Are You Asking the Right Questions?

In my first job after college I was a staff writer at a small newspaper. I had to be more aggressive than was normal for me, which at times was extremely uncomfortable. I had to ask a lot of questions and in the beginning it was a struggle to know what to ask, and to get people to answer. Many interactions felt like nails on a chalkboard.

Over time and through the struggle, I began to enjoy asking questions, being inquisitive, and investigating different situations. It began to spill unintentionally into my personal life, and even now, Nick says I’m good at figuring things out, which makes it hard to surprise me. And that is usually due to asking a multitude of questions.

Asking questions has also turned me into a better listener than I ever was before. It’s helped me train my ears to lead my mind in digging deeper, paying attention to subtleties, and at times picking up on things that could be easily overlooked. I’ve learned firsthand what asking good, thoughtful questions, and listening carefully to answers can accomplish. It’s something that isn’t essential only to journalism, but student ministry as well.

Asking the right questions will help you be a better leader for your students as it will allow you to uncover things that otherwise remain hidden. It will also help your students feel cared for, heard, and understood. But how do you ask the right questions? Keep reading for some of my suggestions born out of over a decade of question-asking.

DON’T ask questions that require only a “yes” or “no” answer.

Unless you have a great follow-up question, that is. But even then, I recommend avoiding yes/no questions all together, especially if your intent is to uncover more about how your students are thinking and feeling. They still may give you a one-word answer, but nothing serves up a conversation-ender better than asking something that only requires a shake of the head or “yeah.” What you want is to get students talking.

Think through other ways to ask the question that will require students to respond with a sentence or two at the least, but could open the door for more. For example, instead of asking a student if they like going to school, ask how they feel about their classes and extracurricular activities. Or instead of making a statement and asking students if they agree, ask them what they think about the statement, or if they would change it. It may be a bit of an adjustment at first, but the more time you spend on it, the easier it will become to ask questions that lead your students to share more.

DO ask follow-up questions that show you are listening.

This is a big one for uncovering more information, getting to know your students, or leading them into self-guided discussion. (More on self-guided discussion here.) In order to keep the conversation going and encourage your students to share more, you must listen actively, purposefully, and intently. Personally, nothing makes me want to stop talking more than the realization that someone isn’t listening. Unfortunately, in my experience this happens more with pastors and church leaders than any other group. It also happens when people are distracted by their phones, too busy worrying about something else, or listening only enough to know when it’s their turn to take over the conversation.

If you struggle with listening, start intentionally practicing it with a friend, co-worker, or spouse. Ask them to tell you a story from their childhood or their day. Watch their face for different expressions, their hand gestures, envision the story as though you are there with them, and pay attention to the details. Don’t allow your mind to wander, maintain eye contact, don’t interrupt, and actively think about what you are hearing. When they have finished speaking, choose a few things that stood out to you and ask follow-up questions about them. You may want to focus on the speaker’s feelings about the event, how it impacted their life, or what they wish had happened differently.

If you want to make others in your life feel valued, intentional listening is a great place to start. It will also help you get to know your students on a level that moves beyond short, surface-y conversations. You have the power to do these things in how you listen and the questions you ask as a result.

DON’T feel the need to answer every question.

It drives me crazy when a youth leader asks a question during small group time and immediately begins answering it themselves. You may have the right answer, and it might be really great, but don’t be afraid of a little silence from your group. Sometimes people need time to think through a coherent answer before speaking. If students aren’t answering, rephrase the question before answering it yourself.

During discussions, students may ask questions of you as well. Don’t be afraid to use a question as a response in these situations, especially with the intent of guiding students to uncovering answers or conclusions for themselves. We have a unique opportunity to help our students think deeply about their faith, and many times that involves personal wrestling with Scripture, our beliefs, and our culture. Rather than simply providing answers, help students build the skills they need to think carefully and critically, and arrive at their own conclusions.

Depending on the type of question a student asks, the best response may be a question in order for you to uncover their motives or heart behind what they are asking. Jesus did this frequently, and as He already knew people’s hearts, I think His question-responses were to help them think about their motives. Whether your students are trying to test you, be antagonistic, or are genuinely curious, you can use questions to help guide the discussion and uncover intent. And if you don’t know an answer, be honest and tell them, but then work on discovering the answer to share later.

DO ask questions that uncover feelings and emotions.

If you want to understand your students, get to the heart of the matter, and help them feel known, look to discover their feelings and emotions. Asking students how they feel about the things going on in their life will help you connect with the heart behind their behavior. This can help you begin to uncover why your students may be acting or speaking in a particular manner. Things may look a certain way at first glance, but as you learn more, you may begin to see the whole picture. Don’t assume that you know who a student is or is not; give them the benefit of the doubt, and make space for them to open up.

Every human being is amazingly complex, and each of us struggle with different things. Students may be dealing with internal struggles like anxiety or a poor self image, or they may be experiencing hurt and abuse from family or friends. Until you take the time to ask questions and carefully listen to answers, you will never get beyond the surface. Dig into how your students are feeling, what is happening in their lives, and be a safe space for them to share and be loved. Help them see that they are unique, interesting, and needed.

