Leading Intentional Meetings

If you’re like me, you find yourself in meetings more often than you’d like. We have all been in meetings that seem like they have no focus or purpose, or that would have been better suited as an email. But I think if we take time to self-reflect we would see that perhaps some of the meetings we have lead or contributed to may also fit that description.

I am not an expert in hosting meetings and making them something that everyone wants to attend, but throughout my time in ministry, and other career fields, I have found ways to make them more intentional, life giving, and purposeful. Today my hope is to share with you a few ways that you could bring life and intentionality to your meetings and hopefully lead meetings that people want to attend.

Make the meeting relational and communal.

One of the best things you can do for your meetings is to have a time of fellowship and community building. We do this by hosting a meal during leader trainings and meetings, but this could look as simple as having light refreshments or a hot chocolate bar during parent meetings. This gives the people that you shepherd time to fellowship together and foster good community. It also allows you to engage and interact with your people. This is a great opportunity to foster a relationship that isn’t just seen as informational but purposeful and relational. This strengthens your ability to care for others and helps you effectively minister holistically to your people.

Incorporate prayer and spiritual formation.

If I am being honest, this wasn’t something that I incorporated early on in ministry, but it is something I have become keenly aware of utilizing in recent years. Prayer and spiritual formation are highly important in our own lives and within the lives of the people we have the privilege of shepherding. But in a hyper-busy world, prayer and spiritual formation can often take a back seat. Rather than lament that reality, we can create intentional opportunities to incorporate these rhythms into our lives and our meetings afford a prime opportunity to do so. When we shape a meeting around prayer and spiritual formation you are telling your people that they matter to you and that you care about them and their relationship with Jesus. This is more of a priority than simply training on the next cultural shift in youth ministry or in giving all the information to parents. Yes, those are good and beneficial topics to cover, but our primary focus should be on the spiritual health of our people. When you begin to incorporate these moments into your meetings you will see a culture shift within the ministry for the better. People will be more intentional, prayer becomes a priority, lives start to change, and growth happens (not just numerical but spiritual and relational growth as well). When we put God on the center stage, we will see great and powerful change come about.

Focus the time of information giving.

I know that when I lead meetings I can often come ready to give a firehose of information. Whether it is updates, reminders, or information about programmatic change, I always feel the pressure of trying to communicate all the information. But what if we simply approached the information piece in soundbites? Instead of simply dropping all the information with all the details, consider hitting the key points from up front but utilize handouts with more information for your people to look through. This may not stem all the questions but it will free up some of the meeting time which you can utilize with other material. Trying to condense the information time gives you the freedom and opportunity to frame your meeting in different ways and to be intentional with your time to care for your people.

Encourage and recognize your community.

This is one of my favorite things to do, especially during meetings with my leaders. I love to encourage them for all they have done and to make sure that they feel honored and encouraged. So often it is easy to take our leaders for granted because they continue to do what they always have done: an amazing job. But being able to intentionally recognize and encourage them publicly is huge and goes much further than a simple “nice job” or “thank you” after youth group. This isn’t reserved for just your leaders; it can be utilized in your student leadership team, parent meetings, or even amongst your staff team. Recognizing and encouraging your community will show them that you see and value them. It will endear your team to your ministry and challenge them to continue to grow and care for the people under their care.

Honor the schedule and be purposeful with it.

This is a huge one. We have all been in meetings that go too long and do not adhere to their schedule. As those meetings go on, we all find ourselves looking at the clock, feeling frustrated, and wondering how to adjust to the change in time. This is a big deal especially for those who have kids or students at home as it could mean a change in their schedules as well or perhaps a longer time for a babysitter which then incurs more financial strain. When you are intentional and purposeful with the time that you have allotted for the meeting, you are telling your people that you care about them and that they matter. This means that you need to think critically through your schedule and focus the timing of the various components. Doing this may feel difficult at first, but it may lend toward tweaking the overall time of the meeting to appropriately walk through all that is needed. Even if you end up making a meeting a little longer, being able to state how long the meeting is will allow your people to plan appropriately. Honoring the set timing also helps your people to see that you keep your word and are trustworthy. This further endears people to your leadership and the ministry.

One last final word of advice: try to keep all meetings without a meal to under one and a half hours, and a meeting with a meal at no more than two hours. This is a way to make sure we honor others’ time and schedules, and ensures that we are intentional with what is communicated and that is clear and concise.

The Value of Networking

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

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

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

Vulnerability and transparency.

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

Community.

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

Being challenged.

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

Personal growth.

