God has equipped you and given you all you need in this time and place to reach people for Him. So remember and take advantage of what you have been given.

If you have a smaller setting lean into that. Consider hosting small groups throughout the week and creating space for them to grow in their community and relationship with Jesus. If you have a café, consider opening it up periodically during the summer as a venue for people to come and hang out free of charge. If you have a family with a pool, ask them if they would be up for hosting a pool party. If you only have a field at your church, think about hosting a water wars night or an evening of capture the flag followed by smores. And if you are a larger church, consider sharing resources and inviting other churches in. All of our resources are for the kingdom, so let’s model that in how we share them.

What are your plans for the summer? How are you intentionally investing in your groups during this time?

6 Ways to Connect with Your Audience

Whether you’re speaking to your students, a group of parents, or guest-speaking at a retreat or camp, it is important to think through how to connect with your audience. We have all witnessed someone struggle to connect with their target audience, and we know the necessity of connection as it helps to strengthen the effectiveness of our message. But the question is: how do we connect with our audience?

This is an interesting question because depending on the audience the answers may vary. If you’re communicating with students or children, you may use simpler language and talk about memories when you were their age. If you’re speaking to adults who have a stronger biblical background you may be more apt to include theological terms and doctrinal statements. But age aside, there are some key ways to connect with an audience no matter who you are speaking to. Today, I want to share some of these with you to help you think through how you’re not only connecting but also communicating with those around you.

Know your material.

This is a big thing that I think we often overlook. As ministers of the Gospel we need to take seriously what we are doing and sharing with those in our charge. We shouldn’t treat the messages we share with a lackadaisical attitude that sees us prepping the message right before the start of youth group or a conference. Instead we should desire to study and know our material, and we should give it the proper treatment that is reserved for the life-changing components it contains.

That means we need to afford the proper amount of prep time to what we are sharing, we should internalize our message so if we lose our place in our notes we can still continue and not be stuck, and doing this will afford us freedom as we share should a question or distraction be raised.

Know your audience.

This is one that can be both easy and difficult depending on your setting. If you’re speaking to your students it is probably easier to know them than if you were speaking at a conference or to a newer group. Regardless of who are speaking to, knowing your audience will allow you to establish rapport and credibility, which will then allow them to listen better to what you are sharing.

An easy few ways of knowing your audience include listening, observing, and interacting. Listen to the people around you: to what they say, their stories, their likes and dislikes. These things will help you know what makes them tick which will allow you to then engage with them more on their level and with what they care about. Observing people will also help you understand the social settings and dynamics that are happening within the group, and to discern what they do or don’t enjoy. This then affords you a greater understanding of how to relate to them. Lastly, you should also interact with your audience. Listening and observing is great, but if you don’t get involved with them you may appear standoffish or elitist. When you actually engage and participate with people you will learn much about who they are, which will allow you to connect with them at a deeper level.

Utilize stories.

Stories are an amazing way to connect with your audience. Not only do they help engage one’s imagination but they draw people in and help to further the point of your message. I highly encourage using personal stories because they help you to connect at a deeper level, show authenticity, and highlight that you are a real person who is growing just like your audience. Jesus used stories, often called parables, with great success because storytelling is a wonderful and helpful means of getting your audience to understand and connect the principles you are sharing with real world application and results.

Be authentic.

If you work with students you probably know that they can sniff out when someone isn’t being real or honest with them. They know the moment someone doesn’t really see or care about them, and they know if a speaker truly cares about and wants to be sharing with their group. So when you are speaking or onstage for an event, just be yourself and look to connect with your audience by sharing from your life. Don’t try to mimic another speaker or presenter. Don’t try to tell someone else’s story. Don’t try to be another “influencer.” Instead be who God made you. Communicate your own way and care about the people with whom you are communicating. When they see your heart and love for them, complimented with the truth of Gospel, then you will see lives changed as the Spirit of God takes hold of them.

Use humor.

Humor is a great resource when connecting with people. Some people are masters at this and can seemingly weave it into any talk with little effort, while others need to work hard to bring it into their messages. No matter where you fall in that spectrum, consider using it because humor helps people lower their walls and it allows them to trust you more.

When it comes to humor remember a few things:

  • Always keep it appropriate. If you need to ask, “is this okay to say, do, or show?” the answer is probably no. Always err on the side of caution. You never want humor to be the focus of your message but to point people back to it.
  • Never use other people for humor unless you have their permission. The worst thing you could do is make fun of someone in the audience because they will tune you out and you could potentially turn them off to Jesus.
  • Poke fun at yourself and tell funny stories from your own life. This will help you to be relatable and seen as a normal, everyday person.
  • Your message isn’t a stand-up routine. You are there to point people to Jesus, and humor is simply an asset to help you do just that. Too much humor will come across as disingenuous and people will only come to laugh and not hear the truth of the Gospel.

Utilize visuals.

Visuals can come in all varieties and may change depending on your audience. If it’s a younger audience video clips and funny photos may be a very helpful resource. If it’s an older audience photos, quotes, pictures of resources, and graphs may help in getting your point(s) across. Regardless, we must understand that visuals help us in communicating and therefore help us in connecting with the audience. Visuals bring people in, capture their attention, and help with recall later on.