DON’T force it.

As with anything, use moderation when asking questions. If students aren’t responding, or if they refuse to share much, don’t keep asking more questions. Give them space and time. They may need to get used to you and determine whether you are a safe person or not. Pestering them with a barrage of questions may cause them to retreat further. So work to be perceptive as you ask questions, and start slow.

If you have a student who isn’t particularly communicative, start by asking them one basic question each time you see them, like “how was your day?” Show them that you are consistently interested and available. If their answers begin to get longer and more personal, try asking a few more to see if they are willing to share. Build trust by remembering the things they share, keeping confidences, and honoring their autonomy. Don’t be afraid to say, “Can I ask this?” before sharing your question. If they say no, respect their decision and don’t pry.

DO remain fully present.

This is part of listening well, but in our distracted day and age, it deserves a second mention. When you are interacting with your students, remain fully present with them. This is especially important if you are the “main man/woman” (i.e., the lead youth pastor, church pastor, etc.). It can be easy as the up-front leader to be in a hurry the whole time you’re at youth group, or to act like whoever you are is more important than who they are. Take a step back and remember that you are there for the students, not yourself, not your platform, and not your schedule, as important as it may be to stay on time.

To build equity into your interactions with your students, you must be dialed into them. This doesn’t mean you neglect everything or everyone else, but you give them an allotment of undistracted time in which you stop, make eye contact, listen intently, and ask a question or two. If you need to move on, don’t look at your phone or watch. Instead, explain why/what you have to do, and if possible, invite them to join you so you can continue talking. Remember that your students are important and valuable, and they need to perceive that from you. There are enough people in the world who blow off our students, let’s not be those people.

A few questions you can use:

  • What’s one good thing that happened this week and what’s one bad thing that happened?
  • How does that make you feel?
  • Why do you think that is/why do you think that’s true?
  • How would you change that?
  • What do you want to do when you feel that way?
  • Who do you listen to the most/who influences you?
  • How can I help?

New Year, New You

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

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

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

Mental.

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

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

Physical.

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

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

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

Spiritual.

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

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

Emotional.

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

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

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

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

Relational.

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

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

What life or ministry changes are you making this year?

5 Quick Tips on How to Connect With Your Audience

Let’s face it: speaking can be challenging and connecting with your audience can be equally challenging if not more so. Add in students, and then the challenge at times can feel overwhelming. I have gotten to know many amazing pastors and speakers serving in a variety of capacities around the country who are doing amazing jobs at sharing the Gospel but also connecting with their audience. These two aspects don’t always work together seamlessly, but when they do there is immense opportunity to reach people. The question before us today is this: how do I actually connect with my audience while I am sharing Biblical truth?

I don’t know if you have ever had one of these experiences before:

  • Someone falls asleep while you are teaching or preaching.
  • A student says, “Hey, I know you try, but you’re just boring.”
  • People seem to tune out while you are talking and start playing on their phones.
  • Someone says, “Your messages are great but I don’t understand how they relate to my life.”

I know I have had very similar conversations with people throughout my time in ministry. I’ll be honest with you and tell you I was not a great speaker before I went to school for ministry, and my first few years in ministry my sermons and teachings were largely informative and expository and did little to connect with my people. Personal connection and the ability to relate to your people is highly important because it makes what you are teaching real and applicable to their lives.

I would assert that being a great orator and expositor isn’t the only thing that makes you a great minister. What truly makes a great minister is one who knows their people, can shepherd well, points people to Jesus, and helps them draw practical application to their own lives from Scripture. But how do you do this well as you are speaking? Much of this sounds like things you would do in a smaller setting or one-on-one moments. I think these opportunities present themselves as we speak, but in order to embrace them we must apply various tools at our disposal. Today, I want to provide you with five quick tools that will help you better connect with your people.

1. Make eye contact.

Depending on the size of the group you are speaking to this may sound easy or it may sound really difficult. It also may be really challenging for you personally if this is something you don’t find yourself doing in personal conversations. But when you look someone in the eyes during a conversation you are literally helping them to understand that you see them. You have made what you are talking about personal and you are allowing your people to know that you care about them and that what you are sharing has meaning and value for their lives.

If you still struggle with this or if you are in a larger church or youth group setting, allow me to offer you a quick tip on how to do this. Look at peoples’ foreheads or slightly above them. When I preach in our sanctuary, it is very hard for me to look at people in their eyes because there are more people present than in our youth group and the stage lights can be blinding. But by looking slightly over their foreheads, it allows for me to connect with more people and helps them to know they are seen. There have been countless moments when I have utilized this trick and people have come up and said, “Nick, it was like you were looking right at me!” Using this tip will help you better connect and know you people in ways you may never have before.

2. Tell stories.

I love to tell stories. In fact, if you were to ask anyone who knows me they would tell you that even to simple questions I use a story to answer. Now sometimes that isn’t helpful, but when you are speaking, stories bring the audience in and they also humanize the speaker. Often people will look at a pastor or speaker in a revered type of way, but what people truly want is someone who understands and can relate to them.