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

Collaboration and new perspectives.

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

Shared passions and unity.

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

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

Dealing with Disruptions

With the start of a new school year, I have heard multiple youth workers lament how there have been increasing disruptions within their ministries. Whether it’s students not respecting a speaker or one another, or inappropriate comments during youth group, or constant interruptions in small groups, this is a reality many of us face. And for many of us it can feel frustrating and discouraging. We begin to wonder if we are part of the problem or we just get upset to the point of perhaps yelling at a student. But instead of responding critically toward the student or ourselves, it would be prudent to step back and think about the situation at hand.

Before thinking critically about how to handle disruptions, I think it is helpful to think about the “why.” Why are these disruptions happening? Why do they seem to be manifesting in force right now? I believe if we take time to reflect on this past year and a half, we may see some rationale for why these disruptions seem to be occurring on a larger scale than prior years.

  • Students weren’t engaging in interpersonal relationships due social distancing and schools going online.
  • Students were engaged in relationships primarily online which allowed for anonymity and for increased boldness to say and do things they normally would not.
  • Some students were not receiving the discipleship they needed and were therefore not developing in spiritual, emotional, and relational maturity.
  • Students have forgotten how to engage in interpersonal relationships and their filters have been forgotten as well.

So what should we do if there are disruptions? How do we handle it well? Today, I want to provide you with some steps on how to handle these types of situations, but also to caution you to remember that there are never two situations exactly the same. There will always be differences, so how you handle the situation won’t always look the same. Therefore, these steps may not all be included, or the process for engaging the disruption may change. And that is okay. These are meant to be steps that simply help us see the whole picture and lovingly walk with our students even in difficult moments.

Speak with love.

Sometimes when disruptions happen we can respond in ways that are not always healthy. Responding with sarcasm, accusatory humor, or even saying something like, “Come on Nick, why do you always have to be distracting others?” will never help you get your point across nor help the group respect and follow after you. Instead, always speak in love. Look to model Jesus and seek to love even the most difficult student. We don’t always know what students are going through or why they are responding in the manner that they are. And when we bite back with a quick retort or cutting comment, that immediately causes students to pull away and build bigger and stronger walls. So always speak with love, be willing to be humble, and remember your calling. When you embody these things it will allow you to better engage and handle the situation at hand.

Never assume.

We are all really good at assuming. But just because we are good at it doesn’t mean we should do it. It is easy to assume how a student will respond because we work with them and know their family history. But we don’t know everything that is happening in their lives. They may be getting bullied. There may be abuse. They may be struggling with their identity. They may be having harmful ideologies. These moments when a student becomes disruptive are moments for us to step up and be the leaders that God has called us to be.

We are called to embody the love of Jesus and care well for our students. You may not know what that student is going through until a later date, or perhaps you will never know, but I can guarantee you this: if you respond in love, that will create a better opportunity for you to invest in and care for that student. On the flip side, if you respond out of frustration, more walls will be built and that student will become more withdrawn and less likely to trust. By seeking to understand and responding out of love you will be able to better assess and engage with the student and walk with them.

Don’t call out publicly.

This is a big thing to avoid, and if we are honest with ourselves we may be guilty of this. I think sometimes our propensity when students are disruptive or distracting is to respond in the moment. But when we do that we make it personal and we become the attacker. We have allowed for what the student is doing to be an attack on what we are doing and we take it personally because we are presenting the Word of God and students should listen and pay attention. But the problem now is bigger because instead of seeking to understand, we have made it about how that student is the problem and how we are the authority who will quell the problem.

Instead, what we should seek to do is love the student and engage with them personally. Show them that they have value and worth. Look to explain and seek to understand. See the student and not the issue. When you do this it allows you to invest into the life of the student and love them, which shows the student you truly care. I have often found when students are disruptive they are seeking to see if the youth leader really loves them and they are watching how they respond. They want to see if you are for them and if your words match your actions. So use this as a time to care for them and model Christ.

Look for the “why.”

As you engage with students don’t assume you know why they are acting out. Take time to dig deep, to ask them questions, and to get to the heart of the matter. There may be extenuating circumstances that are affecting the student and causing them to act out. We never know until we seek to understand and ask those questions. So talk with the student. Show them you care. Ask about their life. And seek to understand. When you do this you will begin to see the relational equity pay off and you will be able to engage at a deeper level with the student.

Do not use absolutes.

