When You Can’t Help

Have you ever felt like you don’t have the answers? Or perhaps like you are powerless to affect change? Working in ministry, we will often be presented with circumstances we have little to no control over. There are moments when we just want to wrap up our students in bubble wrap and put them in a safe place to protect them from all the hurt and pain in the world. We will be in conversations that break our hearts, our words will fail us, and we’ll see no clear path of direction to offer. We will be broken when we are faced with the reality of sin and the hurt and pain it brings in the lives of our people.

So what do we do in those moments when words, encouragement, guidance, and solutions fail us? How do we still help our people? I wish I had a simple and direct answer for you, but the truth is, I don’t. I have been faced with these moments more often than I care to admit. Moments where words fail and my heart breaks because I can’t fix things. But what I can offer you are some insights for how we can navigate these moments and care well for our people even when we don’t have all the answers.

Pray…a lot.

If you know the conversation is going to occur before you enter into it, pray for the conversation. Pray during the conversation. And pray after the conversation. Prayer is often implied but can be forgotten or treated as an afterthought. These moments–before, during, and after–need to be covered in prayer because without it, we truly are powerless to help. But prayer forces us to rely upon the power that is outside of ourselves, the healing power of God.

Be honest.

Whenever we enter into these conversations our propensity can trend toward trying to hold everything together and not show emotions for fear of exasperating the situation and circumstances. But I would actually encourage you to share your feelings and thoughts. The more honest and transparent we are, the greater the opportunity we have to empathize and sympathize with others. It shows them that we are in those moments with them. It communicates care and love. And it highlights what we are able to do and not do.

Let me encourage you to not offer answers when you aren’t sure or don’t have a solution. I have found that people don’t always come seeking a solution but instead a listening ear and friend or leader who cares. So be honest with your limitations but also continue to seek to help by pointing them toward people or solutions that will help.

Show emotion.

One of the best things you can do is to emote during these moments. I’m not saying that you should always reflect the emotions of the other person (consider if they are displaying anger and violence, it wouldn’t be beneficial for you to reciprocate in kind), but demonstrate appropriate emotions within the context of the conversation. If it’s breaking your heart let those emotions show. If there is righteous anger, share it appropriately. Emotion is a powerful tool and a gift from God. We serve a God who is an emotional Being and created us in His image which is reflected through our emotions and feelings. So let me encourage you to reflect and emote appropriately and in ways that communicate understanding, love, and empathy.

Listen.

This point cannot be overstated. I think often when we “listen,” we listen to solve the problem or offer solutions. I get it, that is part of our job. We are where we are because we are seeking to help people grow and be more like Jesus. But when we only listen to find a solution, we miss the deeper heart issues along with finding out what the other person truly wants and needs.

Think of it in this way: if someone comes to you with problems in a relationship and you already have the solution before they finish sharing, you may jump in and cut them off or may incorrectly diagnose the problem and the solution. Cutting someone off communicates we don’t value them or the relationship but only finding a solution. And if we miss-diagnose the problem and solution, we may actually do more harm than good going forward (i.e. we may find the solution to be reconciliation in the relationship but that may not be possible and we would only know that if we listen fully). In these moments, listen well. Don’t listen to problem solve or offer a solution, listen to show understanding, empathy, and friendship. Care well and embody this by how you listen.

Follow up.

Following up is something I need to be better about. If I don’t make a notation on my calendar or set reminders on my phone, I can forget to do it. But it cannot be something that falls by the wayside. This is one of the most important pieces when it comes to these conversations. Following up shows our people we care and see them as more than just a conversation or problem in need of a solution. It shows them that they matter to us and that we value them and the relationship we have with them.

The goal isn’t for us to follow up and declare that we found an answer or we know what to do (although if that does happen, share it in the right moment in the right way). Instead, you can continue to show them that they matter and that you are invested in them. It can be a text saying you’re praying for them, it could be sending a card to them, it could be buying them a cup of coffee and not having a conversation agenda, or it could be as simple as giving them a hug the next time you see them (if appropriate). Whatever follow up looks like for you, make sure it is always a part of these moments.

Connect them with people who can help.