So when you are speaking use stories but also make sure to utilize personal stories. This resource will allow for you to connect in deeper ways with your audience and it also will help them to focus and listen more because they want to know what you will say next. I think this is a resource that Jesus used often (i.e. parables) but in some ways this resource has fallen by the wayside in some church cultures. When Jesus used parables it brought people in and helped to explain the point(s) He was making, and when you use stories you do the same thing. So leverage stories, both personal and general, to bring people in and emphasize your points.

3. Be authentic.

Authenticity is something people crave because it means they can understand, relate, and be a part of your life and vision. When you are real, vulnerable, and authentic people will gravitate toward you and want to share in what you are teaching. So utilize personal stories, be honest about what you are learning, talk about personal applications, show emotion, and be transparent. These traits will help people see that what you are teaching is real and applicable because they see you implementing and wrestling with it. Authenticity breeds relatability and creates a culture where people desire to journey with you.

4. Utilize inflection.

It is often easy to speak in a monotone style or to simply speak in one manner. But good speakers who want to reach their people will utilize inflection when they speak. It isn’t about raising your voice or yelling, but about utilizing the gift that God has given you to draw people in and understand the Word of God. There is much power in how we utilize our voices because a whisper or softly spoken word communicates differently than a loud or passionate voice. So consider where and how to use inflection in your speaking, and practice how to use your voice and understand the skillset God has given you.

5. Know your material and practice.

I personally think one of the best things you can do to connect with your audience is know your material well enough that you do not need to read off of a manuscript. I was trained very classically and taught to memorize and internalize my message, and while I know this isn’t easy for many people, I do believe that at least knowing your main points and application will allow you to connect better with your audience. The reason it allows you to connect is because your attention, vision, and focus is on the audience rather than focusing on reading the manuscript and making sure you get it exactly as it is written.

The only way to achieve this is by constant practice. Whether I am speaking to students, sharing as a speaker at a retreat, or preaching at a church, I make sure to practice multiple times beforehand because it helps me to be comfortable with the message, the text, and when possible, the stage or environment. The more you practice and attempt to memorize key points, application, or the entirety of your message, the better you will become at not having to rely upon notes, and be able to connect at a deeper level with your audience.

What have you found to be the most effective way to connect with your audience?

3 Parties You Can Host with Little to No Budget

It is around this time of year that many of us are hosting Christmas parties. They may be for students, your volunteers, or just a personal one at home. But if you are like many churches, your budget probably has taken a hit over the last couple of years and your parties are probably looking or going to look a little different as a result. Now it could be easy to lament and throw out all the reasons this affords us problems and more difficulties, but that would be neither helpful nor encouraging. I would like to suggest a different option: be creative with what you do have and focus on making the party meaningful and intentional.

This may sound like a pass when it comes this time of year because we think about all that we have done in the past and what we could do with a proper budget. But it benefits no one to bemoan what cannot be changed. Instead, seeking to do what you can with what you have and focusing on the people you are blessing will help make these moments a success.

Today, I want to offer you three party ideas that you can host on little to no budget, but before I do, I want to highlight a few areas where we as leaders must lead out in these moments.

  • Have a positive attitude. Your attitude will set the tone of the party. If you are upset, frustrated, or bitter going into it, others will pick up on it and respond in kind. So be positive and excited about what you have planned.
  • Utilize décor where you can. Even on a minimal or empty budget, there are ways to get creative with decoration and ambiance. You could utilize someone’s fake Christmas tree, you could bring in flowers or greenery from outdoors, you could put out tablecloths, you could play music, or you could utilize items from your home or homes of other people you know. All of these help to make the atmosphere feel special and intentional.
  • Always have music. Using music to break up the silence is an easy way to make the environment feel intentional. You can leverage any number of free services like Pandora or Spotify to play music, lighten the mood, and encourage fellowship.
  • If possible, have food. This is tough when you don’t have a budget, but think about different options. Maybe a local supermarket would be willing to donate. Perhaps there is a local family who butchers their own animals and could donate some food. Or maybe someone in your church would be willing to donate hotdogs for a grill out. Or maybe you just bake a bunch of the snap-and-bake cookies. Any of these options could work, and will help you generate the atmosphere you are looking for.
  • Be creative and have fun. If you have to come up with new and unique ways to have a party or gathering because the budget has been cut, it is easy to focus on the negatives or what we don’t have. But when we do that, it keeps us from utilizing our talents and creativity to have a unique and different party. So think outside the box, build a fun gathering, cast vision well, laugh a lot, and look to have a unique party that people will enjoy.

1. A breakfast or dessert party.

This is a fun and relatively easy one to host and it can be done in a couple different ways. One way to pull this off is to ask the parents of students to provide the food for the party. We did this for our leader Christmas party and it was fantastic. We did a dessert and hot coffee/cocoa bar, and the amount of desserts that came was overwhelming. Parents went above and beyond in what they provided and were completely behind an opportunity to encourage and bless our leaders.

