The Importance of Training Leaders

March Madness is in full swing and we love it in our house. (Let’s go Hawkeyes!!) As we have been watching it there are segments about the teams, players, and coaches that highlight how they made it into the tournament. In almost every single segment there is a focus on the training and community that the players and coaches have, and it highlights how necessary those components are to a championship level team.

The same can be said of our leaders: without the proper training and community we will not have the higher caliber teams we desire to help disciple our students. We must intentionally focus on generating training for our leaders in order to help them grow and mature in their skill sets and talents so they have the best opportunity to lead and pour into their students. But the question we need to think through is this: what is drawing our leaders to participate in training?

Today, I want to highlight some key reasons why leader training is important and necessary. These are aspects you can communicate out to your leaders in order to generate excitement and anticipation for the training you will be hosting. If you’re looking for ways to make leader training more than “typical training,” check out this post for some helpful resources.

It values our leaders and what they are doing.

When we host training opportunities it communicates that we see our leaders and value them enough to care about their growth and development. Training tells our leaders we desire for their gifts and strengths to be developed and we want to encourage them to be stretched and grown. Training shows them that they aren’t simply a warm body but a needed and integral part of the ministry and you want to help to develop them as they serve the ministry.

It encourages of growth.

Good leaders replicate leaders. When you are growing and developing it will be replicated to your people because you have seen its worth and value and want to share that with your team. This mentality will help your leaders to not only be excited about training but to also see opportunities for personal growth and development.

It allows us to share the “why” and the “value.”

Training allows you as the ministry leader to highlight why you are doing what you are doing, and the importance and value to what you are doing. There will be moments or seasons in every leader’s life where they ask, “Why am I still doing this?” It may be because of a tough interaction with a student, or a difficult season with a small group, or not seeing change in the lives of their students. Discouragement can happen to anyone. Instead of resting in it we need to help our leaders remember why we are doing what we are doing and the value of pouring into young people. Reminding them of these aspects will help to encourage, strengthen, and challenge your leaders to persevere and continue to pour into their students.

It builds community and unity.

Typically, teams are made of very different and unique people which is probably true of your volunteer leaders. I know I have people with different personalities, ages, backgrounds, influences, and skill sets and when you ask them to lead together it may seem like a tall task. But when you host trainings it allows you to help your team build community and unity by bringing them together, highlighting different gifts and skill sets, and allowing them to have fun together.

One of the things I love to do at our trainings is have food, partly because I like to eat but also because food fosters conversation and community. There’s a reason people tend to be more chatty around a table or at a restaurant. It’s because food helps us to lower our walls. So having food is a great opportunity to encourage community. You can also add in a mixer or some type of activity to get your group engaging with one another, and you can incorporate trainings that highlight unity and working together through differences. These types of atmospheres will help your team grow closer together as you unite to reach your students with the Gospel.

It allows us to answer questions our leaders have.

Our leaders are always being peppered with questions from students or they have questions for us about topics students raise. I try to be as helpful as I can during our programming, but often that doesn’t present the adequate amount of time needed to address questions. I have also noticed that if one leader has a question, whether their own or one raised by their small group, other leaders tend to have the same or similar questions as well.

Trainings allow us to go in-depth on questions our leaders are being asked. It also gives you another opportunity to help foster community and unity as leaders realize they aren’t alone in dealing with these questions and topics. These opportunities allow us to provide insight, guidance, and resources to our people to help them work with and love their students well.

I would also encourage you to utilize different voices when answering these questions. You may have veteran youth leaders who have already dealt with these topics and inviting them to share will do amazing things for your other volunteers. Also, consider bringing in outside personnel if applicable to help handle some of the questions and topics that are outside of your skill set or expertise.

It provides an opportunity to focus on your mission and vision.

When we take our leaders through training opportunities, it allows you to continue to drip your mission and vision into all that you do. You can help your leaders focus and remember what the ministry is striving to do. So as you walk through your training objectives, remember to bring it back to how these trainings help to embrace and advance your missional philosophy.

It allows your team to have fun together.

I love getting our leadership teams together because it provides an opportunity to hang out and enjoy life with one another. We are blessed to have leaders who enjoy spending time together and these trainings allow extended opportunities for them to fellowship and have fun. This happens over meals, through team building activities and icebreakers, and by creating intentional moments of community at each of our training events. These moments help your team to truly gel and have a good time with one another while still being on mission together for the advancement of the Gospel.

