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.

3 Quick Tips for Volunteer Recruitment

As we enter into summer programming you may not be actively thinking about recruiting new leaders for the fall. Perhaps this seems early for some of you. I know that isn’t how I have typically operated, which usually leads to a mad dash and panicked few weeks in August as we try to find quality volunteers right before we start programming. This isn’t a healthy way to start programming for us or our volunteers as we both end up feeling rushed and not fully prepared for the school year.

As I have begun to take some hard looks at volunteer recruitment, I have realized that things need to change in order to better equip our leaders and ministries to serve our students. If recruiting sounds difficult or exasperating, I get it. I have often felt the same way. But if we approach recruitment differently, we can help alleviate the tension. So here are three easy ways to save yourself a lot of stress and hardship, and help yourself find quality leaders.

1. Start early.

For the first time ever, our team started recruiting this past week. We began to reach out to potential leaders, we added volunteer opportunities to our monthly newsletter, and we asked our leaders to identify potential additional leaders. Perhaps this is something you always do, but for our team it isn’t. The earliest that we have started would be the end of July, and it often led to a rushed and angst-filled month before programming kicked off.

Planning ahead and building up your volunteer group early allows you to make sure your leaders are equipped and prepared for the school year. And as you begin to plan ahead, you can scale it each year and begin to recruit even earlier. Next year we are already planning to begin recruiting as the current school year ends. So think about when you will start recruiting and how you can begin to do so earlier to help best prepare your ministry for the fall.

2. Think outside the box.

When it comes to who you recruit, how you recruit, and where you recruit from, try to think creatively and in ways you haven’t before. I have found that when I recruit I can fall into doing the same thing over and over again. Bulletin announcements, cold calls, asking leaders to talk to their friends, and asking people who used to volunteer. But this year I decided to try something different: I reached out directly to parents.

This may be something you already do, but for me it was my first time doing it in a new way. We send a newsletter out once a month and this month’s almost solely focused on volunteer needs with the hope that parents will see it and consider jumping in. My point with this is to encourage you to try something new and different. Shake up how you have done recruiting in the past. Ask other youth workers what they do. Try something new and see if it provides you with a new recruit or multiple volunteers.

3. Consider changing things up.

I think for many people it is easy to get stuck in habits and rhythms. These aren’t necessarily bad things but they can hamper us, especially if they aren’t providing the necessary volunteers that we need. What we need to do is the be creative as we think about recruitment. If we think of this as an opportunity to creatively try something new, it all of a sudden opens up brand new perspectives on how to recruit.

One of the things we have done out of necessity is think through whether our staff team needs to do all the things we have traditionally done, or if we can empower volunteers to take over those roles. That means creating new positions and leadership opportunities, offering additional training, and identifying new leaders. But the benefit of having leaders take ownership and allowing our staff team to flourish far outweighs those additional needs.

What are your best tips for recruiting new volunteers?

Key Things to Look for in a Summer Camp

Many of us have already thought through our summer programming, and have possibly identified a camp to which you’re taking students. Perhaps it’s a camp you have gone to for ages. Maybe it’s a denominational camp and the expectation is you go every year. Maybe it’s a local camp that has various activities your students look forward to and tell countless stories about.

While you’re thinking through the camp you attend, let me ask you a question: does that camp meet the needs of your students? Does it meet the spiritual needs? Does it meet their relational and emotional needs? Do your students come away feeling challenged, encouraged, and more spiritually mature?

Camps and retreats are some of the most important and developmental times in the lives of students. But if am being honest, I think it is easy to just go to a camp because we have done it forever and it’s easy to keep doing the same thing over and over. We default to doing what we have always done and we don’t pause to think through the rationale about why we do it. At its base reasoning, we should pick a camp that mirrors or encourages the vision and purpose of our ministry. From there we can build outward and upward as we seek to leverage its resources to help our students grow and mature.

Today, I want to share with you a few ways I try to find the best camp for my students in order to help them grow as disciples of Jesus. These aren’t the only ways I try to find a camp, but they serve as a starting point for choosing the best camp possible for our students.

Find a camp that matches your vision.

Our student ministry vision is all about forming disciples who make disciples, and equipping them to do so beyond high school. We want students who know Jesus, are growing in their relationship with Him, and are looking to lead others in the same way during their time in youth group and beyond. So for us that means finding a camp that has a similar heart and vision so it helps to cement what we have been teaching them.

Find a camp your students will enjoy.

It isn’t about finding a camp with all the bells and whistles, but finding a camp that has items all your students will find engaging. It is easy to do a sports themed camp or an outdoor camp, but what about your students who are more artistic or inclined to not compete in sports? Finding a camp that has a good balance and activities that fit a broad range of interests is beneficial as it will encourage more students to attend.

Find a camp that is fun, missional, and discipleship focused.