It is easy when talking to students to make statement like, “Why are you always the one who is disruptive?” Or, “Why do you never want to listen to the lesson?” Or, “Why must you always be a problem?” These types of absolute statements tell students that they are the problem and always will be the problem, and that they will never be anything other than a problem. This type of language is incredibly harmful and will stick with the student for much, if not all, of their life. So seek to use statements like, “Why did this happen tonight?” followed with concrete examples of other times if this has been repetitive behavior. But in that same vein, highlight how you have seen the student actually pay attention or be a leader. Don’t only focus on the negative, but seek to affirm and raise up the positive.

Challenge the student.

When you are engaging with a student and talking about the difficult moments, use this as an opportunity to not only highlight the difficulties but also to challenge the student. Speak truth into their lives. Affirm their strengths and what they bring to the group. Challenge them to be better and be the leader they can be. Help them to see that what they do matters and that they can help to bring about proactive and beneficial change in the lives of other students and the group. When you tell a student that you love them and see potential and great things from them, you are telling them that they have value and worth. You are telling them that they matter and are needed. This will help students see that they can and should be looking to be different and to lead out.

Bring in parents.

This is typically a last resort for me, because students hate having their parents know that they misbehaved. When a student is disruptive it rarely qualifies for bringing in a parent, but depending on the severity of the situation it may be warranted. In those moments do not seek to simply be right or prove your case. Share the facts and the reason it warranted calling in the parents. But also highlight that this is not something that means the student is cast out from the ministry. Let parents know you are for their student and for them, but that the behavior needs to change because it is negatively affecting the group. Allow for the parents to work through a solution and be willing to partner with them and the student. I would also say that whatever discipline the parents decide on, do not write off the student. Continue to love them, pray for them, and walk with them. It may not be received right away, but remembering that this student is still a part of your program and one of your sheep will allow for you to care them in real and tangible ways.

How to Work Well on a Team [Part 2]

Last week we began sharing some insights into how to work well on a team and this week we want to continue the conversation by providing a few more ideas. While none of these ideas is a guaranteed fix-all, utilizing them together will help you as an individual and your team grow and mature as you seek to serve God together. Today’s ideas are more directed toward self-reflection and growth but can also be applied and embraced within the team.

Strive to enhance the team not individual goals.

For most of us it is easy to default to seeking our own goals even when we are on a team. This isn’t always from a place of pride or ego, but from simple human nature and the way culture has shaped us to think of ourselves. But Christ has always challenged us to put others before ourselves, and Paul actually encourages us to die to our own desires to elevate Christ.

When it comes to working on a team we need to consider these truths and be willing to put aside our own desires and wants, seeking to elevate the goals of the team and the ministry you serve. It isn’t about self but instead about the team that is working to impact the kingdom of heaven through the ministry of which you are a part. This is not to say that your personal goals aren’t worthwhile or important, but instead to interpret them within the overall mission and vision of the ministry team.

Be for one another.

Being for one another is something we should focus on within each aspect of our lives. Whether your team is present or not, you should seek to speak well of them. We shouldn’t talk poorly about each other or try to point fingers because that will fracture the unity of your team. Being mindful of how we speak and represent one another will help us be for one another in all moments.

It may be easier to be for one another when the team is present, but your conversations outside of the team should also reflect that mentality. If you are not honoring and supporting one another in your private conversations then you are not for your teammates. I am not saying you cannot vent or share how you’ve felt with those who you are close with, but be mindful of what you say. Is it simply sharing frustration or is it being critical of your team?

Pray for each other.

Whether your team is united or not, praying for one another should be a high priority. Praying for one another helps to unite a divided team and brings strength to one that is already united. When you pray for others you see them as real people rather than just a teammate or someone who frustrates you. Prayer allows for teams to be for each other but also to be intentional in how they relate and work with each other. Praying for your teammates allows for you to care for them and love them as Jesus does, and is a way to protect your team from faltering by relying on God to carry you through all moments.

Have important conversations in person.

This is actually a piece of advice I give to everyone when it comes to relationships. Texts, emails, and even phone conversations can often be ambiguous and they tend to embolden people due to distance and the inability to actually see the other person. In many ways, conversations that aren’t in person allow us to think of the other person in a non-relational way. We have actually dehumanized them because we feel empowered and emboldened to say things we normally wouldn’t in person.

When you have important conversations in person it allows you to see, hear, empathize, and sympathize with the other person(s) involved. You are able to read facial expressions, observe body language, and hear inflections and emotions rather than trying to interpret them from afar. You see the person as a real individual and it challenges you to lovingly speak truth while caring for them in the same moment.

Be willing to be humble.