Speaking Tips: Keys to Remember When You’re Teaching

I love teaching and preaching. It’s something I’m truly passionate about and an area in which I believe God has gifted me. As I’ve reflected over my time in ministry (almost 20 years now…yikes!) I’ve seen how my teaching style and mentality have evolved.

When I first started out in paid vocational ministry I was extremely rigid in how I presented and I followed the traditional approach to preaching and teaching (i.e., don’t move around and keep all messages to three points that have phenomenal alliteration). If you were to compare my early sermons and style–those videos exist somewhere I’m sure–to today, you’d notice a lot of differences in how I present and try to engage with the audience, as well as various other aspects.

As I was reflecting on the change and evolution in style and approach, I’ve noticed there are aspects that have been constant throughout my time in ministry that I believe can help us to become better teachers and preachers. Today, I want to share those ideas with you in hopes of encouraging you as you speak and lead in ministry.

Connection is necessary.

Whether I was the one speaking or part of the crowd being taught, I’ve come to realize that connection is key. Being able to connect with the people you’re speaking to is a necessary part of being a teacher because it allows you and the crowd to be able to relate more personally with one another. When you are able to understand and relate to the people you are speaking to, it creates a relational connection and allows the truths you are sharing to not only hit home but also to connect with your audience on a deeply personal level.

Look at your audience not through them.

When I was in undergrad, I was taught to look at people’s foreheads instead of their eyes to avoid feeling nervous or anxious. As I progressed in my career I heard from other leaders to look past the audience toward the back of the room. Still others told me to look straight at people. Here’s what I have learned through my years: look at your audience not through them.

How that looks when you speak is up to you, but always find ways to look at your audience and not past them. This is another way to connect with people and allow them to be seen and known. When people are seen and a connection is established they feel validated and loved. So don’t look past people or through them, but truly see them and look to connect with them as you speak. This may feel uncomfortable for you at first but finding a way to connect with your audience visually is key to growing as a speaker and establishing a relational connection.

Utilize stories and humor.

One of the best things you can do when you’re teaching is tell stories and bring humor into your message. Stories captivate audiences and help them to remember the points you are highlighting, and humor allows for connection and a unique way to illustrate your points. These two aspects of teaching will help you create opportunities for your audience to connect with you, and will help them to remember what was shared as they seek to apply it to their lives.

Use various forms of media.

It is important to remember that people relate and connect to teaching and teaching styles differently. So the more variety you can incorporate through different forms of media, the greater your chance of engaging and reaching people. This could be through pictures or videos. It may be with different props you bring on stage, through musical elements or times of reflection. It might be through creative questions and interactions during the teaching, or even your posture and where you stand. All of these will engage people differently and also help make the focus and application of the message more memorable.

Be creative and innovative.

You may be quick to dismiss yourself as “lacking creativity” or you may say “I’m not innovative.” But the truth is each of us, in our own unique ways, are creative and innovative. How you see things, comprehend information, understand and tell stories, and allow Scripture to permeate your life is innovative and creative. These aspects are important to share with your people because there are most likely those who relate to God’s Word, His calling, and mission in the same way you do. The ability to make the Bible real and applicable from your perspective is an aspect that only you can bring, and one that can help many people in their comprehension of Scripture. So share that with your audience and allow the Bible to come alive through your messages.

Be authentically you.

So often I remember being told in undergrad, “Don’t try to be a famous pastor, just be you because you are who God called to minister.” God doesn’t look to have clones of certain individuals. He is looking to utilize you and your gifts to connect, minister, and point people to Jesus. Embrace who He made you to be as you carry out His calling for your life.

Speaking Tips: Humor is Your Friend

When speaking to an audience humor is a necessary resource to have in your arsenal. But humor is often over-used or under-utilized. Speakers can tend to lean into humor too much in an attempt to relate to their audience and to pull them in. Other times they barely use it or use it to little or no effect.

As ministers our job is to effectively and clearly communicate the Gospel to our people. But that communication doesn’t need to be dry or boring but alive, passionate, and engaging. When we share God’s Word it should draw people in and help them engage and apply the truths of Scripture to their lives. Humor is one way we can help our students understand, relate to the Bible and apply it to their lives. I believe we serve a God of joy and humor and that we see this throughout Scripture. Since we are created in His image we should be utilizing it in our own lives and in our teaching.

Tell personal stories.

Stories are a great way to communicate humor but I would assert the best types of stories are personal ones. Now that is not to say stories that aren’t personal should never be used. I’m simply saying personal stories resonate more with the people you’re speaking to because it makes you more relatable, authentic, and personal. So look to use funny stories and anecdotes from your own life and share those to help elevate the points you are making.