The second option would be to do a potluck with those who are coming. At first glance, this feels like a tacky way to have food at your party, but it is all in how you cast the vision. If you simply drop this on your people right before the party, then it will feel tacky. But if you cast the vision and the intention of doing so, it will bring people in even more. To say the week of “bring a dish to share” versus telling your people a month before to “bring your favorite Christmas dish and we will share our food, recipes, and stories of how we got them,” will generate very different responses and outcomes. So think about how and why you will cast this vision and party, and then implement it.

2. A White Elephant or Secret Santa party.

This is something we often associate with student Christmas parties, but maybe not so much with our adult volunteers. However, these could be fun parties to have throughout the year and with a multitude of different settings and groups. How fun would a White Elephant Gift Exchange be to celebrate the end of the year or to kick off the start of a new semester? You could even theme the gift exchange to bring another unique element to it. You could do an “upcycled gift exchange,” “a re-gifted exchange,” or one that has a dollar amount attached to the exchange (i.e. $5 or less).

Bringing in Secret Santa throughout the year would also allow for your leaders to bless one another and to help foster the culture and community you desire. It will generate ways to care for and love others in your group while having fun doing so. If you choose to incorporate these ideas throughout the year, I would recommend thinking about changing the names to something that highlights it isn’t just part of the Christmas season (i.e. change Secret Santa to Secret Leader or Anonymous Leader Blessing). As you bring these ideas into your parties, they can help you leverage these moments to greatly encourage, bless, and care for your people in a unique and creative way.

3. A game party.

This is one that should be fairly easy for youth workers to host. Challenge your volunteers to bring their favorite games from home to play with each other, and then utilize other games that you have on hand as well. Our volunteers love to compete, but often tone it back when doing so with students. You are now giving them the opportunity to have fun and go all out while playing together.

I would also encourage you to put out some active games too. I know for our ministry we have leaders who love bag toss/cornhole, GaGaBall, and 9 Square. We have these and it is so much fun watching my leaders play together. They laugh with one another, they have friendly banter, and they ultimately just fellowship with each other. You may not have those activities, but put out a frisbee or play kickball together. Doing these types of activities and just having fun is huge as it helps to foster an environment and culture that you need.

It’s Okay to Say No

Often I think we fall into the cycle of saying “yes” in ministry. Can you make this event work: yes. Can you stay late and do a counseling session: yes. Can you work over 50 hours a week: yes. Can you sacrifice your physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health for the sake of your job and calling: yes. Will you forsake your time, time with family and friends, building a healthier or healthy marriage to meet the demands of your job: yes.

What I believe we often fail to realize is that it is okay to say no. No is not a four letter word, even in ministry. It is healthy and needed and we must find ways to utilize it in a proactive and beneficial manner. If we don’t learn to say no now, we could actually become burnt out, bitter, or even turn our backs on the the church. Learning that saying no is healthy and appropriate will help us to sustain not only our time in ministry but be better ministers of the Gospel as a result. But the question remains: how do we do that well?

Don’t say no just to say no.

The first thing we need to understand about saying no is that you don’t say it just because you can. When you say no you should be saying it for a good and rational reason. Don’t say no simply to shut down a situation or person. Instead let there be a purpose and rationale to how and why you say it. Think about your priorities and what you will or need to say yes to. As you build these priorities it allows you to say no to certain things as you focus on what you need to say yes to. What you are doing is building a balanced and intentional focus in your life which allows you to not only care about others but also to care for yourself.

Be intentional and thoughtful when you say no.

It is easy when we say no to simply just state “no” to someone and be dismissive. I think we instead need to be thoughtful and caring as we say no to someone or something. Often those moments allow for us to be a shepherd to our people as we share the heart and intentionality behind our no. Perhaps a student asks you to go to their concert but you cannot due to a previous commitment. Just saying no is dismissive and communicates you don’t care to the student. But if you are able to explain that you can’t due to a prior commitment, you can then talk about perhaps going to another event or even seeing how else you can invest in the student. This gives the person you are saying no to an understanding that you do care and aren’t just casting them to the side. It is about caring for others even as you care for yourself.

Understand the legitimacy of why you are saying no.

Sometimes it is easy to feel bad or guilty when we say no. We feel we are letting people down or not doing our job or questioning who will help if we don’t. The first thing you need to understand is you are not the Savior. Your job isn’t to be all things to all people, but to be the person and minister God has called you to be. That doesn’t mean you dismiss everyone and everything, but instead you realize that since it doesn’t all rely upon you, you understand you can say no.

When you say no, do not feel bad for doing so. In fact, saying no to some things means you can say yes to others. Saying no to working on your day off allows you to say yes to your family and friends. Saying no to working unlimited extra hours is saying yes to longevity in ministry. Saying no to trying to counsel someone in an area you aren’t trained in is saying yes to getting them the help they need from a trained counselor. When you say no it is highlighting the priorities and focuses of your life, and those areas (i.e. family, rest, time with Jesus, etc.) are valid and necessary places for you to focus your time and energy. So be willing to say no when it is needed and understand that it is acceptable to do so.

Set and keep boundaries.

Often in ministry, leaders will continue to say yes which can lead to frustration, tension, or burnout. I think we do this with the best of intentions because we want to shepherd and care for our people, but if we are not balancing our lives, time, and energy, we will not be the leaders we need to be. Instead we need to set and keep healthy boundaries. It may be as simple as saying no to phone calls on your days off or no to texts during hours you aren’t at work.

