Book Review: Attacking Anxiety

Would you say that your students struggle with anxiety, depression, or panic attacks? Have you witnessed the weight that your students are carrying? Have students shared how overwhelmed or burdened they are? What about you? How are you doing? Would you say your mental, emotional, and spiritual health are all doing well?

Recently I had shared about being on a mental health break from my job, and during my time away I read a recommended book by Shawn Johnson called Attacking Anxiety. This is a book I would highly recommend for anyone regardless of whether you are struggling personally or have people under your care who are.

The truth is that we will always come in contact with someone who may be struggling and this book provides insight, wisdom, tools, and resources we can use to help ourselves and others. This is a very personal book for me because it truly put into words the feelings, emotions, and thoughts I didn’t know how to express during my recent bout with mental health. I can say with extreme confidence that this is a book everyone leading in ministry (especially with students) should be reading.

Attacking Anxiety isn’t another self-help book, but instead is a very personal and reflective account from Shawn about his own struggle with anxiety, depression, and panic attacks. Shawn draws from his own story and struggles to help the reader fully understand the realities of mental health. But as he tells his story, he also highlights the ways in which we can have victory over the struggles we face.

Shawn acknowledges that this isn’t a “one-size fits all” approach, but the tools and resources that he shares are simply that: ways for us to helpfully and hopefully engage with our own mental health or those with whom we do life. It is a refreshing read that helps us understand that mental health is a complex issue and that the ways to address it are multifaceted and include God and our relationship with Him, counseling, medication, self-awareness, and much more. Shawn doesn’t dismiss one aspect or treatment for another but instead helps the reader to understand how unique and complex this issue is, and provides the reader with much-needed insight and resources.

The book is broken down into four sections: Know, Start, Stop, and Remember. The Know section is designed to help the reader understand that what they are going through isn’t something that only they have ever struggled with and that they aren’t alone. This section is truly meant to help the reader have hope even when life seems hopeless. The Start portion is all about the reader taking steps to fight back. Shawn highlights how mental health can be crippling but this was never God’s design or intent for humanity. Struggling with mental health is a direct result of the Fall, and because of that Satan loves to corrupt our minds and make us believe it is our fault, that we are the problem, and we are alone. Shawn challenges the reader to fight back against these lies and he outlines way we can do just that. This section alone is worth purchasing the book for as it helped me think through how I was responding to my own circumstances, and when I put these tools to work it helped immensely. My anxiety and depression didn’t magically disappear, but it became manageable and allowed for me to see how many supporters and advocates I truly have.

Section three, Stop, is helpful for anyone and everyone regardless of whether you are struggling with mental health. Shawn highlights things we need to Stop doing because they are actually keeping us from becoming fully healthy. Some of the areas he talks about include pretending that everything is okay, admitting if we are holding onto past hurt and unforgiveness, a desire to perform for critics, and comparison. Even as I reread this list, I am struck by how important and insightful each of these areas are for everyone regardless of their mental health. Holding onto these aspects and responses doesn’t mean we struggle with mental health, but prolonged engagement with them will undoubtedly affect your mental health in one way or another.

In the final section of his book, Shawn challenges us to remember that God is with us, God is working, and God has a plan. So often in mental health struggles we forget these truths. We forget that God hasn’t left us alone and that He is working all things out. In the thickness of the struggle we often miss that God is at work and sustaining us, and it is in this last section that Shawn reminds us of who our God is and the love He has for us. We are not alone, we are not forgotten. Instead we are deeply known, loved, and sustained. The section focuses on the hope we have and the reminder to rely upon God even in our darkest moments.

If you need one more reason to love this book, then don’t stop at the last section but continue on to the appendix. Here Shawn provides a very practical resource entitled “Panic Attack Survival Guide.” In the appendix we are given practical ways to move through a panic attack but Shawn also provides an additional guide for those who have loved ones going through a panic attack and how to love and care for them in the midst of it. This resource is invaluable and totally worth the cost of the book just to obtain this piece.