Be intentional with humor.

Often times speakers use humor just to use humor. But as communicators of the Gospel everything we say and do should be done to drive people to God and the truth of His Word. We shouldn’t just throw out a joke to get a laugh or to poke fun at someone or something. Instead, our humor should be utilized to point people to Jesus and to emphasize a point from Scripture. Being intentional with our humor keeps the focus on God and not on the speaker. It should be used to help your audience remember what is being shared not simply to tell a joke.

Utilize humor to emphasize a point.

One of my favorite ways to use humor is by telling a funny story that emphasizes the point I’m trying to get across. If I’m looking to make the point that “trust is necessary in following Jesus,” I may tell a funny story about when I didn’t trust someone, leading to not great results. But there is also the opportunity to use humor and move into a serious moment. Sometimes when I tell a story, I know there are humorous moments in it but that the end result is more serious in nature. This dramatic switch pulls people in and drills home your point. If I tell a funny story about not trusting someone when it comes to starting a camp fire, which includes lots of funny missteps but ends with me burning down the campsite, the dramatic effect will bring people in and highlight the consequences of not trusting someone else. Humor is a great resource when emphasizing a point but it must be done well.

Sarcasm isn’t your friend.

Sarcasm is defined as the use of irony to mock or convey contempt, and is often used to share hurtful truths thinly veiled in humor. I frequently hear students joke about how their spiritual gift is sarcasm, but this type of humor is often hurtful and mean. Because of these truths, I would highly recommend not using sarcasm even if you are “good at it.”

There are times where sarcasm may be useful in a message, like when you are being sarcastic about a negative attribute or habit while trying to point your students toward a positive point (i.e. no one ever tells a lie). But we must ask, “Is it worth it?” What we might not know is that our sarcasm may actually hurt or alienate a student because they could feel targeted or they could be wrestling with that issue. If our humor could be received as hurtful, is there really a reason to be using it? I would encourage you to not utilize sarcasm and instead look to utilize other forms of humor to help emphasize your point(s). That isn’t to say you can never use sarcasm, but you need to be mindful of how and when you do.

Never poke fun at students.

This point should be obvious, but I think sometimes we forget about it in the midst of our messages. Poking fun at students should never be part of your sermon. It could make the individual student feel targeted and make other students feel like your gathering isn’t a safe place because they may get called out or made fun of from the stage. Having fun at the expense of students should never be what we do because we never want to hinder someone from understanding or embracing the Gospel at the sake of a quick joke. Instead, I would encourage you to make fun of yourself, your stories, or things you have experienced. This will allow you to better connect with your audience because you are being authentic and real with them while highlighting the realities that everyone struggles with.

See the humor in Scripture.

Part of utilizing humor is seeing that God is a God of humor and seeing those moments in Scripture. Think about when Jesus asks the disciples if they caught any fish in John 14. Jesus is asking a bunch of fishermen if they had caught any fish. Now these are guys who have made their living catching fish and for Jesus to pose this question, it’s kind of like a subtle jab at the disciples asking if their previous career path has paid off instead of following the Messiah. Jesus then tells them to throw their nets on the other side. At this point there is clear humor here because of course they had tried all the different methods but nothing worked. Jesus is saying, “Don’t you understand who I am?! I am the Messiah and your old way of living isn’t working because I have come to change your lives!” But the humorous way He goes about doing this cannot be dismissed. When you see the humor in the Bible it allows you to naturally impart humor into your messages.

You don’t have to be naturally funny to use humor.

I’ve talked with many youth workers who have a desire to use humor but they believe they just aren’t funny or don’t know how to use humor. But the reality is that everyone can be funny in their own way and it doesn’t have to look the same with each person. Having different styles or senses of humor is a huge blessing because your style may reach people that my style or others may not.

If you find a story you’re sharing funny, stop and ask yourself why. When you can identify the humorous aspects of your story it gives you a point or angle to emphasize and in doing so, help others to see the humor you’re using. Don’t count yourself out because you aren’t a comedian. Instead, lean into the humor you see or experience and help communicate that with others as you share your stories.

Speaking Tips: Utilizing Space

Last week we kicked off a brand new series called “Speaking Tips.” This series is designed to help us grow as speakers and to critically think through how to be the best speaker God has equipped and empowered us to be. It is my desire that this series encourages you and provides some tips that will save you from learning the hard way like I did.