There are often moments in these conversations when you will realize you are not the best equipped person to be helping in that moment. That is okay! In fact, the more you are able to realize it, the better suited you are to make sure they receive the best care possible. As you listen and engage, think through who you can connect your people with to make sure they have the best care and help possible. This may not be something you address in the moment, but could be something you offer after the conversation. Be aware of the various organizations, resources, counselors, and other connections you can make within your church and community so you can refer and connect people with the appropriate professionals and help that is available.

6 Ways to Encourage Church Staff During the Holidays

During this time of thanksgiving, it has given me pause to reflect on how grateful I am for the amazing coworkers I have been blessed with. I truly have a wonderful staff team that is a joy with which to work. We don’t all have the same personalities or same drives and passions–aside from people following Jesus of course–but we all get along and have fun together.

The truth of the matter is that for church staff members, the holiday season is anything but relaxing. We usually end up getting busier and doing more because of all the planning and prep, parties and celebrations, larger than normal attendance, and the typical stress of the season. In the midst of all of these things it can be easy for church staff to get frustrated and forgotten. So how can we–whether we’re a fellow staff member, volunteer, or church attender–help to encourage and bless our church staff?

1. Remember important dates and moments.

Remembering staff birthdays, anniversaries, loss, and other key moments during this season is critical in encouraging them. You are highlighting that they are important and that they are important outside of what they do in and for the church. You are seeing them as a friend instead of just as a church staff member. You are prioritizing relational equity and showing them that they and their friendship matters to you.

This is especially vital for staff members who may be struggling during the holidays due to loss, stress, and busyness. People with key moments and memories during the holidays already feel passed over and forgotten (just ask someone with a December birthday or anniversary), so your ability to remember important events will help them feel loved, seen, and supported.

2. Meet up with them.

Whether it’s grabbing a cup of coffee together, bringing lunch to their office, or inviting them over for a meal at your home, these moments help church staff members feel valued and appreciated. Sometimes all we need is a friendly face and a heart that understands where we are at during the holidays. Don’t make these moments about work, but instead make it about them. Hear their heart. Ask good questions. Listen well. And speak words of encouragement to them. These aren’t times to talk shop but instead to simply be a good friend to them.

3. Speak highly about them and to them.

One of the things I learned in my cohort last year was the skill of precision praise. It isn’t simply saying “good job” or “nice sermon.” It is specifically highlighting what was done well, what was encouraging, and something you noticed that was important. To be able to encourage your church staff by speaking highly to them and giving them precision praise is huge.

Working in ministry means praise isn’t something we receive often. So taking time to specifically praise and encourage our church leadership is a wonderful way to encourage them. But don’t let it stop with just the face-to-face moments, speak highly about them and praise them publicly. If you’re preaching, make sure to highlight how awesome your team is from the pulpit. If you’re working with students, praise your coworkers in front of them. If you’re a church attender, speak well of staff in your conversations and interactions with others.

4. Write them an encouraging anonymous note.

Many of us have been the beneficiaries of anonymous notes, but usually they aren’t the encouraging type. But imagine showing up one morning with a note in your mailbox, under your door, or on your desk that is heartfelt and encouraging. All of a sudden your day changes. Your countenance is improved. You feel seen and valued. Now flip that thought and imagine being able to bring that to your church staff team. People start to feel encouraged. They are walking a little taller. The day seems to be going better. And all because you took some time to write encouraging notes. The power of a handwritten, encouraging note is massive and meaningful.

5. Get them a gift or organize a secret Santa.

One of the ways that people feel seen, valued, and encouraged is by receiving a gift. These gifts don’t need to be large or extravagant, but instead could be as simple as a small gift card, a bag of candy, or something that the individual will value and appreciate. Taking time to leave a gift for a team member or surprising them with a special item is a wonderful way to encourage them. But don’t stop with just one staff member; consider organizing a secret Santa for the whole staff team and use it as an opportunity to help spread joy and encouragement among the entire staff. Moments like these bring joy and smiles and they help your church staff know that they matter and are appreciated.

6. Bring in baked goods for the staff.

I love to bake. It is a way for me to decompress because I love to be able to control and manipulate recipes, as well as see people enjoy the items I make. I know, I know, my Enneagram type is showing. But stop and think about the last time someone brought baked goods into the office or to you personally. How did you feel? What did that moment do for the rest of your day? How many cookies did you eat? Okay, okay don’t answer that last one. It’s the holidays so calories don’t count.