This may sound like a tall order, but I would actually assert that there are more and more camps leaning in this direction. When looking for a camp experience it is important to find one that has fun aspects to it, but that cannot be the sole focus. As youth workers we have an obligation to help our students develop in their relationship with Jesus.

Many camps focus on the fun element with a little Jesus sprinkled in. That cannot be our focus because while yes, youth group is to be fun, the primary reason we exist is to help our students know and pursue Jesus. That means we should find camps that do likewise. So look for camps that have longer small group times. Find places that include service and missional elements, even if it’s simply cleaning up the camp. While students may not find those activities “fun,” they are teachable moments that help you to show them what it looks like to live as disciple-makers and serve their communities.

Find a camp that is affordable to everyone.

In every youth group I’ve worked in there has never been just one socioeconomic category. We’ve had students from all different financial categories and that means that not everyone can afford trips, especially ones that cost a higher amount. Let me encourage you to not simply choose a camp that has a lower price at the cost of sacrificing various aspects that other camps offer. Instead look for camps that offer a reduced rate as needed or have a more affordable option for everyone. If you are not able to go to a more affordable camp consider offering scholarships, a reduced rate, or designating funds for students into your budget.

What do you look for in a camp?

10 Low-Prep, Low-Cost Summer Activities

Does your summer programming look different than what happens during the school year? Has your budget been trimmed or are you approaching the end of a budget year? Many of us can relate to these issues and almost all of us are on the lookout for fresh ideas that can make summer more meaningful, fun, and Gospel-centered for our students.

Today’s post is designed to provide some ideas for the summer that will help you reach your students, look awesome while doing so, and hopefully add little to your workload.

1. Summer movie nights.

These are super easy and can be a ton of fun especially when you incorporate various elements. Having food for nights like these is a must and can range from having students bring their own movie snacks, to popcorn that’s provided, or even having a nacho bar where everyone brings a topping. It is also a lot of fun to allow your students to be involved in what movie is shown because then they have ownership and are more likely to invite their friends. Consider letting the students vote on which movie to show or doing polls at youth group. Also, remember to consider the legalities that are involved when it comes to showing movies. It may be necessary to have the proper licensing and to check the number of people you can show it to.

2. Nerf battles.

These are a ton of fun and super low-cost (even no-cost) to put on. Send out an invitation to all your students to bring their own Nerf guns and darts to a certain location to have a Nerf battle. If hosting this at your church, consider setting up various barriers and obstacles or even different venues for different styles of game play (everyone for themselves, team battles, king of the hill, etc.). If you have the finances available I would also suggest having some extra Nerf guns and darts as some people may show up without either and darts will inevitably get lost or broken.

3. Trivia nights.

These are a ton of fun and fairly easy to pull off. There are tons of websites that have trivia in just about every category and you can also utilize DYM or Trivial Pursuit to get trivia content as well. Consider having a student or a group of students host the night as that will generate ownership and a desire to invite their friends. Also, if finances allow, consider having some snacks for everyone and a prize for the winning team.

4. Grill out at the park.

Hosting a night at a local park is a great way to get students to an event outside of the church. Find a local park that has a grill or two, bring along food, grab some outdoor games and activities, and you have the makings of a great evening! A few quick tips: make sure to bring a variety of activities, a portable speaker for music, some board games for people who would rather chill, and consider grilling chicken drumsticks as a cost-saving option.

5. Worship nights.

These can be a little more involved when it comes to planning, especially if you are not musically inclined. But consider handing this off to some leaders and/or students who have the talent and passion for these moments. Allowing students to take ownership and plan out the event ensures that they will invite their friends. These are also great outreach opportunities where you could incorporate a student testimony.

6. Start a volleyball (or other sports) tournament.

Students love a good competition and an opportunity to challenge their friends. So think through what resources you have that you could utilize and leverage them to facilitate the tournament. It could be volleyball, kickball, Spikeball, 9 Square, ping pong, Foosball, or even ultimate Frisbee. If possible, have water or sports drinks and snacks available and maybe even a prize for the tournament winners.

7. Youth room redesign/makeover.

This is one that could be a lot of fun and truly give your youth group a unique identity. Many of us have very creative students and leaders in our programs and this will afford them a wonderful opportunity to put their creativity to use. I would encourage you to make sure that there are guide rails in place and that you provide a vision for those who are helping so as to provide cohesiveness and stability to what you are looking to have in your space. It may help to start with a planning meeting or two before getting started.

If you don’t have the freedom to completely redesign your space, think about some non-permanent options. Maybe your leaders and students can create removable decor, like paintings, modern sculptures, or cool lighting. Or you could put up butcher paper over a plain wall and let them create a mural to temporarily display. Or you can host a creative night where participants can take their creations home at the end of the night.