When it comes to the spaces we teach in, our propensity may be to look at the space with frustration or desire. Frustration perhaps because the space isn’t what we want or need. And desire because we long for a space that is better suited for our context and students.

I get it. The spaces student ministries utilize are often not what we would desire. Instead it is often shared or multi-purpose space, an area with hand-me-down couches, games and activities that were donated and have seen better days, or spaces that feel like an old closet or classroom was converted as a place “to put students.”

Let me encourage you to not see your space as a limitation or to long for something better, but instead to embrace what you have and leverage it to meet your needs. Today, I want to share with you a few tips to utilize the space you have and use it in effective ways to reach your students.

Shake up where you speak from.

When I first started out in a paid ministry position I was super stationary. I was a senior pastor at a small church (like 8-10 people small), I was glued to the pulpit, and I was fairly rigid. As I have continued to serve and grow in ministry, I’ve come to see the value in movement when teaching. Whether I’m speaking to a youth group, teaching at a school chapel, or preaching at our church, I am always trying to switch things around. Sometimes on a Sunday morning I may teach from the center of the room instead of the front. During our Wednesday night programming I make my main points from different spots in the room because it forces a new perspective.

Be mobile when you talk.

If you’re able to move around when you talk, I highly recommend that you do so. Even minor movements help to focus people’s eyes which triggers renewed awareness and attention. However, your movement shouldn’t be sporadic or without purpose, but instead it should be intentional and focused to help communicate your message and emphasize its points. Even simply moving away from a podium, using your hands and arms to demonstrate a point, or walking to different parts of the stage or room will bring people into your message and what is being communicated.

Leverage the space you have.

It’s easy to feel frustrated with the space we have if it isn’t ideal or what we need. But having any type of space is a huge blessing, and one we need to make the most of. So think about the space you have to speak from and make it work for you. Be willing to try something new. Think about how you can change the lighting or seating arrangements to fit the type of conversation you’re having. Creatively think through what elements you can bring to the teaching space to accent it. Even minor adjustments can effect great change in the space you have and in how your message is received. Don’t simply change the space just to change it, but think about how changing the space can help you effectively communicate your message.

Utilize different postures.

This is one that really impacts how you speak and what the audience hears and understands. When you can go from a standing position to a seated position you are bringing the audience into a more intimate and vulnerable place. If you can utilize a height differential it will also force a new perspective and allow you to critically assess how you’re engaging the audience. Think about how a stage elevates the people on it which forces the perspective and shifts how people will see and perceive you. If you’re able to change your posture it will switch how you’re able to engage your audience and how they will receive what you’re saying.

Bring in different teachers and styles of teaching.

Sharing your platform says a lot about the type of leader you are. If you are willing to be more open-handed it allows different voices to be heard by your students and for a greater chance of impact in their lives. Students hear and receive things in new ways from different speakers and that fosters growth and change in their lives. And as a bonus point, this highlights to your students that you both trust and value your leaders enough to let them take the stage.

This will also help you engage multiple speaking styles which don’t all have to be from you. When you can use different teaching styles (narrative, expository, group discussion, testimonies, etc.) it communicates your messages in unique ways that will register with students differently. And when you share your platform you are allowing others to step into that space and naturally assist with it.

Speaking Tips: Leveraging Your Voice

The other week I turned thirty seven years old and it hit me that I have been in ministry for almost two decades in various capacities. As I was reflecting back on this, I realized how much my speaking style and ability has changed and grown over the years. Much of this growth came through trial and error, learning from mistakes, continued education, and learning from mentors.

It is extremely humbling that I am where I am as a pastor and speaker, because I should never have been able to do any of this. I was born with a severe speech impediment and tongue tie. Fun fact, I still have a bit of tongue tie today because they couldn’t fully remove it. For years after the surgery I was in speech therapy, and even today will have moments when I mispronounce words. I was also extremely terrified to speak in front of people. In high school I would shake during presentations, I would have extreme cotton mouth, and would try to find any way out of having to stand in front of the class.

But by God’s grace, He called me into ministry and has allowed me to grow and develop into a person who speaks and teaches regularly. I am by no means a world class speaker or teacher, but I have studied and grown in my own abilities and wanted to share my insights and tips with you. Many of these have been learned through failure and growth opportunities. I hope this series encourages you and provides some tips that will save you from learning the hard way like I did.

For today’s post, I want to share ways that you can leverage your voice as you teach and shepherd your people. Your voice is one of your greatest resources and tools, and when you master it, you can use it with great results.

