Fact or Fiction: Bigger Programs = Better Programs

Have you ever gone to a conference and seen all the cool stage designs and heard about youth groups with hundreds or thousands of students and longed for those things? Have you ever wished your program was as big as the others in your town? Have you ever wished that you’d have more than just the few faithful students come to youth group?

These desires and feelings can lead us down a dangerous path. We can begin to question our calling and effectiveness, we can covet and lust after other programs or churches, and eventually we can lose focus on our mission and forsake our students and church because of our longings and desires.

These feelings aren’t inherently bad or problematic, but prolonged focus and frustration can lead us to a dark place. But we must understand that the size of our program does not reflect the transformative power of the Gospel nor does it translate into how effective you are at serving.

Today’s myth is, “a bigger program equals a better program.” In tackling this myth there are some truths that we must acknowledge. In acknowledging these truths, it allows us to discern our own hearts and the stability and sustainability of our program.

The size of a ministry does not represent spiritual growth.

Too often we can look at neighboring programs or ones in social media groups and wrestle with the notion that our own program is not where it needs to be. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Just because a program is large in number does not mean that the spiritual growth is equally as great. It may be, but it also may not be. What we must understand is that size does not always indicate success. We are after heart change and development. Be willing to help students develop in their faith and grow in a meaningful relationship with Jesus. In doing so you will help develop students who desire to not only grow in their own faith but are also passionate about seeing their friends follow Jesus.

The size of your budget isn’t a hindrance to growth.

I have been in many circumstances where I have had a very limited budget or none at all, and still been expected to run an amazing student ministry. Here is the thing: often times we focus on what we don’t have rather than what we do. God has called each of us to serve Him by serving students and their families. He called the disciples and told them to go out to towns with only what they had with them. He didn’t tell them to build a budget or raise money, instead He told them to go and do the ministry of the Gospel. As disciple-makers we cannot simply focus on the budget we do or do not have, but instead should focus on meeting students where they are and engaging them with the Gospel. Focus on relationships not finances. Be willing to listen instead of having your own youth center. Love and care for students instead having all the glitz and glam. Students will quickly forget the fancy setups, but they will forever remember the intentional relationships that you forged with them.

People over programs.

I think there are times we can get focused on building a bigger and better program or ministry and forget the people. And often times this happens in my life when I see things we do not have in our ministry but others do. When we simply focus on the program we miss our people. We forget that our students are real people with real life issues who need real adults in their lives who care for them. I am not saying we will dismiss and wholeheartedly forget about our students, but instead they become second to the program. We cannot allow that to happen and instead must focus on them over everything else.

Small numbers do not represent small growth.

Jesus had twelve guys He invested in. Twelve guys that eventually went down to eleven when one walked away and turned on Him. Sure, Jesus at times had thousands come to hear Him speak, but His real “youth group” was only twelve people. Think about that for a moment. Jesus intentionally built a ministry that would change the world and explode in numbers that no one could have imagined and He did it through twelve ordinary guys. In many ways, small youth programs can represent greater growth because you are afforded a greater opportunity to do life-on-life with students and help them become the Gospel centered disciple-makers that they were meant to be.

Be generous with what you do have.

You may read this point and think, “I don’t have anything to be generous with.” But think beyond the physical items you have. Remember what you do have: your time, your heart, and your passion for Jesus. You can be generous with your time by showing up at students’ events and cheering them on. Be generous with your heart and love students, especially the ones other people simply dismiss. Be generous with your passion for Jesus by allowing that to overflow into all your relationships. If you do have physical items like sports equipment, 9 Square, supplies for Minute to Win it, or various other items, be generous with those things. Be willing to share your resources with other ministries, step in and be willing to allow schools and community programs to borrow your supplies. God has gifted you with many ways to be generous, the questions is how will you do this?

Fact or Fiction: You Need Kids of Your Own to be Effective in Youth Ministry

“How do you think you’ll be able to lead and shepherd our kids if you don’t have any?”

That question shocked me. It was during a meet-and-greet with parents from the student ministry program, and honestly I wasn’t prepared for it. What that parent didn’t know is that Elise and I want to be parents but have been dealing with infertility for a long time. That comment hurt and is still an active memory, but I understand that comment wasn’t focused on our infertility but an age-old myth about youth pastors.

Today’s myth is, “You must have your own kids to be an effective youth pastor/worker.”

The truth is that having kids of your own doesn’t make you a better pastor. Similarly, if a pastor has children who reject Jesus, that doesn’t make them ineffective because their kids turned away. Anyone can be an effective youth pastor if that is where God has called them. But I do believe that for those of us without our own children (and arguably even those with children) there are things we should be doing to help us grow and minister to the students under our care.

Be a student of culture.

Let’s be honest: culture can be confusing. And not just for us, but for our students as well. That means we need to be studying what culture is saying to our students. We should be listening to what they are listening to and dissecting what they are being told. Watch what they are watching and see the messages that are being passed to them. Observe advertising and what is being peddled as “in style.” Use all of these things to understand what is happening and what your students are being taught.