Sometimes when we work on a team we may not always be humble, not because we don’t want to, but because we aren’t always thinking that way. On a team we may have a propensity toward trying to win, or push our ideas, or think we know better than the rest of the team. These feelings aren’t always intentional because our society seeks to cultivate a “me first” focus and direction. But if we don’t seek to understand our emotional and relational intelligence we could actually harm relationships with our team. When working with a team be willing to be humble and choose to die to yourself. Be willing to elevate the team. Be willing to not always have your ideas be the ones that are chosen. Be willing to encourage and love your team. This type of approach will allow for your team dynamic to flourish and for relationships to be strengthened.

Try new things and ideas.

As we continue to grow and mature sometimes we get stuck in our ways and habits. We have developed our rhythms and ways of doing things. But the beauty of working on a team is hearing about and participating in new ideas and methods. So take time to try new things, be willing to adapt, and allow yourself to be stretched. These opportunities will help you grow as an individual and a leader, all while working with and encouraging your team.

How to Work Well on a Team [Part 1]

When it comes to working on a team, whether a student ministry team or an all church team or even as a volunteer, there are unique challenges and opportunities that come with that role. Often these challenges and opportunities will manifest in different ways with each individual and that can make the team dynamic feel stretched or challenging. The question we must be thinking through as members and leaders of these teams is how can we set them up for and contribute to their success so the Gospel ultimately succeeds. Today I hope to share with you some insight that I have learned from working on teams that will prayerfully help you and the teams you lead or are a part of be successful on your mission to reach people for Jesus.

Communicate clearly and consistently.

When it comes to being on a team one of the biggest things to focus on is clear and consistent communication. What you say, what you don’t say, what your body and facial expressions communicate is highly important. As you work with a team think about how what you say, how you say it, why you say it, and when you say it is received by those on your team. This will help you to be self-reflective and to think through motive and purpose behind what you are communicating. Clear and consistent communication also removes ambiguity and allows for clarity amongst the team so everyone is on the same page and knows if there are differing emotions, expectations, or alignments within the team.

Listen well.

This is something that we can all work on. Listening well in life is important but as you are working with a team it is even more so because poor listening leads to poor communication and no clarity or direction. So as you come together as a team be willing to listen to and hear from other people well. Don’t come with presuppositions and do not presume that you know what they will say or motives behind what they do. Instead seek to understand by listening well and look at the heart of what is being communicated.

Be willing to help even if it isn’t your job.

Often times we can get hyper focused in our roles and only see what we need to do. Or we can make excuses about how we can’t help due to busyness, time, or it isn’t part of our job focus. But that is born out of selfishness, and instead we should die to ourselves and seek to help one another. When you see your facilities team setting up or cleaning up from an event (even if it isn’t one of your’s), seek to honor them by helping them out.

Now I will say this: being willing to help others does not mean you sacrifice everything in every moment. You need to make sure you are setting and honoring healthy boundaries to make sure you are staying healthy holistically. It is okay to say “no,” but we need to make sure it is for appropriate reasons and not out of selfishness.

Bring your ideas to the table.

Part of being on a team means that someone has seen your skills and value, otherwise you wouldn’t be on the team. So share your thoughts and ideas. An idea not shared won’t ever come to fruition. But it is also important to remember to value and encourage the ideas of others. It isn’t only about getting your ideas across to the team, but it also includes valuing and affirming other ideas that are presented. Ideas and thoughts from a team provide meaningful insight, creativity, and opportunities for growth and they should be valued.

Be honest with your thoughts and feelings.

This point goes hand in hand with the previous one. When it comes to working on a team, open and honest conversations are hugely important to the health and well-being of the team. So if you’re feeling a certain way about the team, a teammate, or even how you are viewed or utilized, make sure to share that. It isn’t easy in the moment, it will feel uncomfortable, and the tension may be palpable. But actually engaging with one another and being honest is hugely important and will make the team stronger.

I would like to offer a few suggestions on how to do this that will be helpful in having these conversations:

  • Be honest, but be full of grace and humility in doing so.
  • Do not assume or presume about others. Don’t walk into a conversation assuming the worst. Go in knowing God is at work and working all things out for His glory.
  • Be willing to receive. Sometimes you will need to be talked to about how you have been engaging others, and you need to be willing to receive that well.
  • Be willing to hear out your teammates. Hear what they have to say because at the end of the day they may not know how things were received or heard, and by doing this you can help shape future conversations and interactions.
  • Pray for your teammates. In these moments prayer is hugely important as it helps us focus on God and it centers our hearts in how we engage with others as a result.