Utilize volume.

One of the best things you can do with your voice is to control the volume at which you speak. When you transition from a normal speaking volume to a whisper, it brings people in. When you move to a more dramatic and louder voice it communicates heightened intensity or emphasizes a point. It is important to note that when you get loud it isn’t yelling but speaking loudly. If you can balance speaking loudly versus yelling it will help engender you to your students because they don’t see you as authoritative but instead as someone who can lovingly guide and direct.

Inflection is a great gift.

Inflection is defined as “a change in the pitch or tone of a person’s voice.” This is more than just volume but changing the way you actually communicate verbally. Think about the best vocal storyteller you know. What made them special? It was probably the way they told the story and typically that all has to do with inflection. Inflection can be switching up the speed of what you say, enunciating certain words or syllables, speaking for dramatic affect, utilizing your voice to communicate different meanings in a sentence or phrase, and even speaking in various voices like monotone or emphatically. Utilizing this skill not only will make you a better teacher and story teller but will also cultivate a desire to listen within your students.

Pace is key.

Some people are naturally fast talkers, while others tend to be slower. Neither is a bad thing unless it keeps your audience from paying attention and listening. What you need to find is a pace that is comfortable for you, relatable to your audience, and effective in communicating your message. Pace isn’t just about speed but knowing when to change your speed, when to embrace the technique of pausing, and knowing what pace is most effective with your audience. Throughout a message you may have varying paces but walking through a practice run of your message will help to fine tune what pace you need at what time during your message.

Speak from the diaphragm.

One of the best pieces of advice I received about speaking came in college. A prof was speaking about using our voices and talked about how utilizing our diaphragm allows us to control our volume, tone, projection, and longevity of breath. When you breathe deeper and speak from the diaphragm it affords you more control and ability to use your voice in multiple capacities. To know if you’re speaking from the diaphragm you will feel your breaths being deeper, your projection growing without yelling, and the ability to control your speed increase. This is more than a deep breath, it is allowing your whole body to help you speak and you will feel it within your stomach, lungs, and vocal chords.

Practice and watch.

Practice, practice, practice. The more you practice the better at controlling and leveraging your voice you will become. In fact, one of the best ways to grow as you practice is to actually record yourself and watch and listen to how you use your voice. I know that even suggesting watching yourself speak can be uncomfortable. I get it. I hate watching myself speak because I am always my toughest critic. But when I watch myself it challenges me to think about areas in which I can grow. It isn’t about critique but about finding ways to grow.

6 Tips for Handling Suggestions

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

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

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

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

1. Listen well.

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

2. Think and pray before responding.

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

3. Ask clarifying questions.

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

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

4. Respond with grace and humility.

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

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

5. Clearly explain your reasoning.

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

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

6. Be willing to take guidance and make changes.

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

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

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

The Week Before a Trip

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

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

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

Have someone else handle speaking.

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

Try to keep your schedule as open as possible.

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

Over-communicate to families.

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

Have a planning meeting with leaders.

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

Create a personal packing list and a ministry packing list.

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

Schedule time off before and after the trip.

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

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

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

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

How to Help Your Students Want to Read the Bible

Throughout my time serving in churches I have seen biblical literacy continue to decrease in student ministry and I have been astounded by how little students actually know about the Bible. Whether it’s attributing sayings and musing to God’s Word that aren’t there, not knowing where books of the Bible fall, or not even knowing Bible speaks into various topics, the state of biblical literacy is not looking good. Maybe this is just my experience, but I think this is indicative of a trend in younger people and is why we are seeing more and more companies focusing on students to help them grow in biblical literacy.

Now it would be easy for me to sit here and bemoan the circumstances and to be dismayed by the lack of comprehension and willingness to engage with the Bible. But that would be neither helpful nor beneficial. Instead, I want to be a part of the solution. In my role that means working with our upcoming generations and helping to train and equip them in how to use and interpret their Bibles in a way that helps them make real world applications.

Today, I want to look at how we can help our students not only read their Bibles but also seek to engage with and apply them. Students need to see that God’s Word is real and necessary, but they also need to understand why it is important and know what it means to them. This will allow them to be thoughtful and proactive in how they apply the Bible in their lives and in how it shapes them as Christ-followers.

Teach students how.