My point is this: baked goods show people they matter because you put time, effort, and thoughtfulness into creating those items for them. So bake your favorite holiday recipe. Bring in some scratch made cookies. Share some pumpkin bread with the team. Bringing in baked goods and sharing in conversations while people enjoy them will be life giving and special for your church staff.

What are some ways that you have encouraged your staff team?

The Importance of Community

Over the last year, the value of community has become vibrantly apparent to me. Sure I, like most people in ministry, knew about and probably taught on the value of community. But I don’t think I’m alone in the reality that while I espoused this, I didn’t actively have community or seek it out.

Back in September of 2021, I began a cohort through Slingshot that radically changed my life and perspective on ministry and relationships. I was in a bad place spiritually, emotionally, and mentally, and I didn’t even realize it. I attended our first gathering and found community and people in similar stages of life and ministry. I felt like I had found my tribe.

Fast forward to March of 2022 and I went on a mental health leave of absence from my job. I remember telling my cohort friends over Zoom and barely getting the words out to tell them I wasn’t okay. The response and support I received was unlike anything I could have imagined. They called me brave. They prayed for me. They constantly reached out to check in and encourage me. They sent texts, Scripture, prayers, and resources.

When we gathered in person in April, I was just beginning to make some headway in my mental and spiritual health journey. I knew I was making progress but wasn’t where I needed to be. When Elise and I arrived at the cohort, our friends checked in on both of us. They loved us, laughed with us, grabbed meals together, prayed with us, cried with us (okay mostly with me), and most importantly encouraged us in our journey.

Looking back, this group, our people, are one of the reasons I’m still in ministry today. They showed up for us in real and tangible ways. They stuck by us even when I was at my weakest and lowest point. And that is what our cohort continues to do. We have rallied to different individuals over the past year as they have endured difficult moments, celebrated the highs and the wins with each other, and we have built ongoing relationships with each other where we simply check in and hang out with one another.

Outside of my cohort, I have built more intentional friendships with people in my life. I have always been someone who has lots of acquaintances but only a handful of close friends. But the importance of having quality, deep, and intentional friendships has been something I have realized I need. While I was on my leave I had multiple friends reach out to connect and foster our relationship, and now I can honestly say I have closer friends now than I ever have had before.

The reason I share all of these details with you is to highlight that close friendships and relationships are imperative to our own health, growth, and formation. Having people who hold you accountable helps you to grow and mature as an individual and as a Christ follower. When there are people who stand by you and encourage you when you are on the mountaintops or in the valleys, you will feel your heart strengthened and cared for. As you open up to people and they to you, you will see that you come to have a greater understanding of what love and connection look like.

We aren’t meant to do life alone. We are crafted for community, which is why we see God intentionally connect Adam and Eve. Even Jesus had a group of friends He shared life with. We even see this in the early church throughout the New Testament. God doesn’t simply tell us to find people who are like us or to do life alone, but instead paints us a picture of a community of diverse people who share in life together.

If you are like me and you don’t have many close friends or if you are a lone wolf who is content to do life on your own, let me encourage you to rethink your rationale in those decisions. Consider the blessing and the gifts that relationships and friendships bring. I’m not saying this will be easy, nor am I saying that it will come without hurt and pain. There may very well be moments when relationships hurt. But the amount of the good moments and the rewards that come from them strongly outweigh the negatives. Seek out community. Build strong and meaningful friendships. Open your heart to people and allow yourself to be vulnerable. Doing so will provide you with much needed encouragement, community, and relationships that will last a lifetime.

Mission Trip Reflections from Kentucky

I recently was able to take a short term mission trip to Hazard, Kentucky, to help with relief efforts following severe flooding in July. To say that this was an incredibly humbling and impactful trip would be an understatement. The devastation and hurt that I saw was unlike anything I have seen before. The stories I heard and the destruction I saw will remain with me for the long term, and it has shaped my vision for where we will be sending student teams for the foreseeable future.

This area of our country has been largely forgotten due to its location, socioeconomic status, disasters in other places, and more newsworthy media. But there remains much heartache, loss, destruction, and needed rebuilding.