A few easy visuals include photos (personal photos offer a deeper level of connection if applicable), video clips, PowerPoint or ProPresenter slides, props as they pertain to what you’re sharing, or art. The importance thing in utilizing visuals is that you do not force them and that they are not juvenile. Don’t try to force a prop into an illustration or point because if it doesn’t work, you will detract from your message. And if you try to do something juvenile, people will disconnect and just think about how it wasn’t for them rather than focusing on the point you are attempting to communicate.

Helping Families Win: Resources [Part 2]

Last week we shared some digital resources we believe would be helpful for families. Today, I want to spend a little bit of time looking at some books I find beneficial for a variety of topics families are dealing with. These books are not all encompassing, but I believe they will provide helpful insight and guidance for families, and prayerfully strengthen the relationships between parents and students. There are also far too many books to list in a singular post, so I will be doing a follow up to this post with additional books that I have found helpful.

Living in a Gray World – A Christian Teen’s Guide to Understanding Homosexuality

This is a super helpful book from Preston Sprinkle that seeks to provide insight and understanding for the questions many students (and adults) are asking about homosexuality. This is an easy read that is filled with grace, compassion, understanding, and biblical truth. Sprinkle handles everything from questions we may have, to what the reader should do if they might be gay, to what the Bible say about homosexuality. If this isn’t a topic your family is thinking or talking through, I would still highly recommend reading this book to gain insight and understanding into a topic that is very big part of our world.

It’s Not Too Late – The Essential Part You play in Shaping Your Teen’s Faith

Dan Dupee put together this book to encourage parents who may feel like they don’t know what they are doing when it comes to shepherding and guiding their children. It is an honest and raw book that utilizes sociological research and Scripture to help you navigate the realities of development in your children and to give you tangible ways to engage and pour into them. One of the big things that Dupee will focus on is the reality that students are not removed from your care and influence once they enter middle school, high school, or college. The way you engage may look different but you can continue to engage and disciple them at those points.

If I had a Parenting Do Over – 7 Vital Changes I’d Make

Jonathan McKee is a widely respected youth culture expert, speaker, and author who loves to provide resources for parents, families, and youth workers. The purpose of this book is to encourage and challenge parents to grow and pour into their children. Jonathan offers honest insight into the realities of parenting and mistakes he has made in order to provide wisdom and helpful tools for parents navigating caring for and discipling their students. He provides helpful actions, thoughts, and insights to give parents a place to breathe, acknowledge, and look to grow as they shepherd their students. This book also has a free seven week curriculum designed for small groups of parents to walk through that is amazingly helpful and beneficial.

Understanding Your Teen – Shaping their Character, Facing their Realities

Dr. Jim Burns put together a fantastic book to help parents (and really anyone working with young people) understand and care for their students. This book is extremely practical and offers insight into how to parent well and how to help develop your student in maturity and faith, all while understanding the realities that students are navigating in a changing culture. In the first part of his book, Burns provides parents with insight into understanding their student and gives practical ways to think through and talk about issues that students are facing. Burns provides helpful thought into how to have healthy media boundaries, developing student’s faith, teaching healthy sexuality, and much more. The second part of Burns’ book talks through issues and problems that students are facing and then gives helpful thoughts and solutions for parents to consider as they navigate these topics. Some of the topics that are covered include eating disorders, bullying and cyberbullying, self-harm, abuse, depression, and much more.

52 Ways to Connect with Your Smartphone Obsessed Kid – How to Engage with Kids Who Can’t Seem to Pry Their Eyes from Their Devices!

Jonathan McKee has multiple books and resources that are amazingly helpful, and this is one of his books that every parent and youth worker should read. The focus of this book is to help students move from being tech dependent to tech enabled. Jonathan wants to help parents help their students by seeing that the technology they have should not own or command them, but instead is a resource and a tool meant to be utilized appropriately. Jonathan’s easy-to-read style of writing offers the reader 52 ideas on how to proactively engage your student that brings creative advice and ideas to the table and allows for the uniqueness of each student to help parents think about how to engage with them. There are also questions to ponder at the end of each idea, that would be very helpful to simply begin fostering a conversation with your student.

Shepherding a Child’s Heart

This is a wonderful resource to give to families with children at any age. Tedd Tripp offers two sections in this book: Foundations of Biblical Childrearing and Shepherding Through the Stages of Childhood. Tripp first offers the basic biblical principles that all parents need and then begins to look at how to formulate them into a shepherding plan as you love and care for your student. Tripp uses the shepherding metaphor often in his book because he believes that parenting is more than just a task or a developmental procedure. He believes it to truly be about shepherding and cultivating the heart of your children because focusing on the heart focuses on the true aspect of who we are.