We have written on Bible study methods before but it is easy to assume our students know how to read the Bible when in actuality they have never been taught. So take time to show them how to read the Bible. Point out the different literary styles and help them learn basic hermeneutics so they can read it appropriately and apply it to their lives. Help them understand it is okay to have and ask questions. Teach them to be analytical and critical readers in order to think about the Bible in broader and deeper contexts. Doing this will help them grow not only in their knowledge of God’s Word but it will also affirm them and help them see that they can discern and interpret the Bible on their own.

Make sure they have a Bible they will use.

Maybe I’m just odd but I have a ton of Bibles and they all serve a different purpose. Some are for studies, others for personal devotions, and I have others because they offer unique and significant insights. But most students aren’t like me. In fact, I have found many students don’t actually have a Bible they want to use or enjoy using. So take time to help students find a Bible that they can read and will want to read. This may mean having more Bibles on hand and having a broader knowledge of different types of Bibles, but it will allow you to help your students grow and engage with God’s Word on their own in a way they can understand.

Point them to helpful Bible study resources.

There are lots of great Bible Study tools out there and there are a lot of not so great ones. In fact, you have probably seen a lot of “teen Bible studies” that feel dated, or they talk down to students, or perhaps feel childish in their designs and studies. Finding helpful resources or Bible studies may feel difficult, but when you find ones that work for your students you will see them grow and gravitate toward reading God’s Word even more. We have written on some resources and you can find that information here.

Model it for them.

I think this is something the church needs to be better about as a whole. We should model what we preach and teach to our people, and not always in a way that shows us succeeding or doing the right thing. I think we need to model the very real aspects of what studying Scripture looks like, both the successes and difficulties. When our students see the impact that the Bible has on our lives it motivates them to want that for themselves. But they also need to see the moments this is hard for you. Let them know about times you’ve struggled to be in the Bible. Show them how you overcame that and highlight how you felt and what being out of God’s Word did to your life. When students see the real pieces of what the Bible does for our lives coming from people they trust, they will want to model that as well.

Set up reminders and show them how to do the same.

Reminders may sound trivial at first but they work. I love my Google calendar and my reminders on my phone. In fact, I have reminders set for all sorts of things not because I forget them, but because they are of high value to me and I don’t want to forget they are there if I’m scheduling other things. Students are incredibly busy and they have all sorts of things competing for their time and attention. If you can help them in prioritizing what is important and show them the benefit of reminders and scheduling, it will help them to see the necessity of staying in God’s Word.

Help students to set reminders, show them how to put things in a schedule, and help them carve out time to read God’s Word. But remember that this may look different than your schedule. Students may have to carve out ten minutes on a crowded bus to read the Bible or listen to a devotion. They may have to do it at night before or after homework. It may not be every day but it may be a few times a week. That’s okay because it is all about growth and consistency. And remember that reminders aren’t a fix-all, they are just a tool to help us. This isn’t a “you do this and you’re good” approach, but instead is a resource to help us grow as biblically literate Christ followers.

Show them why this is important and applicable to their lives.

I believe it is easy to take the Bible and its impact in our lives for granted sometimes. As western Christians, we live the good life where we don’t see the hardships and persecution that Christians around the world face. And I believe this is part of the reason we may not see the Bible as being helpful and applicable all the time: we live an easy life and we don’t see hardship that the Bible helps us through. However, for many of us in ministry we can point to moments when the Bible and our faith in God carried us through dark moments and how that was a turning point in our lives. Students need to hear that! They need to understand that the Bible has a place in our mundane lives and in the moments when life is at its lowest point. Our students don’t see the impact the Bible always has because we don’t show them how it impacts their lives at each moment.

We need to teach them how the knowledge of God’s Word helps to form and prepare us for those rocky moments. We need to show them how the truths of the Bible have a life-changing impact on our lives, our culture, and our world. We need to help model how we can be agents of good change in our world through being who God has called us to be. When we model this reality to them, it builds a spiritual framework for their lives from which they can live out their calling of being disciples of Jesus.

6 Tips for the New Year

January is almost upon us, and if you’re like me this year has probably flown by. And you may also be like me if you can look back on this past year and see areas you excelled in but others in which you need to grow.

Self reflection is not only helpful but I would argue it is necessary as well. As ministry leaders it’s essential to think about what we need to be doing and what we should stop doing. For our post this week I want to share three things we need to be doing (or continuing to do) and three things we need to stop doing.

Start or continue to…

1. Invest in your leaders. This is honestly something I wish I had learned earlier in my career. Our leaders are huge assets to our ministries and students. They allow our ministries to continue and they are the ones pouring into our students. The more you invest in your leaders, the more you will see outflow from that investment and cultivate a community of leaders who generate leaders. So invest in them relationally, spiritually, personally, and professionally. Doing so will allow your ministry to grow and flourish as you have leaders who are developing and cultivating new leaders.