8. Small group neighborhood cleanup.

Another awesome summer activity is to utilize your small groups in a way that serves and engages with their communities. This may require finding opportunities where your small groups can serve, or you could hand that responsibility off to your small group leaders and/or students. I would also suggest hosting a gathering after the cleanup is done, using it as an opportunity to celebrate what was accomplished and to engage in community as a group.

9. Camp-out at church.

For some churches it is difficult to take trips during the summer, so an easy and relatively low-cost alternative could be a camp-out at the church. You could set up tents, fire pits, and activities for your students to engage in, and possibly turn this into a family activity. You could also host various night games, engage in camp fire worship, and even give the food for the activity a theme like “old west cooking.”

10. Beach/lake trip.

If you live near the beach or a nice lake, doing a trip to either could be a great low-cost activity. Essentially it would cost you gas money and some beach or lakeside activities (think footballs, Frisbees, etc.). You could even offset the cost of gas by asking families to pay for it. Depending on where you are going, you could even host a grill out and allow for a student to share their testimony.

5 Tips to Equip and Honor Graduates

Graduation season is upon us and we have the privilege of watching students we loved and discipled step into a new season of life. If you are like me this is both a celebratory time and also one that pulls at your heart strings as you prepare to send off a group of students to whom you have grown incredibly close.

Throughout my time in student ministry I have long wrestled with how I can show my graduates how much they mean to me, how I can best prepare them for this next phase of life, and how I can honor them well. I don’t think I have perfected it, but I have found a few ways to truly make this time meaningful and celebratory for our graduates and I want to share that with you today.

1. Commission them.

In our current church we have been able to bring our seniors on stage in front of our whole church body and to commission them as we send them out as disciple-makers into their next stage of life. We incorporate a brochure highlighting each student, deliver a brief word of encouragement, and have our elders pray over them. This is such a great time to not only celebrate but also honor our seniors as we send them out.

For some youth leaders doing this in front of the entire church may not be possible, so consider doing this within your youth program. Bring up small group leaders and involve them. See if parents will come out. Make their time in small group special with snacks and decorations. These moments will stick with your students and highlight the necessity of the Great Commission.

2. Make each card and note personal.

This is something that I have grown to love over the past few years. I was never much of a card writer but I have become convinced of how powerful a handwritten note or card can be. Just think about the last time you got a handwritten letter in the mail and then the last time you got a bill. Did they feel the same? Did they evoke similar reactions and feelings? Probably not.

The reason the handwritten notes mean more is because it took time and effort, it shows the intentionality of the relationship, and it’s more intimate and personal. When you write a card or note for each of your seniors, you are telling them they are seen and loved. So share memories, prayers for them, encourage and challenge them, and let them know how much they mean to you. This will be something that they will long remember rather than a generic card with a signature.

3. Be intentional with small group times.

This is something that I try to be aware of during their entire senior year, but seeing as graduation season is already upon us, it can also be something that is utilized from this moment until they depart for college. Consider having members and leaders of your college ministry come and share at a small group time. This also allows for relationships to be built and groundwork to be laid for the next few years.

Another way to be intentional with small group time is by creating a time for them to go out and do something special together before they depart. They could go out for dinner, play mini golf, go hiking or camping, come over to your home for a barbecue, or visit with the senior pastor for a dessert social where they are encouraged and celebrated. These moments not only allow for your seniors to grow closer with their small group, but also elevate their last year in student ministry by making it special and meaningful.

4. Connect them with college ministries.

As you prepare for your seniors to graduate, one of the best things you can do is connect them with a ministry they will be a part of going forward. They may not always attend your church’s college ministry, but it is their home church and as such can be a place of refuge, encouragement, and community. So find ways to incorporate and intermingle current college students and leaders with your seniors. Set up times for them to join your small groups. Create social opportunities to connect both groups. Challenge your senior small group leaders to intentionally encourage the students to participate in the college ministry. In fact, I would also encourage the leaders to go with them a few times as well to help with the transition into a new ministry. Lastly, I would encourage you to talk encouragingly about the college ministry and to challenge your students to attend it regularly and make it their new home. How you talk about the ministry and hold it up will encourage your students to become a part of it.

5. Attend important moments.

Senior year is full of special moments for your students. There are ceremonies with honors and awards, recognition for students’ engagement in civil programs and various clubs, senior nights for sports and activities, and graduation ceremonies and parties. If you are able to, especially when you are invited, I would highly encourage you to attend. You may not get much, if any, face-to-face time with your student(s) depending on the context and activity, but simply knowing or seeing you are there will radically impact and encourage your graduates.

Your presence shows them that you believe in them and care about them. It highlights the relationship and shows them how much you are invested. Let me also encourage you to involve their small group leaders in as many moments as possible. This helps your students to see the importance of multiple adults and spiritual mentors in their life, and it honors the work that your leaders have put into their students.

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.