So if you’re wondering whether or not you should read this book, the answer is a resounding yes! The resources alone make the book worth purchasing and reading, but the additional information and insight into mental health are just as worthwhile. So let me encourage you to go out and purchase your copy today and use it to help yourself and others on their mental health journey.

Speaking Tips for New Youth Pastors

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

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

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

Keep it short.

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

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

Know your group.

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

Know your material.

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

Slow down.

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

Engage with your group.

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

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

Control your emotions.

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

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

Have fun.

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

Tips for Self-Care: Ask for Help

When do you ask for help? Is it when there’s a problem? Do you ask for help when you need it? What does asking for help look like for you?

These are important questions to consider because often asking for help isn’t something that is easy to do. Reflecting on when, how, and why we ask for help allows us to identify areas where we may need to grow. Asking for help may be seen as weakness, whether or not that is the truth. Our cultural, societal, and communal norms and expectations have championed the “do it on your own mentality,” and the subsequent feelings of failure if you don’t.

Because of this we often don’t ask for help and when we do, we typically only allow people to help in minor ways or give them something to do while still exercising direct control (i.e. micromanaging). This isn’t the help we need nor the help we should be seeking. Not asking for and obtaining the help we need will lead to burnout and tension because we will feel overwhelmed, overworked, and alone. So what should we do and how do we implement healthy strategies?

Simply put: let go of control and ask for the help you truly need. Putting it simply and simply executing this strategy are two very different realities, but if you can implement and execute this you will find yourself and your ministry in a much better place. When you ask for help it will be better for you overall, so here are some ways to look at what asking for help will afford.

Asking for help allows you to grow as a leader.

When a leader exercises humility, honesty, and transparency it helps them to truly lead with an open hand and total dependence upon God. Leaders who lead in this way demonstrate that they are not an island and need people which then facilitates growth, commitment, and ownership among those they empower and trust with helping them.

Asking for help allows your supervisors to care for and minister to you.

We don’t always think this way, especially when we are feeling burdened with finding solutions and fixing everything on our own. Often we will look at our supervisors and assume they don’t want to help or don’t care. But the reality is that they may not know how to help, especially if they haven’t served in your capacity and if you don’t tell them. Give your supervisors a fair chance to help by being honest and sharing about where you need help.

Asking for help means understanding it may not be done your way.

Are you like me, and enjoy seeing things done the right way…I mean my way? That’s the hard part with being in charge isn’t it? We do things certain ways because they work. We’ve gone through the trial and error and have made everything a well-tuned machine.

Releasing control and asking for help means that you need to trust other people to do things in a manner that may be different from how you have done it. Truthfully, that is really hard to do but in the same breath it is also really healthy and you may find new and better ways to do things. This also empowers other leaders to grow and flourish in their own leadership capacities and it creates ownership for the ministry.

Asking for help means releasing and not micromanaging.

It can be easy to ask for help but instead of releasing aspects and responsibilities freely, we dictate and micromanage our people. This approach does not actually lighten or ease your workload. Instead, it makes you work harder and faster because you’re constantly looking after others and correcting what they do to fit your desires. But doing this actually hurts you and the people who were tasked with responsibilities. You make yourself work harder and longer and you are communicating to your people that they aren’t trustworthy nor are they good enough. These options do not allow you to care well for yourself or for others. So seek to let go and allow others to flourish and grow as they take on more responsibility.

Asking for help means being willing to admit your weaknesses and dependency upon God.

In my experience it is easy to take total ownership of what you are doing and to place all the weight on yourself. That isn’t because we don’t want to have God involved in our ministry, but because we have such a strong responsibility for the calling God placed on our lives. Inevitably that leads us to a place where we don’t see, trust, or rely upon God in our ministry and that is problematic.

Let me encourage you to take some time and pause. Pause and identify weaknesses. Pause and take those before God. Pause and ask God to help guide and direct you as you lead the ministry He entrusted to you. As you seek to release control back to God by acknowledging your weaknesses, you are allowing for your strength and focus to become clear as you rely upon Him, the Author and Sustainer.