When you set boundaries it is easy to focus on what you are saying no to, but you are also saying yes to the necessary priorities in your life. But you must also make sure that while setting these boundaries is a good thing, it is entirely different to keep them. We are willing to sacrifice boundaries that protect us and our families to care for our students, but if we don’t keep our boundaries we are hurting ourselves, those we love, and our students. Our lack of boundaries and honoring them teaches our students that they don’t need them and it can hinder them from becoming the disciples they need to be.

Be able to explain why you said no.

You may have people ask you why you said no to them or a circumstance. Instead of being dismissive, look to share the rationale and the why behind what you are saying. People want to know why you have said no or turned down an invitation because they want to know you see them and care about them. Be willing to enter those conversations even though they may not be easy. Telling a student you can’t watch them in their competition will be hard and pull at your heart strings because you love them. But when you can explain the why, it will allow for them to know you still love them and it isn’t personal. These moments help you to not only develop personally but also allow for you to disciple your people and help them grow as well.

How do you say “no” well, and how do you still care for people when you do?

How to Bring About Change Well

Over this past year there have been many changes in student ministry. Maybe coming out of 2020 you were rethinking the rhythms of your program. Perhaps this past year gave you new insight and you have decided to shift various programmatic features. Or maybe you have realized that there are areas that aren’t working and need to be changed or even removed. Regardless of what changes, change happens.

But when we change things, we must be intentional in how and why we are doing so. Change is never easy and can lead to tension or frustration for various reasons. Today I want to offer you some insight to consider before you begin to change things.

Before we get to the insight may I suggest one bit of advice? Cover whatever you are considering changing with purposeful prayer and intentional insight from people you trust. Doing this before you begin to effect change will help you seek God’s insight, vision, and direction for you and the ministry you lead. It will remove the pride or tension we may feel and help us to be the effective tools of Jesus that we are called to be. When we put that premise into action, then we can begin to work out these next aspects in bringing about change.

Overcommunicate.

This is one of the best things you can do when you are working toward change. Communication is key, but we always hear about someone who has missed the communication. Often that is because we communicate in our typical ways through our normal channels. But when we are changing things–plans, vision, or functionality of the program–we must make sure to go above and beyond to communicate what is happening. Communicate through your normal channels, but also look at other ways to communicate what is happening.

Recently we changed the vision for our student ministry program. We sent out our normal newsletter with the update in it, we posted to our social media channels, and we talked with our students about it. But we also decided to put together a video explaining what was changing and the rationale behind our decision. We then sent that to all the parents via email, posted about it again on social media, held meetings to explain what was happening, and continued to use the language in all aspects of our communication going forward. When you want people to know about a change, the more you talk about it, the more they will know it.

It isn’t just about sharing what is changing though. We must make sure to clearly and succinctly communicate the rational, the heart, the vision, and the why behind the change. People will always ask questions, and our communication allows for us to answer some of those questions before they are even asked. So think through how you clearly communicate why things are changing, what you are hoping the change evokes, and how you plan to sustain the change going forward.

Know the why.

I said in the prior point that people will always have questions, and the big question that most people will ask is “why.” Why are you doing this? Why is it important? Why are you changing things? Why are you getting rid of something we love? Why is this the new thing we are doing? Why can’t we just keep doing what we were doing?

“Why” asks really big questions when you think about it, and it shows that people want to understand and know what is happening. So when you are thinking through changing things, consider how you can answer that question. Just changing things to change things isn’t healthy or beneficial. In fact it evokes fear, anxiety, and tension because no one knows what is happening. But when you know why things are changing and are able to clearly and thoughtfully communicate that to your people, you will be able to address the “why questions” well.

Cast vision well.

The next step in evoking change is making sure that you cast the vision well. It is unhealthy to just change things for the sake of doing something different, but when you can explain the rationale and talk about where you are going, it helps your people to generate excitement and anticipation as they jump on board with you. When you know what you are doing and can clearly share that with your people, you will build their desire to be a part of something because they see your passion and excitement for what is changing. When people see your passion and the vision that you have it generates buy-in and it brings people along on the journey with you.

Be intentional and purposeful.

Whenever you are crafting a plan to change things, be intentional with what you are doing. Often, especially when we are starting at a new church or position, we want to change things because we believe we have a better idea or focus or purpose. That may be true, but we have to remember that there were reasons and rationale for how things have been done. We must understand that people have skin in the game when it comes to various aspects that we are looking to change. For others, the things or ideas we are changing means that we are trying to change them because they are so intertwined with how things have been.

So when you seek to change things, be cognizant of other people, their histories, their emotions, and be willing to have important conversations. The more intentional and purposeful you are, the more people will be excited to join you because they see your heart and you allowed for them to be heard and understood.

Stick with it.

There will be times when you want to give up, when you feel frustrated because people don’t seem to want to join the vision. You will feel discouraged because of all the questions and doubts. Students may challenge you because it is going against what they have been used to. But remember that God has called you to be the leader in this moment.