A couple of great resources for studying culture include CPYU, The Source 4 YM, and The Source 4 Parents. These websites offer different critiques and viewpoints of popular music, movies, and games, as well as helpful resources designed to help you succeed by knowing in what your students are engaged. An added bonus is they give you practical ways to minister to students and families as well.

Listen well.

Students today desire people who not only spend time with them, but listen to them. Students want to have leaders who care and love them enough to actually listen when others do not. And as you listen to them, you will learn more about them: what they like and don’t like, the new slang, the popular shows they are watching, what social media platform is most utilized, and the list goes on. Being an effective youth leader means you are listening and growing as you listen.

Engage with students.

This is huge in our line of work, and can be missed even if you do have kids of your own. In order to understand and minister to students, you must be engaged with them. Go to their plays, concerts, and sporting events. Support them in their endeavors. Visit them at their jobs. Being present with your students physically is huge, but it is not the only way you engage with them.

Be willing to engage with them at a spiritual and emotional level as well. Listen when they speak. Make eye contact with them. Ask follow up questions. Challenge them. Encourage them toward Jesus. And always keep your word. Doing this not only values them, it allows for you to connect with them at a deeper level. It also gives you insight and wisdom in how to walk with them during these formative years.

Be a life-long learner.

Things change constantly and we must be willing to grow and adapt as well. Gone are the days of the 90s youth pastor. Students now value genuine interpersonal relationships with people who truly love and care about them. That means we must be willing to change as the world changes. No, we do not change or flex on the value of God’s Word and the truth of it, but we do adapt to how we do ministry and engage with our students. That means that you must be willing to continue to learn and grow as an individual and a shepherd.

The easy way is to sit back and think you have it all figured out because you have done this for years on end, you have had a successful program, or you have the right speaking chops. But the truth is that once we have convinced ourselves we have it all figured out, we have actually become replaceable and irrelevant. And I would actually assert that if any of us were to get to that point, we should step away from ministry and reassess why we are in it. See, the truth behind those thoughts is that everything about the ministry and calling God has placed on your life is all something you have done. That is why we stop learning and growing. We must remember that everything we have is a gift from God and as such we should continue to seek after Him and His wisdom. This then empowers us to continue to minister and care for our people as we continue to grow and mature as we seek God’s direction. So be a life-long learner who seeks to grow and share their knowledge and heart for Jesus.

Stand in the gap.

To be an effective youth leader, regardless of whether or not you have kids of your own, you need to be willing to stand in the gap. Often that means responding to a text or message when it isn’t convenient. It means being willing to listen and administer care when others can’t or won’t. It means showing up when you say you will show up. Just because you may not have kids of your own doesn’t mean you cannot be someone who wades into the mess with your students. In many ways you are able to do so even more. So continue to be someone who is willing to walk through the hard, and care deeply for your students as you show them Jesus.

Not having kids doesn’t mean you are not qualified. Not having kids doesn’t mean you can’t serve students. Having kids is not a qualifier for ministry. And if we are perfectly honest, all the students under your care, past, present, and future, they are your kids. The kids you give your heart to, the kids you have cried with and for, and the kids who may never say thank you but have a relationship with Jesus because of your faithfulness. So if you are one of the many youth workers faithfully giving of themselves who do not have kids, be encouraged because God can, is, and will use you to minister to the youth of this generation and generations to come.

Fact or Fiction: Extrovert or Nothing

Last week we started our new series called Fact or Fiction. This series is designed to take a look at the myths that exist about student ministry and compare them to the truth about what we do.

Today we will be looking at the myth “You must be an extrovert to be in youth ministry.”

It seems like there are always extroverted youth pastors and youth leaders. Whether it is at your actual program, or in online groups, or at the conference where everyone and their brother seems to be competing for who is the most boisterous, or in the videos you see as you scroll through social media.

The truth is this: extroverts aren’t the only people who are youth pastors and leaders, and just because some may be the loudest and draw the most attention doesn’t mean they are the most effective.

I am not sure who started this myth or when it started, but it is very similar to the myth that youth ministry is a young person’s game. I have had multiple people tell me I am not the typical youth pastor because I am not loud or crazy. But the truth is, most youth pastors aren’t. Sure, we have some who love to go nuts (in a safe way of course) with their students, but gone are the days where we used to pull students in tarps behind cars, push them down the cabin steps on mattresses, or dare them to do a Polar Bear Plunge at winter camp. And just because those memories may speak the loudest doesn’t mean there weren’t hundreds or thousands of other youth workers ministering in a quiet and gentle way.

Growing up I had all different types of youth pastors and youth leaders. I had the crazy loud ones, I had the ones who were awesome small group leaders, and I had the ones who were only there to have fun. But I still remember each of them, and they all played a role in my life and my story. There is not a one-type-fits-all youth worker. In fact, youth ministry (and every ministry) needs and deserves people with all different types of personalities.