Tips for Self-Care: Advocate for Yourself

One of the main reasons we have started this series on self care is because we often don’t care of or advocate for ourselves. It is so easy when serving in ministry to put everything else first and relegate ourselves to a secondary or even tertiary place. This isn’t done out of some sort of self-deprecation but happens because we care deeply for the those we serve and the calling God has placed on our lives.

Often this can and will lead to a willingness and/or acceptance of deprecation in our lives, worth, and value. We will sacrifice time and energy, work over our allotted hours and many times end up working for free, take time away from family and friends, and live in an “if I can just make it through today” mentality. None of these aspects are healthy or helpful, nor do they endear you to remain in your current position or within ministry.

So what should we do? We need to advocated for ourselves. But how do we do this and do this without sounding arrogant or prideful? Here are five quick tips on how to advocate for yourself well:

1. Believe in what you are doing.

I say this not because we don’t believe in what we are doing, but because we can become weary when we are doing something that is overworking us or because we aren’t being cared for. And when that happens we will often just keep pushing ourselves hoping it will get better. What happens then is we stop advocating for ourselves because we don’t see the value in doing so. Remind yourself of what you do, why you do it, and why God called you specifically to do it! Then as you set this ground work, you will feel and believe that what you are doing is truly worth it!

2. Acknowledge your worth and value.

In talking with many people in ministry it is evident that they don’t always know how much they are worth. One of the additional pieces of beginning to advocate for yourself is acknowledging your worth. Your knowledge, expertise, skill set, education, and experience all help to showcase your worth and you should know that. As you see your worth and value, it allows you to highlight that as you advocate for yourself. Whether it’s for a pay raise or for more hours or for time off, these factors will help you weigh what is being offered and what should be offered.

3. Speak up and speak with clarity.

When it comes to actually advocating for yourself be mindful of what you want to say and actually say it. It isn’t always easy but it is necessary. It may feel uncomfortable doing so, but a couple of practical ways to do this include writing down what you want to say, explaining what you are and aren’t saying, and being clear in your desired outcome.

4. Be honest with where you are at.

Sometimes when we try to advocate we will continue to move forward even when the circumstances aren’t ideal. But that can lead to heartache, burnout, and more. So make sure to clearly share where you are at, what you are feeling, and what the result of continuing would mean for you.

5. Have someone advocate for or with you.

Sometimes even if we put the above points into practice we still struggle with advocating for ourselves. Or you may feel that no matter what you say or do that you aren’t being heard or valued. A great thing to do in those moments is to bring someone along who is a trusted friend and advocate for you so they can support you in the process. It is key when bringing an advocate that they are aware of the circumstances, what you desire of them, and how they should engage. It is also helpful to clear having an advocate with the person you originally were engaging with so as to not further complicate the situation or to seem as if you are stacking the deck.

How do you advocate for yourself? When do you struggle to advocate for yourself?

Tips for Self-Care: Reflective Journaling Prompts

When it comes to caring for ourselves, we need to engage with self-reflection and self-awareness. One way to do this is through reflective journaling. But if you’re like me (Nick), sometimes figuring out what to write about is difficult. We may not know what questions to ask, our thoughts seem to be all muddled together, and clarity isn’t manifesting.

In our post today we want to help you with that by providing journaling prompts. These are intended to help you respond and engage with what is happening in your life and career, and help you reflect on and interpret your emotions, responses, and ability to proactively move forward. These are prompts from both of us and questions that have been helpful to each of us at various points in our lives, careers, and marriage. Our hope is to offer direction in the practice of self-reflection which will guide you to the answers you need or provide you with the clarity you are seeking.

What am I feeling and why am I feeling this way?

  • Perhaps you’re like me (Nick) and identifying feelings is difficult for you. Let me challenge you to list out 3-5 words about how you felt that day or week and identify what made you feel that way. Doing this will help you navigate what is happening in your own heart and understand more about yourself.