Remember that you sought God’s heart and have listened to Him and trusted mentors to shape and guide what you are changing. It wasn’t something that you approached nonchalantly, but instead intentionally thought through and planned out. Don’t give up or become discouraged, but remember that God is, has, and will continue to use you to evoke change and reach people for the kingdom.

5 Lessons I Learned from COVID

The past couple of weeks have been difficult. I was diagnosed as COVID-positive after beginning to experience the majority of symptoms and it has truly been a difficult illness to contend with. I am exceptionally thankful for the vaccine as I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to deal with all these symptoms and more without the antibodies.

Two of the biggest symptoms I’ve experienced have been fatigue (both physical and mental) and loss of memory. As someone who is always moving and has had a relatively decent memory, this was difficult to deal with as it affected not only what I did at home but aspects of my job function as well. I tried to make sure I had communicated everything and remembered all I needed to pass to my team while I was home sick, but I quickly saw there were aspects I missed or simply forgot.

But through this season I began to see God working in my life and teaching me various lessons. Lessons I knew, but wasn’t always good at following. Today, I simply want to share with you five things I have learned, and relearned, during my time in quarantine, and I hope that these are an encouragement and a challenge for you.

1. Breaks are needed.

This is one of the first things I learned during COVID. My energy levels tanked and I wasn’t able to go from task to task like I used to. My mind couldn’t focus, my physical energy was depleted, and I couldn’t keep going. While I first lamented that my body wasn’t producing the results I was used to, I began to see how important breaks are in our daily routine. It was during those breaks that I could reflect and think about various topics. It was during those breaks that I could be present. And those breaks allowed me to find refreshment and encouragement.

When we are working in ministry we don’t often afford ourselves breaks even though we need them. And this period of quarantine has taught me to be better about pressing pause and taking time to breathe, refocus, and reflect. So make sure to take breaks.

2. Rest is necessary.

Even more than breaks, I learned the importance and need for rest. I have known this for many years and have even written about it. But if I am fully transparent, I struggle with this. I am a go, go, go type of person. I am always thinking about the task at hand and the next ones that are coming. Elise would tell you that I struggle with sitting still and relaxing, and that is very true.

In the ministry world I think this mentality affects us more than we care to admit. There is always something to do. Always someone to meet with or help. Always a lesson to give or conversation to be had. But we don’t always think about ourselves and the rest we not only need but deserve. My administrative assistant reflected to me that perhaps God was using this time to challenge me and force me to slow down and rest. And you know what? She was right. I haven’t had to handle all of the “work stuff” because I couldn’t. I stayed home from two weeks of youth group and went to bed early. I can’t tell you the last time I did that, but it felt good to rest and refresh.

God’s desire for those He calls to ministry isn’t that we kill ourselves doing it. But rather that we allow Him to sustain and work through us to accomplish His plan. But we can only be used by Him if we are keeping ourselves healthy and rested. God Himself rested multiple times both in the creation account and throughout His earthly ministry. And if rest is good for God it also good for us. Coming out of this time of isolation and quarantine one of the rhythms I want to be more intentional with is rest and time for refreshment, and I want to encourage all of you to do so as well.

3. It’s okay to ask for and receive help.

During this period of quarantine I had to ask for a lot of help, and if I’m being honest that was incredibly humbling for me. As someone who is a self-starter and tends to be prideful about being able to do things on my own, I had to learn to stop and ask for help because I couldn’t do things due to being in isolation.

But it was during this time that I saw my team rise to the challenge, take ownership, and surpass my expectations. It was humbling to ask, but in doing so I saw my teammates use their gifts and take larger leadership roles. It was a privilege to witness their skills and gifts be utilized and it was also a teaching moment for me as I learned to let go and get help. Going forward I am leaning by into the skills and talents of others and releasing more as I trust others to help and lead.

4. Letting go is necessary.

I’m not sure if you’re like me, but I like order and control. I like to know that everything will function well and that it will all follow a plan. But when you’re sidelined with COVID, your best laid plans go out the window. I had to call in favors, be willing to not be in control, and let go of the day to day managing of the ministry. It was hard and in the beginning it brought some anxiety and tension. But in letting go I was able to lean into trusting God with my time. In letting go I learned to not try and be the savior of the ministry. In letting go I was able to release the pressure that I had felt and truly rest in Christ and His sustainment and peace. Letting go brings freedom. Letting go builds trust. Letting go teaches you to rely upon God and let Him be the capstone in your life and ministry.

5. If it all relies on you, you’re in trouble.

Sometimes in our ministry roles we can put all the pressure on ourselves to make our programs and ministries succeed. It may not be something we consciously do but it may be reflected in our subconscious. Do you feel like a failure if the program doesn’t go how you want? Do you feel like you aren’t making a difference if only a few students show? Does a single negative comment deflate you completely?

I think these feelings and perspectives can come about because we believe we have to be the figure head and leader. But we also put unfair pressure on ourselves because we infer a savior complex upon ourselves. The truth is that there is only one Savior, and that isn’t me and it isn’t you. If we try to focus a ministry and it’s success on ourselves (whether consciously or subconsciously) we will fail. Instead we must be willing to release and trust both God and our team. In doing so we are releasing control and holding it in an open hand toward God rather than clenching our fists around the control we desire. So be willing to step back, release, and remember that it doesn’t rely upon you. You are just the ambassador and the mouthpiece for the Gospel and God wants you to release and rest in Him.