2. Keep and maintain a schedule. This is often easier said than done in ministry. We may set up a schedule but often times we don’t keep it because, well, it’s ministry. We see it as we are doing God’s work and therefore we are always on the clock. But that isn’t what God has called us to. In fact, the very nature of sabbath is meant to keep us from becoming a workaholic and someone who doesn’t have healthy boundaries.

Instead, let me encourage you to keep a schedule and maintain it. Keep a Google calendar, have someone hold you accountable to your schedule, keep your time off as time off, protect your spaces, and make sure to honor the time you are giving. Don’t show up late, don’t forget meetings, don’t sacrifice your spiritual growth, and don’t forget your family. By adhering to a healthy schedule you will see yourself grow and mature as a healthy leader, and your ministry will follow suit.

3. Care for yourself. This isn’t selfish, this is necessary. Self-care is something we need to be more proactive in incorporating into our lives. If we aren’t taking care of our spiritual, emotional, mental, physical, and relational health our ministries and our lives will suffer. In order to lead well we need to be healthy and growing. So make sure to carve out intentional time to pause, have a sabbath rhythm, take time off, stop working when you leave the office, invest in community for yourself, spend time with those you love, and do things that fill your tank. This is something you must be doing in order to lead well and sustain yourself in ministry.

Stop…

1. Trying to please people. If you’re a people-pleaser at heart this is probably really hard for you to hear. But if you work at a church, let’s be honest, we have all fallen into this space before. At some point–or regularly–we try to please bosses, parents, elders, staff, or whomever. Now I am not saying to not do a good job or to approach your ministry with a laissez-faire attitude. We should work hard and seek to do our best, but I am saying that our primary goal shouldn’t be pleasing others. Instead we should seek to please God and to do what He has called us to.

2. Putting work first. Let me be very clear here: you are not defined by your ministry nor are you defined by how much you work. Instead, you are defined by your relationship with Jesus, how you impart that relationship into all moments and relationships, and how you live out your calling. God never calls us to put our jobs first. He tells us our priority is our relationship with Him, then our relationship with our families, then our relationship with the church. If we get that structure out of order we will continue to struggle and get burned out. Having our priorities correctly ordered will allow us to be the leaders that God has called us to be.

3. Comparing yourself and your ministry. This was something I was guilty of early on in my career. I came out of undergrad having been told I’d be making huge changes in the world as a pastor and that alumni like me created lasting legacies. Well, imagine my surprise when I didn’t go directly into ministry. And when I did it was at a tiny church in the middle of nowhere New Jersey. Then in youth ministry I went to all the mainline conferences and heard about other ministries and their budgets and programming. I saw all the gadgets and cool tech toys. I heard from the gurus of youth ministry and the highlights of amazing youth workers around the country. And then realized I didn’t have any of those things nor was I one of those people.

If I’m honest I tried to shape our ministry to match the ones I had seen and tried to adjust my teaching style to match those I heard and idolized. But the truth is that none of that mattered or made a difference. My students and families didn’t want someone else or some glitzy program. They wanted authenticity, relationships, a youth pastor who was himself, and a place they could come and be known. The lights and hazers didn’t matter. I didn’t have to be an amazing speaker. We didn’t have to have all the cool new games and activities. Instead, being myself and working in the context and confines we had allowed us to build an authentic community where our students could come and flourish. Comparison will destroy you and your ministry if you allow it. It is healthy to critique your ministry and look for information and resources. What isn’t healthy is comparing yourself or your ministry, or trying to be someone or something else.

How to Make Leader Parties Special

This is typically the time of year that many of us are hosting parties of various kinds and undoubtedly will host a party for our leaders. Our leaders are amazing, and without them our ministries wouldn’t be able to happen. Regardless of our ministry budget, how many leaders we have, or even what our options may be, showing love and care is vital to help our leaders know that we value them.

Today, I want to share a few ways you can host a party for your leaders that is meaningful and special, even if resources are not ideal. The ideas below are low- to no-cost and meant to hopefully provide a spark of creativity and insight as you seek to encourage your leaders.

Utilize families.

One of the blessings of student ministry is that we get to partner with families. We are able to walk with, encourage, and be for our families in all moments. Families see this and most are aware of how important our leaders are because they see the evidence in the lives of their students. So consider asking families to help with putting on a leader party.