What brings me joy each day?

  • Sometimes we can get in a rut and feel like everything is going wrong. But the truth is we can still find and experience joy in each day and moment. So identify what brings you joy and make sure to pursue that as often as you can so your soul can be renewed and refreshed.

What depletes me each day whether at home or at work?

  • Identifying these areas may not be the most fun or encouraging thing to do but it is necessary. When you identify these areas you are acknowledging that these are not the things that fill or renew you. You can also identify areas that can or need to be removed from your life so you can enjoy it and not be depleted.
  • While you may still have to focus on these areas or relationships, identifying them allows you to know that they shouldn’t get your all. In order to still accomplish them you need to fill your life with activities, people, and things that do bring you life so you can continue on.

How are you feeling about your current life circumstances? Work? Relationships?

  • There are times when we just need to be honest about how we are feeling in various circumstances or relationships. Journaling about this is a safe place to be honest and it also allows us to process through how and when we need to make changes or have conversations with others. It’s a place to collect, organize, and work out our thoughts and feelings before moving in any one direction.

What areas can I improve on? Are there areas I need to challenge others on?

  • There are always things we can improve on or grow in. That’s healthy self-reflection, but that doesn’t mean it is easy. Use this time to think through growth areas in your life. But also think through the various relationships you have and if there are areas you can challenge and encourage others in. This is especially helpful if there is unresolved tension or hurt in a relationship.

What are some memories from this week that encouraged me and brought me joy?

  • Journaling is an opportunity to reflect on the goodness from the past day or week and to see how God has given you encouraging moments and relationships. So celebrate what is going well and use your journaling as an opportunity to celebrate and remember the good moments.

What questions do I have for God about where I am in life? What from His Word gives me hope and purpose?

  • Journaling helps us to put words and thoughts to our feelings and relationships. This is highly important when it comes to our relationship with God, and it affords us the opportunity to ask questions and seek out His purpose for our lives. So ask questions, seek clarity, and find your hope in Christ and His plan and purpose for your life.

What do I need to share with God?

  • Sometimes it’s easy to forget about sharing how we are feeling or what we are experiencing with God. We know He knows all and so we may not go into detail with Him. Let me encourage you to take it all to Him. Be raw and transparent with God. Share you emotions and feelings with Him. Express what you are thinking and experiencing. Doing so allows your relationship with God to become more authentic, transparent, and truly relational because you are actively doing life with Him.

Tips for Self-Care: Pursue Meaningful Friendships

I don’t know if you’re like me, but most of my relationships and friendships revolve around the church and the ministry I lead in particular. It’s only been in recent years that I have begun to build friendships outside of the immediate church community of which I am a part.

That isn’t to say that relationships from within the church are bad, problematic, or wrong, but they do present various challenges. If those are the only relationships that you have it will lead to feeling the tension of always functioning as a ministry leader or pastor. It will be hard to disengage from “doing” ministry even when hanging out with friends. It will often feel like you cannot turn off. And it may even feel like the relationships lack depth because you can’t share everything as some information is only for staff or people removed from the overall conversation.

My recommendation would be that you do one of three things:

  1. Build relationships outside of the immediate church community where you can be fully open and authentic.
  2. Build relationships within the church, but for the closer ones be willing to have relationships where you don’t have to be church staff and your friends will honor that.
  3. Put together a hybrid model of options one and two where you can have authentic and transparent relationships.

Meaningful friendships can develop within the church you work at but I would encourage you to truly make sure it can be fully authentic. I have a few really close friends at my church and each of them have let me know I can be 100 percent real and honest with them. In fact, a couple of them have students in our program and they have said if they need me to be a pastor, they will ask me to put on the “pastor cap.” That is so freeing because I know don’t need to be “on” or looking to be a certain way and can just be myself with my buddies. So if you have meaningful friendships within the church, make sure you have the freedom and ability to fully be you without the pressure of being a staff member of the church.