Our team was focused on rebuilding and repairing homes and churches, and on hearing the stories residents of this rural area shared. The emotional, spiritual, mental, and physical needs are vast and everyone has a flood story in this community. Whether they lost something like a home or possessions or for those who lost someone, the hurt and pain in this and surrounding areas is very real and raw.

As I’ve had time to reflect and think about my trip, I have pondered the impact that trips like these have on our students and leaders. Today, I would love to share some of my thoughts and takeaways in the hope they bring you some insight and clarity when it comes to short term mission trips.

Mission trips are necessary.

Mission trips are so important in the lives of all believers but especially students. They are forming their understanding of faith and wrestling with deep and thoughtful questions. Mission trips help students see the Gospel in action and help them form a healthy, biblical worldview. But I think for some of us–myself included–coming out of multiple years where we didn’t do trips due to a pandemic, the necessity may have faded in our minds. We cannot allow that to be the case.

Going to Kentucky solidified the necessity of taking students on trips like these because of the way it helps to shape and mold their hearts for the kingdom of heaven. We cannot loose that vision and we must provide opportunities for students to step into new environments and see the Gospel in real and tangible ways.

Mission trips grab your heart.

It is so hard to put into words all that I experienced in Kentucky. I have taken multiple trips throughout my high school, college, and ministry years, but this one moved me in some powerful ways. Perhaps it was seeing the devastation and destruction firsthand. Or maybe it was the proximity of this disaster in relation to where I live (only nine hours away). Or it may have been hearing the accounts of people who lost everything and loved ones in the spans of moments.

Regardless of the reason, the reality is mission trips have a way of grabbing our hearts in ways youth group and church don’t often replicate. Serving with people who are hurting, experiencing the reality of loss firsthand, hearing stories, and seeing the power of both the Gospel and God’s people moving to action stirs something within our hearts like nothing else. This is why our students need to go on trips like these because it helps capture their heart for the Gospel in action and how it applies to their lives and others.

Mission trips move your students to action.

This past Wednesday and Sunday I was able to share about my trip with our students. I relayed stories, showed them pictures, and explained why help was needed. The response I heard from multiple leaders and students ranged from “we had no idea this happened” to “when are we going” and “what can we do.” When we are able to cast vision and share stories, it moves our communities to action and cultivates a desire to care for and serve those who are hurting.

Proximity breeds empathy.

This became so apparent to me once again as I was serving in Kentucky. When we are around those who are hurting or struggling, it moves our hearts and minds because we are sharing life with those who have experienced loss. The more we can get our students into areas and communities that differ from theirs in all capacities–socioeconomic, diversity, hardship, loss, etc.–the more they will be able to understand the hope and healing the Gospel brings and their calling to be the hands and feet of Jesus. And the more they will learn about others whose lives look different from theirs.

Mission trips will stretch and grow people.

Coming back home from my trip, something was different in me. The Spirit of God was tugging at my heart and pulling me toward an ongoing partnership with our mission agency in Kentucky. I knew that if I could cast that vision well to our students, they would also be moved to action. What I became acutely aware of was God was using my experience as a catalyst to invite others to action. And the same is true of our students.

As they go on these trips, build relationships and memories, and the Holy Spirit moves in their lives, students will return and help to ignite that passion and desire within others. It will not only stretch and grow the people who go on the trips, but we will see cascading effects on the people our students engage and interact with when they return home. They will help cultivate passion and excitement for Jesus and what He is doing in your youth group. They will tell their friends and families about what God is doing. They will ignite a passion to see the world changed among their peers. Mission trips have a far reaching impact beyond just those who go, and through these moments we will witness the kingdom of heaven grow and expand.

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.

How Student Ministers can Engage Their Community

It can be easy for ministries to focus on what is happening within their environment only, or within the church. But our mission isn’t simply to focus on what is happening within our walls but instead to look outside of them as we seek to reach the world with the Good News.

We may train our students and volunteers to reach others, but unintentionally focus on just the ministry we lead. If we are seeking to lead by example and want to model what we teach, we must step out in faith and engage with our community in proactive ways. But how do we do that? Today I want to share a few ways–some more simplistic and others more encompassing–we can actively engage and reach our communities.