Next week we will conclude this conversation and look at our final points on how to work well on a team. In the in-between time, what have you done or seen that helped teams work well together?

How to Make Small Group Time Intentional and Purposeful

Small group time is incredibly important for our students to grow and mature as young adults and as disciples of Jesus. We should be looking to incorporate this into our programming and making it a part of our normal rhythms. This will look different depending on the size of your program, the number of leaders and students that you have, and even the layout of where you meet. But this is something that regardless of hurdles, is exceptionally important.

Small groups provide a space for students to process and engage at a personal level, and to think through with a smaller peer group about what it means to live with and reflect Jesus in their spheres of influence. These spaces are truly where transformational discipleship happens, therefore we should critically think through how we are utilizing this time to best impact and challenge our students. Today, our hope is to provide some insight into ways to embrace small group time to best impact your students.

Know your material.

This is one of the best things you can do to make small group time intentional, focused, and beneficial for your students. If you know the material and are prepared, it will allow you to curate discussion and insight that will help your students process and apply what was shared. It also keeps you from scrambling or trying to think through things on the fly. Instead you are able to think about what will best relate to and challenge your individual group because you know them, their desires, their strength and weaknesses, and also where they need to be stretched. These moments will only come about if you prepare for the discussion in small group.

Now it is important to understand that your preparation can only go so far, especially as it depends on your leader getting you the content you need to prepare. Pastors, leaders, and speakers let me say this to you: do your best to equip and provide your leaders with the necessary materials for guiding their small groups. The sooner you get information into their hands, the better prepared they will be to pour into and shepherd your students. But if a leader or speaker does not get you all the information ahead of time, that does not discount you from preparing. Listen to the speaker. Take notes. Think about questions that will engage and challenge your group. Utilize the Bible passages that were shared and use them for further and deeper study with your group.

Know your group and be relational.

Part of having an intentional and purposeful small group time comes from knowing the group and being relational. When you carve out time to get to know your students and for them to know one another, it allows for the conversation to become more intentional and personal as they become comfortable with others in the group. You are helping walls to come down and in the same moment, growing authentic relationships within the group. Through these moments your students will grow to trust you and see you not just as a leader but as someone who cares about them and about their relationship with Jesus. As you relate to them personally, you are making yourself real and authentic to them which will help these times together to be even more intentional and focused.

Balance the time well.

The key to a proactive small group session is to know how to balance the time. Small group time shouldn’t be 90% jokes and 10% discussion. This won’t allow for adequate sharing, relational depth, or spiritual growth, and instead it just becomes another place to hang out and not be serious. Now this is not to say that you can never have a small group time like that. We all know that students sometimes just need a place to laugh and decompress. What I am suggesting is that this isn’t the normal flow and function of the group. Look to balance the time between relational, spiritual, and personal growth. Here’s an example of what I mean, and the timing is malleable to your small group schedule:

  • Relational: Time in the beginning spent sharing highs and lows. Think 10 minutes.
  • Spiritual: Talk about the lesson, what challenged the students, and personal application. This should be the bulk of the time at 20+ minutes.
  • Personal: This is where the rubber meets the road. This can contain prayer requests and a time of prayer for each other, it can incorporate a time of deeper application, or perhaps it is more focused on confession and life change. This would be anywhere from 10-20 minutes.

Talk less.

This may seem counterintuitive to some of us. We may ask, “Aren’t leaders supposed to talk? Isn’t that part of leading the group?” And the answer is yes. Yes, you are supposed to talk, but no, you are not to dominate the conversation or answer every question before the students can speak. While many leaders have tons of wisdom and insight to bring to the table and share with students, we need to remember that people (especially students) need the space to process, think, and talk for themselves.

I have often heard leaders say, “My students don’t talk in small group.” To which I often reply, “Are you giving them the opportunity to do so?” In our small groups we must intentionally allow our students to talk for at least 70% of the time, and allow for our times of talking to be focused on guiding and shepherding them to think through application and their personal walk with Jesus.

This isn’t to say that you set up a timer and only talk for an allotted timeframe, nor is it saying that this balance must always stay the same. There will be times you talk more and times you talk much less. But what we must do is find a balance that allows our students to grow, wrestle with, and apply Biblical truths to their lives. They don’t always need another speaker, but instead need someone who will guide them, ask helpful questions, listen to their answers, and give meaningful insight when needed.

Ask open ended questions.