Building friendships outside of the church isn’t the easiest but they can be very fulfilling. Consider becoming a part of a church softball or ultimate Frisbee league. Go to a small group outside of your church. Get involved in a coaching program or a cohort. Connect with other youth pastors in your community. Pursue friendships from college or seminary. In these places you will find people who understand and can relate, but also have no context for what you have going on at work so you are free to authentically share. Let me strongly encourage you to put value and effort into these relationships as they will be very meaningful and impactful.

Having a meaningful friendship allows you to have the community that you are designed for. It creates a safe place for you to share how you are feeling, what is happening at work, and highs and lows without fear of judgement or having to be guarded in what you share. It allows you to feel valued, needed, and loved. And most importantly it fills your tank and helps you to recharge so you can continue to serve.

What encourages you most in your authentic relationships? What is challenging about finding and maintaining those relationships?

Caring for Students with Special Needs

Over the past five years or so, I have become much more aware of how many people struggle with connecting with a “regular student ministry program” due to some type of disability or having special needs. Our church is actually the first church that I have worked at that has an entire program for children and students with disabilities or special needs, and it’s one of the coolest things I have ever had the privilege of being a part of.

Now that is not to say that I am an expert in this area at all. In fact, part of the reason I chose to write about this is because if you are like me, you may find yourself ill-equipped to handle this type of program. I know I am not trained well in this area, but I have been striving to learn and grow.

My desire today is simply to provide you with some ideas and advice, as well as point you to some resources to help you grow personally and minister to people in your church and community who are often forgotten about and marginalized. The more we work at making our ministries and churches accessible to everyone, the more likelihood there is of reaching people for the kingdom of heaven.

Get to know your people.

This is the best place to start. If you notice that there are students with special needs or families who have students with special needs, go and talk to them. Reach out and connect. Get to know them. Encourage them and let them know that they are welcomed, valued, and loved. People and families with special needs individuals often feel forgotten and ostracized because of the differences that exist. By reaching out to them and caring for them, you are creating a place of refuge and love. So ask questions. Listen well. Get to know them. Hear their stories and tensions they have. Then use what you learn to help create a place where their student(s) can come, participate, be loved, and know more about Jesus.

Equip and keep your team in the know.

If you have volunteers it is key to help them know and understand that there are students who have special needs. You don’t need to go into all the personal details for each student, but allowing your team to know that you do have students with special needs better prepares them to engage in different ways. It also helpful to share with your team different methods for calming students down, helping them engage, and how to communicate with them. Much of this information can be gleaned from parents and that goes back to our first point about getting to know the individuals and their families. This better equips you and your team to care for and minister to them. Also consider bringing in people to help train your team or giving them additional resources. Reaching out to local schools and organizations will provide you with a wealth of knowledge and allow you to consider bringing someone in to train your team.

No two people are ever the same.

This is a really key thing to remember. When you meet a student who has special needs, you have only met one student with special needs. No two people are exactly alike. No two situations (even with the same individual) will be exactly the same. No response will ever work the same for two different people. Each of these individuals is just that: an individual. Someone crafted in the image of God who longs to be loved and to belong. And our role is to care for them as an individual, to see them as God does, and to not assume things about them.

Make your place safe and welcoming.

Over the past few years I have come to realize how important space, lighting, sound, and programming is to people who have special needs. If you have students with autism, find out how lights, sounds, games, scheduling or lack thereof affect them. I found out that to many harsh lights or loud noises cause over-stimulation and that in turn makes the students and their families not want to participate. Another thing that people don’t always realize is that scheduling is huge for some people who have special needs. Having a system, a flow, structure, or a schedule helps them and their families prepare. So even if you could simply send a note to families a day or so ahead of time explaining the event and its schedule, you will make your program all the more inviting.

Another great thing to evaluate is this: is your venue handicap accessible? A great way of discerning this is by asking if people in a wheel chair can access and participate in all aspects of your program. If they cannot, it isn’t hard to believe that people with other special needs can most likely not participate as well. You are measuring whether or not your program is open and welcoming to all.