Be a part of the community.

For some leaders this is easier said than done because they live in their community. For others this will be more difficult because they don’t necessarily live in the town where their church is located. That is the case for us. We live about fifteen minutes outside of our church’s community, but that reality shouldn’t stop us from being a part of the community. Instead we have to be more intentional in being a part of it.

Make it a priority to go grocery shopping in your town, go to the local parks, visit the schools, go to National Night Out, go to Christmas tree lightings, visit local corn mazes, and whatever else may happen in your community. The key isn’t to do all of things, but instead to be intentional in engaging with your community at points and venues that matter most. This not only engenders you to the community but allows you to become a part of it. In so doing you have now become a vital and needed part of your community.

Utilize local businesses.

I love to do this because it helps our church reach people, and it also allows us to give back to the community. This can be done in a variety of ways including using a local printer for your bigger projects, having local restaurants or dessert shops cater your events, utilizing local promotional product vendors instead of national agencies, and by engaging with community centers to rent them out. There are other ways you can utilize businesses but the important part is that you are connecting with them and building relational and spiritual bridges that provide opportunities for your church to be the hands and feet of Jesus.

Connect with schools.

Schools are a natural place for youth workers to get connected. For some youth workers this is easier to accomplish because they may only have a single school district that is connected to their church. For others, this is pretty difficult because they may draw from multiple school districts. Our church draws from five major districts and that doesn’t include the private schools, Christian schools, and homeschool students. If that is where you find yourself, you may be scratching your head at how to reach out to all of your schools. Let me encourage you to not look at this as something only you can tackle. Work with your team and leaders and share the load.

Regardless of where you find yourself as a youth worker, we all can connect with schools in really simple and meaningful ways. Email the administration to encourage them and let them know you want to be a resource, and drop off donuts for the front office or the teachers. Reach out to the Christian clubs and ask how you can help them out, drop off fresh baked cookies with notes from your church staff team, connect with the athletic director and see if they need a chaplain for their games. Ask your students how you can help them make an impact, and make sure to swing by for See You at the Pole. Even seemingly small things can have a huge impact when it comes to connecting with schools.

Collaborate with parachurch ministries.

If I am being honest, this is not something I am very good at. I often forget to reach out to these ministries in partnership and that is a big misstep. Recently, I was able to connect with our local Young Life chapter, and it was an awesome opportunity to share life with one another and consider how we can work together for the Gospel. As we chatted, I realized just how many of my students were participating in this parachurch ministry and it dawned on me that still other students were probably participating in others. If that is the case, why not come together to have a greater impact and reach?

Many parachurch ministries will reach students we may not have the opportunity or ability to reach, and their desire is to connect students with a local church. It is a perfect discipleship track, and one that churches and ministries can collaborate with and assist. Working with parachurch ministries gives both of the ministries an opportunity to not only reach more students but to have a more profound impact on the community.

Serve in the community.

This is one that probably feels the most burdensome because it adds a lot more onto our shoulders. But the truth of the matter is that it is only burdensome because we view it that way. Service for the kingdom of God is never meant to weigh us down or to feel overwhelming, but instead is a wonderful opportunity to help the Gospel go forth.

Often we may view service as another aspect of our job, and while that may be true to a certain extent, I believe we can leverage it so as to make service outside of our job feel taxing and unfair. But service is a gift and an opportunity. It is a way to put our gifts from God to use and to bless others. It is allowing the Spirit to work in and through us as we seek to love and care for others. So my encouragement first and foremost is to not let service become just another task, but instead let it flow from a heart that has been transformed as you love others. The more that you embody this mentality the more it will be replicated in students as they serve.

With that said, it is important for us to find ways to engage with our community through serving within it. It could be as a coach for one of the sports teams (and it doesn’t need to just be for students). It could be by volunteering in afterschool programs. Perhaps it is by hosting a lunch for the teachers in the school. Maybe you serve at the local foodbank. Or you could do neighborhood cleanups. The key with serving in the community is doing so of your own accord to help people see Jesus. It allows you to engage with people and to begin building relationships with the ultimate goal of helping them know Jesus.