Our students are not all the same. They are not all uniquely extroverts or introverts. If your youth group is anything like mine, you probably have a mix of personalities and relational styles. And that is a good thing! We should be looking for that in our youth groups because we want them to be a place where everyone feels welcomed and loved as they experience the Gospel. But in order to accomplish that, we must be seeking to minister to all personalities which means we need to have all personalities represented on our leadership teams.

In order to accomplish this, you must know yourself and your team. That means you must understand what type of personality you are and surround yourself with a team that compliments it. A great way to do this is by taking a DISC Assessment which allow for you to find out more about who you are as an individual. There are four kinds of personalities according to the DISC, and the graphic below helps to explain each of them in a little more detail.

Most DISC Assessments require you to pay for them, but you can find a free one here. There is also a PDF version of a shorter assessment that you can download and print here. I would suggest studying up on the profiles before administering this assessment so you know how to help your leaders and yourself grow through it and use it to strengthen your program. A great resource to help you dig a little deeper into understanding what each profile means, how they interact with others, and their relationship to Biblical characters is How to Solve the People Puzzle, a great resource written by Mels Carbonell.

As you begin to understand who you are as a leader, it allows you to bring in people who compliment your strengths and empower you in your weakness by supporting you. This allows for your team to not only be able to relate to students of all personalities, but also to create a program that ministers across a wide spectrum. Having a group of people that embody multiple personality styles will make your team stronger and more capable.

Remember that there is no singular personality that is better for a youth worker. Every personality is beautiful in its own way and each personality is capable of ministering and caring for students and their people.

What is your personality and how have you seen God use that in your ministry?

Fact or Fiction: Student Ministry is a Stepping Stone

I am so excited to start this new series. Elise and I have talked at length about misconceptions, myths, and untruths when it comes to ministry as a whole. As we looked deeper into some of these thoughts, it was clear that in youth ministry especially, there are old myths that continue to exist.

As we processed these myths we began to see just how harmful they can be if believed. Like any myth or untruth, these will lead people away from student ministry and in fact do more damage to the students we are shepherding, the volunteers we are leading, and ultimately hamper us from following the calling God has placed on our lives.

Whenever we post for this series (and honestly this applies for any of our posts) we would love to dialogue with you about it. We want to hear your experiences, to tackle your questions, and wrestle with Scriptural truth together.

Today’s myth: Student ministry is a stepping stone to other ministry positions.

I remember the first time someone asked me when I was going to be a real pastor. I was serving as a youth pastor and I regularly taught and preached to our student group. I had officiated weddings and funerals. I had counseled students and adults. I had built a volunteer team and continued to pour into them. I was confused when I heard the question. So I responded with one of my own: what makes someone a real pastor?

The conversation that followed showed the biases that exist within church culture. Many people hold the belief that student ministry is simply childcare for students, and that youth pastors are “in training” to become real pastors a few years down the line.

The facts are completely different. As youth pastors we are real pastors. To assume otherwise calls into question the calling that God has placed on our lives, which in essence is calling God into question. God doesn’t call the perfect, the disciples are clear evidence of this, but He does call the ones who He needs at the right moment and at the right time.

As student pastors and youth workers we shouldn’t be constantly looking toward the next opportunity to advance. This is truly a heart issue because it shows that we ourselves are not content with the calling God has placed on our lives. Instead we should be focused on serving where God has placed us. If we are constantly thinking ahead to the next job or opportunity, we are devaluing the ministry we serve in and those within the ministry. We are basically saying it isn’t worth our full time and attention because there are bigger and better things elsewhere we are focused on.

We have all been gifted to serve in different areas. That’s the beauty of the body of Christ. No one area of ministry is greater than another. Adult ministry is not superior to children’s ministry. Care ministry isn’t greater than student ministry. Sunday mornings aren’t better than midweek programming. Ministry isn’t a competition, nor is it about personal advancement. It is all about the advancement of the Gospel and the Gospel alone.

Yes, this may not be the case where you serve. The structure of your church may highlight the view that not all ministries are equal. You may be underpaid or not paid at all. Students may be treated as less-than by other pastors or members. But you cannot allow for those things to define who you are and where you are going. Instead, focus on the calling God has placed on your life and trust Him to guide you to what comes next. Be content with where He has placed you, and don’t use it to simply move up the ranks.

There are countless studies (Barna is a great resource) that highlight the need for consistency in students’ lives and how students flourish off of continued investment by the same people. Inter-generational ministry will greatly help students grow in their faith and see that they are an integral part of the church. By staying and focusing on the ministry and students God has entrusted to you, you are valuing students and the church as a whole. Be willing to give more than just a few years, and consider giving your life for the calling God has placed upon you.

Is there a ministry myth you think we should tackle? Share it in the comments and you may see it in an upcoming post.