Purchase some sensory equipment.

This was one of the best things I have done for our ministry in a long time. You can literally find hundreds of options on Amazon simply by searching “fidget toys box,” and you can find ones that fit your ministry context best. This is a really good option that can be used in a variety of contexts. Putting sensory items out in your rooms or area of ministry affords students a new way to engage. It gives them something to play with which in turn allows them to focus. It helps students with anxiety to relieve some of their anxiousness. It gives people something to engage with. I would highly recommend getting some of these for everyone in student ministry.

Utilize resources and seek to grow your own knowledge.

There are some really good resources out there and some really not good resources when it comes to this topic and ministering to people with special needs. During my time in ministry I have found two really helpful resources that I want to share with you. Dr. Lamar Hardwick is a phenomenal resource I just recently came upon after hearing him speak on a podcast. His book is a great resource that I would highly recommend as he offers great insight and perspective as he himself falls into the category of special needs.

Another fantastic resource is Ability Ministry. They have helpful articles, resources, and curriculum designed for ministering to people with special needs. This has been revolutionary in helping our team minister to our students with special needs and we have seen amazing results. Our students who struggled to connect to the Bible our now memorizing it, they are serving as greeters on Sunday mornings, and actively participating in the program. I would highly suggest utilizing both of these resources and reading up on how you can better minister to, serve, and love your people who have special needs.

Tips for Self Care: Do Things that Bring You Life

While working in ministry you have probably realized that there is always something to do. Especially in youth ministry. You have events to lead, school functions and grad parties to attend, programming to put on, counseling to lead, students to disciple, leaders to train, regular staff obligations, and so much more.

I know there are times when I feel like I am simply going from one work-related thing to another. And typically when that happens I find I allow what gives me life to fall by the wayside. I believe for many ministers and leaders we are willing to help bring life to others by what we do, say, or plan, but we don’t always seek to do that for ourselves. We may even believe that being focused on ourselves is selfish and not what we should be doing. But the truth is the opposite. Focusing on yourself isn’t selfish, it’s necessary.

If we are not taking care of ourselves and being filled emotionally, spiritually, physically, and mentally, how can we even begin to fully pour out and into others? We must be poured into (check back for a later blog about finding a mentor) and engaging things that bring us life in order to effectively and purposefully pour outward as we seek to fulfill the calling that God has placed on each of our lives.

A great way to do this is to carve out time each day and week to do or engage with things that bring you life. For me, I love to read adventure novels and books that focus on areas of ministry I am interested in. Right now I am reading a book called Attacking Anxiety by Shawn Johnson (this is a great resource and totally worth reading) that relates to where I am at right now but also gives me insight into how to help others who are struggling like I am. I also love to cook and experiment with new recipes, like the quiche we had yesterday for Easter brunch. I also really enjoy being out in nature and exploring new places with Elise. These things fill my tank and help prepare me to keep serving and pouring into others.

So what gives you life? What fills your tank and encourages you? What is something that just makes you feel better after having done it? I know that some of you may already know what works for you, but if any of you are like me, it is easy to forget sometimes because we have become so focused on doing things for others as we minister to them. So here are some ideas to help you think about what you could do for yourself:

  • Go for a walk around your neighborhood.
  • Go hiking.
  • Take a bike ride at a place you haven’t been before.
  • Make a list of all the ice cream shops in your area and commit to visiting them all this summer.
  • Find a new hobby or continue an old one.
  • Play games with your spouse, kids, or friends.
  • Host a party with no ministry conversations.
  • Spend time with Jesus.
  • Make a list of books you want to read before the end of the year and start knocking it out this week.
  • Do some art projects.
  • Work on your car.
  • Fix things around the house or redecorate.
  • Go to the gym.
  • Take a nap.
  • Explore local coffee shops or breweries.
  • Get involved in a local sports league.
  • Form a trivia team and participate in trivia nights.
  • Explore parts of your community, city, township, or state that you haven’t before.