The Importance of Discipleship

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 Quick Tips for Encouraging Volunteers

Throughout my time in ministry I have become convinced that our volunteers are the lifeblood of our ministries. I’m sure many of you would agree with that statement and you have seen the fruit of having great volunteers on your team. Volunteers are amazing people because of the ways they sacrificially give of themselves, love their students, and continue to serve in ways that go above and beyond their obligations.

I think sometimes we can take what they do and who they are for granted. We don’t intend to but we can get into an groove where we just continue with the status quo. We function normally and may unintentionally forget to care at the level we should for them. But the thing we must understand is that our volunteers are vital to our ministry and without them we will not be able to continue in what we do. My hope with today’s post is to highlight five easy ways that you can intentionally care for and encourage your volunteers.

1. Pray for and with them.

Our leaders are real people who have real issues affecting them just like we do. So pause and give them space to share what you can pray for. Allow them to talk about what is going on: their struggles and difficulties, the victories and high points, their spiritual walk with Jesus, and anything else they want to share. Then take time to pray with them and remember to continue to pray for them. The powerful impact of prayer is one we cannot overstate and is one we need to lean into all the more to seek protection, care, and guidance for our leaders. Prayer helps our leaders be seen, known, and loved in a very powerful and real way. So make sure to pray for and with them often.

2. Ask and care about their life outside of ministry.

During my recent time away from ministry, I was able to meet with my volunteers and church members but I wasn’t able to talk about work. I’ll be honest with you and let you know meeting in this way at first was pretty hard for me. I had gotten into a rut where the majority of the time I spent with people was focused on how they were doing in the life of the church or in a specific ministry. For instance, I would always ask my leaders how their small group was, how their relationship with their co-leader was doing, or how I could improve our student ministry. But now I was forced to do away with that method of conversation and focus more on who they are personally.

I got to hear more about their families, their struggles, what was happening at their schools or jobs, and how they were handling all the changes that have been happening. And it was in those moments that I began to connect on a truly deeper level with my volunteers. I realized that I had fallen into a habit of being ministry-focused and not personally-focused.

Most of you probably already do this but if you don’t, let me encourage you to shift how you engage with your people. I never meant to dismiss their personal lives, I just got into a rhythm and didn’t shift. But now, my priority in meeting with leaders will be to care for them, and then to see how things are going in ministry. Doing this not only values your leaders but shows them that they mean more to you than just being a body who shows up to watch students at youth group.

3. Follow up and remember.

This is a big one that really encapsulates the first two points. When you remember what your leaders are going through and follow up with them, it truly makes them feel seen and heard. You are letting them know it wasn’t just checking off a to-do list when you met with them but truly a relationship. Knowing that someone truly cares about you and is willing to continue to see how you are doing is an aspect of leading in ministry that cannot be understated. It is in these moments that we not only validate our leaders but we highlight what the Body of Christ should truly be.

4. Send a note or card.

Sending someone a physical note or card is one of the best, and easiest, things you can do for your leaders. I think we all know how great it feels when we get a letter in the mail. It brings joy knowing that someone spent time writing out a heartfelt message and mailed it to us. I know I personally love seeing a letter amidst the advertisements and bills, and it makes me smile. Now imagine how your leaders would feel getting a note or card from you. Let me encourage you to not make it generic or simply ministry-focused, but to make it personal and relational. These are the moments that you truly get to value and encourage your people by letting them know you care. Never underestimate the power of a personal, handwritten note to your volunteers.

5. Champion them.

I believe all of these points are important, but I really believe this one is huge especially as it pertains to your ministry and the church as a whole. When you highlight your leaders publicly and talk about how awesome they are, it brings a whole new sense of ownership, validity, and relational equity to your volunteers. I love to talk about how awesome my volunteers are during youth group or in staff meetings. I want everyone to know how well they care for and minister to our students. And I want our leaders to know that I see what they are doing and I am eternally grateful for them.

So highlight them to your students. Talk about them to your supervisors. Make sure parents are aware of how awesome they are. And tell them personally. I love to share encouraging things I have seen when I meet one-on-one with a leader. I get to love on them and tell them how grateful I am for them, and it is awesome to see how encouraged they are by those moments.

How do you encourage your leaders?

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.