This goes right back to the previous point about thinking through how we engage and direct conversations. And one the best ways to do this is ask open ended questions instead of “yes or no” style questions. Ask questions that will cause students to think through and process what they heard. Ask a bunch of “why and how” questions. Don’t settle for a simple answer; ask a follow-up question that encourages a student to explain how they arrived at that conclusion. Doing this not only allows for students to continue to talk, but it also challenges them to think through why they believe what they believe and how it relates to their present reality. Another way to ask open ended questions comes in the form of application. Asking students how the topic, truths, or certain points relate to their lives and how they can implement them will give you multiple responses and opportunities to challenge and guide them in their walk with Jesus.

Pray with and for one another.

Spending intentional time praying with and for your small group will make the time with them all the more special and unique. This will not only bring your group together but it will strengthen the bonds you are building. It will help your group to grow and pour into one another and it will help to develop their faith and relationship with Jesus. Prayer is an intimate time and creating an intimate, sacred, and safe space for your students will bring a fresh and personal dynamic to your group.

Follow up and additional connection.

If something important or meaningful is brought up in small group time, make sure to follow up with the student or students. For instance, if a student shares about a struggle they are having, text them during the week to see how they are doing and how things went. If your group commits to a daily devotional time, do a group check in during the week to see if they have been able to keep up with their commitment. By following up and checking in with your students you will allow for relationships to deepen and become more than just a youth group connection. It will be something that unites your group and allows you to be a strong voice for truth in their lives.

It is also helpful to realize that these moments of connection don’t have to be only from things we hear about in small group. Intentionally connecting with your students outside of youth group is important. This doesn’t have to be an every day and every moment type of thing, but something where you are intentionally doing life with your students. Consider taking students shopping with you. Frequent places where your students work to connect with them. Pray for them. Reach out to them to go grab a small group dinner or dessert. These types of connections will enable you to continue pouring into them and helping them grow and mature.

Tips for Hosting Great Leader Meetings

Our fall program is about to start up and that means we are having our annual team training. We bring together our leaders from all aspects of student ministry and gather for four hours of training together. Now you may have started that last sentence saying “that sounds awesome” but as you got to the end you probably thought something like, “four hours…are you nuts?!”

I know it sounds like a long time but today I want to share with you a few tips about why I think it works. These are tips that we don’t only embody at our fall training but incorporate year round, and I believe it’s the thoughtfulness you will read about in these tips that make our training successful. And as an answer to your follow-up question, no, we don’t do four hours of training every time we gather…we aren’t crazy! It is just that one. So, here are some tips that I think will be helpful for your next training session.

Make it inviting.

How do you make a meeting invitational aside from asking people to come? Think about the setting, ambiance, and attraction. When we host training at any point, we try not to have it be at the church but instead in homes. It makes the meeting more inviting and comfortable because of the setting and location.

Another way to make it inviting is by having food. This may seem like a simple touch but food really does add value to any meeting. It helps people open up, it sets a tone, and it shows that you care. But let me offer some advice about food: don’t do typical youth group fare. Look to up the game because these are your leaders and without them you wouldn’t have a program. Even if you can only afford a few bags of candy, spring for the Hershey Nuggets instead of the store brand. It will communicate value, worth, and appreciation to your people.

A final way to make it invitational is to consider having a time of fellowship, activities, and/or a meal together. Our fall training is hosted by an amazing family who affords us their whole home that includes a pool. So for the end of our training we host a lunch for our leaders and families followed by a time for everyone to swim. It’s a blast! We have kids, students, and adults engaging in fellowship and enjoying time together. If you don’t have a pool, bring yard games or different activities to bring people together.

Make it informational.

As you work through meetings there has to be a purpose to why you are there and what you are talking about. Whether it’s programmatic changes, generational training, or other updates you may have, take time to talk through information that is important to your program. This shows your leaders that there are always growth areas and opportunities for everyone to develop.

Some ways to make this more team-oriented and inviting can include:

  • Have volunteers lead training on topics that they are both passionate and knowledgeable about.
  • Talk about topics that are relevant to students and culture.
  • Make the informational time interactive through question and answer sessions, games, small group discussions, or even by bringing in a guest speaker.

Make it relational and have fun.

I love to build in times for fellowship during training. I make sure to keep the beginning time open to talk, eat food, and fellowship. One of the best things to do during training is to incorporate a meal or food to some degree. If it’s breakfast time get some pastries, do a pancake bar, and make sure to have coffee and tea. If it’s lunch or dinner grill out, have a s’mores bar, or a baked potato bar. Whenever you provide food I would encourage you to think of things outside of what you normally do for students (i.e. walking tacos, pizza, etc.). This shows your leaders that you value and appreciate them.