Speaking on + Equipping Students for Difficult Topics

Last week I was invited to share on the topic of justice with our young adult group at church. This is an issue that is near to my heart, and also one that can feel extremely intimidating. Speaking on topics that are challenging and culturally-charged usually isn’t our first choice. But if we are willing to step into these difficult discussions, we can equip our students with a godly perspective as they encounter them in their every-day lives.

Today I want to share some tips for speaking on and equipping students for topics like justice, with the hope of encouraging you to not shy away from challenging subject matter. It can be tempting to gravitate toward easy topics and tried-and-true lessons, but our goal should be to speak to our students where they are, approaching topics and issues they are encountering every day. May we equip our students to live Christ-like lives in all places where they find themselves, including and especially our current cultural moment.

Always seek Scripture first.

I challenge students to take their questions and concerns to Scripture first. How does the Bible address the issues we encounter? How does God speak about the things we are dealing with in the twenty-first century? What can I learn about God’s heart from His word? As student leaders, we shouldn’t only model this in our lessons, we should encourage students to do their own research and study, and not just take our word for it.

Topics that are culturally relevant or popular can be easy to research online, through news stories, and from podcasts. There is no end to the number of voices speaking into things like justice, and you can find many different perspectives on any given topic. That is why it is essential to ground our perspective in Scripture. As we listen to the voices around us, how to they measure up to the truth of the Bible? Do they reflect God’s heart for the world, the oppressed, and the believer? And are we regularly seeking God’s word on our own to discern His voice and truth as we interact with other voices?

I encourage students to compare what I say, and what they hear from others, to what they find in the Bible. I also challenge them to learn what God says about the issues they are encountering in their lives. Sometimes that means providing resources like study Bibles, study guides, or Scripture references. Other times it may mean doing a deep-dive study of a topic or book of the Bible with our students. Whatever it takes, make sure your students are equipped to study God’s word and put it into practice in their lives.

Help cast a Christ-like vision.

As we study Scripture, the goal isn’t just to acquire head knowledge or the ability to regurgitate Bible verses. It is to know Christ, to have an understanding of who He is, how He lived, and how He would have us live. Scripture gives us a vision for how we can walk in Christ-likeness, and we need that vision desperately if we are going to step into our calling as believers.

Those of us who are student leaders have a responsibility to aid in casting this vision. We have a responsibility to lead by example for the generations that will follow, and to help show them who we are following. Without this vision, we can construct a self-made vision for our lives and the world, one that can easily be swayed by outside voices who have no regard for God.

We find ourselves in a time where the weight of political opinions and personal preferences hold obvious weight in the church. Allegiances are placed in parties, people, and places that are not God, nor His word. The truth is this is a dangerous place to be because it means separating who we are and how we live from God and what He wants for us. When we separate ourselves and our responses to the world from God, we easily lose sight of the life we have been called to live as followers of Christ.

If we want to live powerfully for Christ, we cannot misalign our priorities. We need a vision for Him that captures our hearts and lives, and creates a lens through which we view everything else. Help your students form a Christ-centered vision of themselves, the church, and the world. From this point they will be most prepared to respond to the issues they encounter, and to live in the world as beacons of Christ’s light.

Humanize issues by making them personal.

Whenever I speak about justice, I have to share my personal connection to the issue. I have spent the last seven years fighting the specific issue of human trafficking, in large part because of the assault I experienced in high school. When I first learned about human trafficking, all I could picture were young people who were like me. They needed someone to speak up for them and fight for justice, just like I needed when I was a teenager. This made the issue personal for me.

As time as gone on, the issue continues to remain personal, not just from my experience, but also by listening to the stories of others who are willing to share. Each time we hear someone’s story, it transforms an issue from a headline, statistic, or hashtag, into a living, breathing human being. We can help students make these connections and move beyond disconnected observation to connection and care.

Of course any time we’re sharing stories on difficult topics, we have to use discretion and caution with what we share. It’s important to make sure stories are not overly graphic, and to provide trigger warnings. Whenever I talk about what happened to me, I am never explicit in what I share. I am always willing to share more with people who ask, but when speaking to a group, I use general terms and focus more on the help I received and what I learned than what was done to me.

Look for simple ways to help students make human connections to issues. Maybe it will involve asking someone to share, or perhaps experiencing another way of life on a mission or service trip. Help your students broaden their horizons and care about issues by making personal connections.

Help students move to action.

Humanizing issues can cause us to feel deeply about them. Sometimes feeling deeply can paralyze us because the issues feel too insurmountable. Students might wonder what they could ever do to tackle issues that are beyond all of us. This is where you can help students move to action.

This can be as simple as providing suggestions of ways students can help. Things as simple as gathering food for a pantry, serving at a homeless shelter, donating clothes or toys to a holiday drive, finding ways to shop ethically and fair trade, or financially supporting a child in another country. There are many ways students can fight injustice right where they are, sometimes they just need a few ideas.