You may have a couple of parents or families who love to host and put together parties who will run the whole thing for you. Or there may be a family who would love to offer their home as a place for you to gather offsite that feels more special and intimate. You can also create a Sign Up Genius form where families could sign up to bring food for either a meal or a dessert buffet. Another fun and really special idea would be asking families to bless their student’s small group leader with a gift, a meal, or card shower to make your leader party even more special. Imagine if you could give each leader a special gift from the families in the church and consider how seen, loved, and known they will feel.

Utilize students.

What if you encouraged your students to bless your leaders whenever you have a party for them? If you have a Christmas party for your leaders, have your students write Christmas cards or bake for them. Maybe even have your students bring a gift for their leaders. Even a small card or gift will do wonderful things in encouraging your leaders. If it’s an “end of the year” party, maybe have your students gather around their leaders and pray over them.

Any time you have a gathering for leaders, you could have students write thank you notes to them. A handwritten note acknowledging what you thought no one saw or understood brings such a sense of joy, peace, and accomplishment. You could also have your students be the hosts and waiters at your parties if applicable. Having students bring out the food and serve leaders or even greet them and say thank you is a really fun way to encourage leaders. These are a few ways you could utilize your students to make your leader parties special and meaningful.

Have food and drinks.

Refreshments don’t need to be extravagant or expensive. You could make a quick and tasty punch from items found at Aldi or Dollar Tree with orange juice, cranberry juice, ginger ale, and sherbet, and you wouldn’t break the bank. Tasty snacks can also be purchased at these stores and by putting them in a bowl or on a platter, you have made the gathering a lot more inviting and intentional.

If purchasing items is off the table (food pun intended), consider making the gathering a potluck and create a theme to make it more fun. Do a baked potato bar and have everyone bring their favorite toppings. Host a brunch and ask everyone to bring their favorite breakfast dish to share.

Provide a gift.

This can be a tough thing to do depending on your budget, but even small gifts mean a lot. You could find things on Etsy or at places like 5 Below that may not cost a lot but can be meaningful or funny or relatable to your team. You may not be able to purchase gifts, but you may be able to make something special for your leaders. I love to make candles as a hobby, and I have a ton of supplies at home where I could make a votive for each leader with minimal cost. Elise is a gifted artist, and loves to create all types of things that leaders would love.

For those type of things to be able to happen, you need to be thinking intentionally before the party because otherwise you will be stressed for time and it may not happen. Even a nice handwritten card encouraging your leaders and speaking about the ways you have seen them step up would be a wonderful gift to receive as everyone loves encouragement and a handwritten card. Often times the smallest gifts are the most meaningful because they show thoughtfulness and intentionality.

Take time to encourage them.

I try to be very intentional about encouragement because our leaders need to know how important they are and how thankful we are for them. Student ministry is hard! And there are times we may want to quit, and we are paid. Think about our volunteers who show up and probably don’t see much return on their investments, and yet they keep coming back and taking more and more upon their shoulders. They are awesome individuals, and taking the time to recognize them and encourage them is not only welcomed but I would assert it is necessary. So at your gatherings carve out time to intentionally speak into their lives, to highlight God moments you have seen, to laugh with them, and to honor them. Don’t throw it at the back end of a meeting but be intentional with where it is placed to show your leaders how important and valuable they are.

Shape the environment.

This is super important and should not be something we push to the side or forget about. I know for many of us, we have less than ideal locations for hosting a party. Perhaps you have a small church where the options are slim-to-none for hosting, except for the gym/Awana Room/fellowship hall/storage area. Maybe you are a church that is all multi-purpose so you don’t have a space to call your own and shape fully to your desire. Or maybe you are a church plant and you don’t even have a space because you rent a building only on Sundays.

I get it, shaping the environment can be hard sometimes, but I don’t think that should cause us to not try. Wherever you end up hosting, whether the Awana Room, your youth room, or at your own home, look to shape the environment to make it warm, welcoming, festive, and fun. Think about playing music for the party. If it’s Christmastime, play Christmas music. If it’s an “end of year” celebration, play throwback tunes for your leaders. Think about decorations. Are there ways you could make the time together feel special? Add tablecloths to the old wooden tables, hang Christmas lights or put up a Christmas tree, or rearrange the furniture to make it feel more welcoming or like a living room space. These things, while they may seem small, show intentionality and communicate that your leaders matter. So don’t think about what you don’t have, consider what you can do to make the setting special for your people.