None of these will be a fix all, but focusing on a few or even intentionally focusing on just one will help to refill your tank and refuel your life. This isn’t just important, it is necessary in order to continue in our mission and calling.

So what brings you life? What do you love to do that just restores your body and soul?

Tips for Self Care: Bringing Things to Completion

This week we are starting a brand new series called “Tips for Self-Care.” Installments will pop up periodically with the goal of encouraging you and sharing ways to care for yourself. Often in ministry we are so focused on caring for others that we forget or forsake taking care of ourselves. But the problem with that is this: not caring for yourself leads to depletion which leads to burnout which leads to bitterness and resentment which leads to leaving ministries and churches. The sad reality is that when we are leading from a place of depletion we aren’t only hurting ourselves but also those we are to minister to.

These posts will be shorter in length as they are meant to give practical and tangible ways to care for yourself so you can fully be the minister God has called you to be. These “snack sized” posts are designed to be encouraging and life-giving, and they come from a place of learning and experience that we have had to walk through ourselves. This week we want to talk about “accomplishing and completing things.”

Have you ever noticed how in ministry the work is never done? For every one student who’s tracking with Jesus, ten more a struggling with their faith. For every senior who graduates a new sixth grader or freshman starts. For every milestone you achieve another two or three new goals manifest. There is always another message, event, or activity to prepare for or attend. It just feels like there is always more to do and the work is never accomplished.

That weight can be overwhelming and debilitating because it bogs you down and continues to make you feel like you haven’t succeeded or accomplished anything. We are designed in God’s image and because of that we are designed to do good works and to help them come to completion. As ministers and children of God our heart yearns to do good works and to see them finalized because we are longing for the completion that we will see in heaven. But when we don’t see that happen it can just cause pain, sadness, and feelings of anxiety and depression. So how can we actually work toward accomplishing things when it seems the work is ever growing?

I think one of the easiest ways to combat those negative feelings and our desire for completion is to actually do tasks that you can accomplish. These don’t need to be ministry focused, although they can be, but they should be tasks that you can do and see through to completion. Here are some suggestions for things or activities to do:

  • Organize and clean your office.
  • Organize, clean, and/or spruce up your youth areas.
  • Read a book all the way through.
  • Cut your grass or plant flowers.
  • Fold your laundry.
  • Complete a puzzle.
  • Pick up a new hobby where you can see things accomplished (art, candle making, wood working, lettering, working on cars, landscaping, etc.).
  • Travel to destinations you have always wanted to go to but haven’t.
  • Save up for something you wanted to buy for yourself but haven’t yet.

All of these may sound like minor things but as you actually see them come to fruition, they allow you to release and decompress all while knowing that you have accomplished something. My suggestion would be to start small with what you are hoping to complete because that gives you more potential to actually see it through. If you seek to complete larger, more grandiose tasks, you may find yourself not meeting them as often and that will lead to more feelings of inadequacy and frustration. So seek to find ways to accomplish tasks in your own life and celebrate those moments! Be proud of what you have completed and be willing to share about it.

What are some ways you seek to accomplish and complete tasks in your life?

How to Teach Students about Intentional Fasting

Fasting. What comes to your mind when you reflect on that word? Perhaps you think of giving something up for a period of time like food. Maybe your mind goes to the struggle of being deprived of something you enjoy or desire. Or perhaps you default to times in Scripture where Jesus and others fasted.

Fasting is designed to help us reflect on our relationship with and need for God as we deprive ourselves of various elements in our lives. Over the past few years, Elise has intentionally engaged this topic by digging deeper into Lent and its purpose in our faith journey. Her passion and insight has challenged me to reflect on this rhythm of fasting and to incorporate it into my life at various levels.

Recently I decided to take a fast from social media for 2-3 months as I am on a mental health leave of absence from our church. During my leave of absence I have decided to make a conscious effort to fast from various things and activities that have pulled me away from God and added to the weight I’ve been feeling. Social media compounds the stress and anxiety because I see what others are going through and take that weight and responsibility to help them onto myself. I feel and grieve with them. I carry their hurt and pain. Social media in essence helped me feel valued and needed in a really corrupt sort of way.