Another great option for fellowship is to include various fun activities like a fire pit, swimming, yard games, a karaoke contest, team competitions, or even a friendly game of 9 Square. These moments not only allow for your leaders to have fun and release stress but also to connect with one another.

Make it creative.

As you think through training and what it can look like, try to make it creative and not the same training you have done year in and year out. Have different types of team building activities, bring in different people to lead, change up the location and ambiance, or make it a themed training. When you get creative it makes training more inviting and intentional, and it will help make your leaders desire to be a part of what you are doing.

Incorporate prayer and worship.

Whenever we are facilitating a training we always need to remember why we are doing what we are doing. We are simply functioning as disciple-makers and shepherds who have been entrusted to care for His people. As such we should be bathing any training or gathering in prayer and worshiping God because of all He has done and will do. Praying over the year, the ministry, students, and families helps us to shift our focus and remember that this only accomplished through Christ. This allows for us to rejoice in, trust, and acknowledge God’s control and know that the year and everything that happens is all a part of His plan.

How to Care Well for Students [Part 2]

Last week we kicked off this conversation by talking about how we need to be prepared and ready to care for our students as we walk with them through life’s moments. In this post, I want to share some insight in how to help students move forward in this process.

These ideas are framed to help students grow and take steps forward by utilizing resources that will set them up for success in the long term. Change isn’t always instantaneous and we want to make sure we are setting our students up for lifelong, healthy changes that will be sustainable. But in order to do this well we must realize there are steps that need to be taken and they don’t always require us as their leaders to carry the bulk of the load.

My hope in sharing these ideas with you is that this sets you up to do what you do best: love and care for your students as you point them to Jesus. But I also hope that in sharing these ideas, you realize it isn’t all on your shoulders. Understand that you can only do what you are able, qualified, and called to do. In those moments outside of your control these ideas will enable you to ensure that your students are loved and cared for well.

Start small.

Often times it is easy to shoot for the end goal. We know where students should be and they want to meet a goal, but we shouldn’t simply start with the end in mind. In order to have a better chance of achieving success, we should start with a step-by-step process. Set up smaller goals that lead to the end goal and in doing so you are giving the student more opportunities to grow and celebrate as they meet these goals. It also affords you the ability to reset and reestablish as needed because if a goal is missed it isn’t the endgame. Often if we simply seek to meet the ultimate goal and fail, there is a strong possibility that we may give up on the goal because of a strong sense of failure. But if it is simple a step toward the goal that isn’t met, it affords an opportunity to reset, adjust, and continue moving forward toward the goal. It also will give you more insight into your student and their strengths and weaknesses which gives you the greater ability to minister to and care for your students.

Normalize asking for and getting help.

This is a big thing to do as you care for your students. This is becoming more and more accepted but there is still a stigma attached to asking for and gaining help on various issues. But by encouraging your students when they ask for help and championing receiving help, you are giving your students permission to do the same and easing the stigma that has been pervasive within our culture.

Another way you can do this is by talking about it in a positive way and doing so often. The more you talk about it, engage it, and highlight the benefits of asking for and receiving help, the more you will help your students get the care they need and deserve.

Bring in qualified help.

We are not experts in everything, and as such we must acknowledge that there are others who have more skill, training, and knowledge in various areas. And that is okay. What we must do though is know who has what skill sets and expertise so we can utilize their areas of wisdom and knowledge to better care for and minister to our students. So build helpful networks, grow your own knowledge, be willing to hand off well, and utilize the resources at your disposal. Doing so will not only guarantee that your students get the help they need, it also allows you to make sure that your students are receiving holistic care and will grow in an appropriate way.

Bring in parents.

This is one area that is extremely important when it comes to caring for students, but also one that requires wisdom, tact, and an understanding of the relationship and dynamic that exists between parents and students. Depending on the reason that a student comes to you, it is extremely important that you bring parents into the conversation and care, but it is also something that could be terrifying and difficult for your student.

For example, if a student wants to be baptized and grow in their faith by being mentored by you, it would be helpful to talk to the parents about their student’s decision. But that could prove difficult if they aren’t believers or it could be a hugely beneficial conversation because perhaps they have been praying for this moment.

Or consider that a student comes to you acknowledging that they are self-harming. It is extremely important to bring parents into the conversation for a litany of reasons, but the student may be terrified of this because perhaps they think their parents won’t love them. Or perhaps the parents are putting pressure on their student that is pushing them to self-harm. Or maybe the parent will show how deeply they love their student and walk with them.