The Quick-Reference Guide to Counseling Teenagers – 40 Topics, Spiritual Insights & Easy-to-Use Action Steps

Doctors Tim Clinton and Chap Clark have put together an amazing resource when it comes to counseling students. This book offers much insight into a wide range of topics including bullying, adoption, eating disorders, self-harm, pornography, abuse, depression, trauma, God’s will, and much more. They present each topic by first using a couple of portraits or case studies, then they give clarity to definitions and key thoughts to help us understand what is actually being talked about. They provide helpful questions in the assessment interview, they offer tips for wise counsel, action steps, biblical insights, a prayer starter, and additional resources. Now it should be said that I am not advocating for parents to become clinical counselors through the use of this book. Instead, I believe that this book offers helpful insight and knowledge to parents, and gives them practical questions and biblical understanding of the issues at hand. With that understanding, this book will empower and enable parents to have a more centered and biblically grounded conversation about whatever topic their student is walking through. It also will help give parents a better understanding through their student’s responses on whether they should seek additional counseling through a trained and qualified counselor.

How to Co-Lead Well

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

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

Communication

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

Game Plan Together

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

Know Your Strengths and Weaknesses

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

Be for One Another

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

Be Honest with Each Other

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

Leading Students Well in Chaotic Times

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

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

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

Be approachable.

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

Create the space for conversations.

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

Listen well.

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

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

Do not be dismissive.

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

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

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

Be willing to hear both sides.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seek understanding and clarity for where others are coming from.

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

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

Be willing to change your views.

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

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

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

How to Pursue Healthy Communication

This past Sunday I had the privilege of preaching in our church’s main services on the topic of “sharing our story,” which was focused on how we can communicate the Gospel story in healthy and proactive ways. So often our communication styles are not helpful because we allow for a “me-centric” approach to conversations, and I was able to share how I believe Jesus desires us to have healthy conversations both within and outside of the church.

As ministry leaders, we must model healthy communication at all levels in order to help facilitate the discipleship process. Today, I want to share with you some ways we can engage in healthy conversations from an interaction between Nicodemus and Jesus in John 3. These tips are not all-inclusive, but are simply a starting point for how we can begin to navigate the conversations and interactions we have with one another.

Be someone who is willing to have conversations.

As ministry leaders we must be willing to engage in conversations, whether they are with people with whom we disagree, or people who share similar views. We must be willing to engage with people where they are at in a loving, Christ-centered way. Maintaining an open door policy in regard to conversations, questions, and direction will set the precedent that you are someone who is willing to walk with others.

Ask good questions.

Part of healthy communication is the ability to both ask and respond to questions in a proactive manner. Questions are a sign that someone is seeking knowledge, clarity, and understanding in regard to the topic at hand. Questions should not be feared, but welcomed, and the manner in which we respond to them will continue to establish rapport and trust with others.

In a conversation it is also beneficial for you to ask clarifying questions as you seek to provide wisdom and insight. Rather than simply providing answers, seek to understand before you respond. Asking good questions can help you uncover the heart behind the questions you are being asked, which will then allow for you to better minister to and care for your people. Asking questions will also help you avoid assumptions, which can lead to frustration, misunderstanding, and ultimately a breakdown in communication.

Use encouraging language.

Throughout Jesus’ interaction with Nicodemus, Jesus challenges him to think critically about his questions. Jesus doesn’t respond harshly or negatively toward Nicodemus, even though the answers to his questions may seem obvious to us. As we engage in conversations with others, we must be mindful of the language that we use. Negative language will push people away and give them a sour taste, not only toward the church, but also toward the Gospel. This is not to say that we do not speak truth, nor engage in difficult conversations. However, the manner and conduct with which we approach these conversations can allow for a healthier, fuller, and more honest dialogue to unfold.

Practice active listening.

We are a society and a church that as a whole struggles to listen well to others. Often we say that we listen, but the manner in which we do is passive listening. Passive listening entails looking for flaws in the person’s conversation or argument, listening to win, and finishing sentences before a thought is completed. This type of listening is neither productive or proactive. This type of listening is harmful and will not establish trust or continued opportunities to dialogue, as people do not feel heard and instead feel devalued in the moment.

What we need pursue as ministry leaders is active listening. Active listening entails paying attention to the other person’s statement(s) and asking clarifying questions in order to deduce the heart issue. The clarifying questions will allow for you to gain a better understanding of the issues at hand, as well as value the other person as you engage with their thought process and value their input. Active listening involves hearing the other person with a goal to understand them, before being understood.

Establish relational equity and trust.

It is important even prior to a conversation to be a person that others know they can trust because they have seen you model a trustworthy life. People should know they can trust you because you are not prone to gossiping or talking poorly about others, and they know that when they come to you they can expect the same treatment. This also involves following up with individuals, not in a nosy way, but in a way that demonstrates you care and value them enough to continue walking with them. This allows you to set the precedent that it is not a singular conversation, but a relationship that you value and respect.

Share your story.

It is important in healthy conversations to be transparent and vulnerable as you dialog. This requires tact and timing because we should not simply rush to share our story and in so doing, not allow others to share theirs. We should always defer to the other person and allow for them to share their story as they have come to us as a ministry leader. When it is appropriate, we can share our story of how God has worked in our life, or share other personal examples, to help others grow. It is important to remember the person came to you seeking clarity and understanding, not necessarily personal anecdotes, so be mindful of how much you share, and how long you share. You never want to dominate the conversation, but look instead to utilize your story to showcase the Gospel and its power.