As I have reflected on this reality, it has helped me to understand how detrimental social media and the effects of it can be in our lives, especially the lives of our students. Social media compounds their relationships, induces anxiety and depression, and conditions them to find their value in what others think and say about them behind a perceived veil of anonymity. Imagine what their lives would be like if they gave up social media for a set time. What would change? What would be different? What could happen to their relationship with God?

I know it seems that I am harping on social media, but my desire is to point out that if we fast or release an element from our lives, we could see and embrace vast benefits from that decision. Fasting isn’t something I often find mainline Protestant churches talking about, but it is something we should be embracing and challenging our students to put into action. So what are some ways to help students engage with fasting?

Help them see the “why.”

Often fasting can be seen from a negative viewpoint. Not that it is a bad thing but it requires us to sacrifice something. Sacrifice is often what we focus on, rather than the benefit of the result(s). It is important to help students know why fasting is good and what it is designed to do. So focus on helping them understand fasting and the benefits of it. Help them see that in releasing something, they open up space for God to work in and through them in new ways. These types of conversations will help to not only set the tone and rationale for fasting but encourage your students to pursue it wholeheartedly.

Challenge them to begin in small and attainable ways.

Sometimes we tend to bite off bigger chunks than we can handle. I see this with students during summer break when they make bold predictions for how they will spend all summer working on their relationship with God only to get to September and have rarely cracked open their Bible. The same is true with fasting. We will often take big and bold steps but eventually we will struggle to consistently keep them which leads to frustration that then leads to stopping the fast because it appears we have failed.

Instead, encourage your students to start small. Ask them to consider taking a small thing out of their lives instead of a large thing. Have them consider fasting for a day each week rather than the entire time. Then challenge them to scale upward as they continue to see success. This method will allow them to see change and be able to obtain it and also to grow.

Help them to think about what they “can’t live without.”

Often with fasting we can give up the “easy things,” and I think the same is true for students. But fasting should be more than just giving up something easy or something that doesn’t truly matter to us. It should be about giving up something that is important or impactful in our lives so it forces us to focus on Jesus even more. Encourage your students to think about giving up something they feel like they can’t live without. Challenge them to give up something like their phones or sugar or shopping.

Challenge them to keep a reflective journal.

I am horrible at keeping a journal. In as much as I enjoy writing and sharing, I do not enjoy keeping a journal. This probably due in large part to actually not enjoying writing because my hand cramps, but also because it is hard to see what I am experiencing written on paper. In that moment it just feels real! But that is exactly why we should be keeping a reflective journal, especially in a time of fasting. It helps us see the authenticity, the emotion, and the growth. It challenges us, pushes us, and helps us to see our desperate need for a Savior. So challenge your students to keep a journal and to see how they grow through this time.

Help them spend intentional time with Jesus.

As you talk about fasting and the why, help students to spend intentional time with Jesus. When we fast it isn’t meant to just be difficult but to point us back to Jesus. When we desire something we don’t have, we should be reflecting on what God has given to us and using the time to grow in our relationship with Him. Help students to take those moments of longing or desire and show them how to be motivated through them to spend time with Jesus.

Create a space for students to come and fast.

This is a bit outside of the box, but imagine if you had the space in your building to set aside a room or rooms where students can come and spend time with Jesus uninterrupted. You are creating a sacred space for them without distractions that is designed for them to focus on Jesus as they release items or rhythms they have been holding onto. Let me encourage you to design the space with intentionality. Have comfortable seating. Think about the space and the smells (maybe don’t have the room right by the kitchen). Have water bottles out and soft worship music playing. Put out guided prayers or meditations. Have Bibles and Scripture passages set out and leaders available to talk with and pray for students. These types of thoughtful gestures and application will help your students create worshipful rhythms and highlight the necessity of spending time on their relationship with Jesus.