Something else you can help your students do is discover their gifts, and how they can be used to combat an issue. Is your student a natural speaker, or an artist, a poet, or always looking for ways to help out with projects? Tap into the talents and gifts your students have been given and see the ways that serving others will become life-giving. Sometimes all it takes for a student to step up is having an adult speak their talents into their life.

Do what you can to equip your students, spiritually, mentally, and practically. The Christian faith cannot be something we just do in our minds, on Sundays and youth group nights. It needs to be holistic, our students want it to be holistic. We have a unique opportunity and responsibility to help our students step into a holistic Christian faith that speaks to every issue they will ever encounter. Will you help your students do this?

The Value of Networking

This past week I had the opportunity to be part of a coaching cohort that was provided by our friends at Slingshot. It was one of the best things I have ever done for myself when it comes to ministry and growth as I came away being encouraged, challenged, and refreshed after what has been quite a difficult season.

This cohort was originally intended to start in late 2019, got bumped to March 2020, moved to fall of 2020, then to spring 2021, and finally October of 2021. While these setbacks and schedule changes were frustrating when they happened, looking at this past week I truly believe God had every intention of moving the cohort to this moment because He knew how many of us needed it in this season.

One of the many things I walked away with was the understanding that community and networking is highly important in our ministry contexts. Many of know and affirm this, but like everyone else over the last year and a half, have struggled to make it a reality. My hope and prayer for each of you reading this is that networking and community become a priority for you and that we radically pursue it in our lives. But I think for some of us, we may be curious as to why it’s important, and that’s what I want to share with you today. I simply want to point out a few key reasons networking is so important and hopefully encourage you to be a part of this as it is highly important to your sustainability and the sustainability of your ministry.

Vulnerability and transparency.

As we gathered at this cohort I was reminded of how good it is to be raw and honest with others. Many of us had been experiencing similar things over the last year and as a result we we able to be transparent and real with one another. What happened was not a moment of critique but a time of support, encouragement, and care for one another. As members of the body of Christ we are called to love and care for one another, but we can only fully do this when we are honest and transparent with one another. When we build networks and relationships, they help us to be real and honest with others who care about us and understand.

Community.

I think we all recognize the value of community, but if I am being honest, I think over the last year I was missing out on it. When you have a group of people who know you, care about you, are going through similar things, and can relate to what you are experiencing, you feel known and loved. This type of community isn’t always the easiest to find, but when you do it will help you in amazing ways. You will feel heard, you will gain insight, you will have people in your corner, and you will know you are not alone. Community is one of the best things that can come out of networking with others.

Being challenged.

At our cohort we talked about the complexities of leading in ministries and we took some deep and challenging looks at our current ministries, systems, and visions. And if I am being truly honest, this was really difficult for me. I was forced to work through areas I was weak in, to think about failures, and to look at areas I needed to cut. These types of conversations are never easy and are really challenging. But because of these conversations, I was forced to think critically about why I was doing what I was doing. It forced me to be reflective and to rethink what we were doing in our ministry. These types of interactions are not meant to be critical but instead to challenge us. When you are doing life with a community of people they will challenge you to grow, they will push you to adapt, they will provide helpful critiques, and they will be in your corner. Being challenged isn’t easy but it is necessary to help us grow and mature personally and within our ministries.

Personal growth.

One of the many things I loved about this past week was the ways I was able to grow and mature. I never want to get to the point where I feel like I know it all or have done everything, especially as it pertains to ministry. This cohort helped to challenge and make me more self-reflective as we took various leadership and personality assessments. Allowing for these assessments and godly men and women to speak into my life helped me to see areas that needed growth, it helped me learn how to be a better leader, and how to relate to other people in a more intentional way. When you engage in intentional community, networking, and education with people who care, you will see yourself grow in wonderful ways.

Collaboration and new perspectives.

During the past year I have missed this part of networking. And if I am being honest, I think we can become comfortable and complacent because we are used to the status quo. We do things one way because we have always done them that way. They may not be bad or wrong, but when we network with others we see things differently and in new and exciting ways. Networking affords you the opportunity to rethink, adapt, and improvise. You learn new tricks, find exciting opportunities, and build your toolbox. Collaboration helps you to do your job better as you are able to grow and experience new opportunities.

Shared passions and unity.

As I sat with youth workers from around the country last week, it was so evident that we all had shared passions. We all love Jesus, we all love students, and we all desire that our students love and walk with Jesus. This was so encouraging and refreshing. It was a moment where it was good to know I wasn’t alone. I knew I had a team and family of likeminded individuals around the country. People who shared the same mission and had the same heart for students that I do. This was something that I believe we all need. We all need encouragement and to know we aren’t alone, and networking affords us that opportunity.

My prayer for all of you reading this is that you know that you have a tribe. That there are people who love and care about students like you do. That you know there are people who understand and can relate to what you are going through. That you know that you are not alone. At the very least, my hope is you have found that refuge here at Kalos, and that you know we are in your corner. If there is anything we can be praying for or encouraging you with, please do not hesitate to reach out because we are a part of your network.

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.