Regardless of the circumstance, bringing in parents will afford you the opportunity to administer better holistic care for your student, their parents, and their relationships. Yes, this may make the situation more difficult and tricky but the benefits far outweigh any of the difficulties or potential stressful moments.

Go with students.

When a student comes to you and opens up about something that is outside of your scope of care and you refer them to someone else, or if they are challenged to talk to their parents, or if they simply have to go to someone for whatever reason, go with them. This not only shows them that you mean it when you say you love and care for them, it also provides them a support network in what can be a terrifying moment for them. You have become a trusted advocate and you are showing them they are not alone. And in many ways your presence in these moments will help to soften them and make them more manageable for the student. So wherever a student goes after they confide in you, go with them, be for them, and love and care for them in those moments.

Stick with them.

This last point is so important in making sure we care well for our students. Change and growth takes time. And let’s be honest, sometimes taking time with students is hard and we want to walk away because it seems like they aren’t growing, don’t want to change, or just give up. But if we turn away from them in the moments when they need us most, we are almost certainly setting them up for failure.

So instead of walking away, dig in and continue to love and care for them even when it is hard. I am not saying that you should give all of yourself and constantly have your face spit in. But I am saying don’t simply cast away a student for lack of change. Love them, pray for and with them, challenge them, and continue to be with and for them. How you care for them may change throughout the process, but the important thing is to continue loving and caring for them regardless. This shows them that you believe in them and are for them, which is arguably what students truly need to incur lifelong change and growth in their lives.

What has worked best for you as you have you loved and cared for your students through long periods of growth and change?

Motives + Ministry: Asking the Hard Questions

In the realm of ministry, if you’re a leader, you have a following. If you have a following, you have a platform. And if you have a platform, you have power. This can be easily noticed in the era of technology, social media, and constant connection. But if you look back over time, it’s always worked this way. People who are followed, listened to, and emulated always have power.

How we as ministry leaders use the power we possess ultimately comes down to the motives of our hearts. And if we aren’t careful to check our motives, we can easily be swept away in the allure of having a platform, building a following, and achieving our version of success.

None of us is perfect, which is why at times it’s important to ask some difficult questions of ourselves. It’s vital that we check our motives, and realign our desires and priorities with God and his directives. Failure to keep ourselves in check can lead us to a place that might look alluring, but ultimately takes us where we don’t want to go.

Today I want to suggest a few questions to ask yourself, and things to think through as you consider your leadership, your goals and aspirations, and of course, your motives.

Ask: What is my short-term goal, what is my long-term goal, and do they align?

It’s not wrong to set goals for yourself and your life, but I would encourage you to fight to make sure they align with God, his word, and his calling for your life. In whatever you hope to achieve, remember that he is the one who will open doors, provide for you, and lead you to where you should go. Don’t bypass what he has for you or overlook it in pursuit of something you believe to be better. Sometimes the best things he has for us are in the most unlikely places. I encourage you to be present where he has you, and to give your best and your all.

In different seasons of life, you may have different short-term goals. But when you step back and look at your life, what is your over-all, long-term goal? What do you feel God calling you to do with your existence? What do you hope to accomplish with your life? At the end of your days, what would indicate a life well lived? Keep the answer to these questions in mind as you set short-term goals. In the day-to-day it can be easy to be distracted by momentary things, whether fame, financial stability, or experiences. Don’t let short-term goals cloud your vision for your life and calling. Fight to keep the short-term in line with the long-term.

Ask: How am I going about getting to where I want to be?

In a day when it is so easy to build a widespread platform thanks to the connectivity of social networks and the internet, it can almost be an expectation that to be successful in any field you must be an “influencer,” and have an online following. You may have a goal of gaining a certain number of followers on Instagram, or readers on your blog, or subscribers to your YouTube channel. You may feel like this will open doors for you in the future, giving you more notoriety, validity or importance.

While I don’t think there is anything wrong with sharing about God, what he’s teaching you, or what you’re doing in ministry online, I think unchecked it can lead to more. A social media platform can easily go from a way to reach people to a way to use people, leveraging them to get what you want. Things can quickly become less about sharing a message and more about you, the messenger. And in this, your focus can shift from God to yourself.

Whatever your goal, and whatever you’re pursing, be wise in how you get there. Don’t lose yourself, or your pursuit of Christ and his calling, in the process. This brings to mind Jesus’s words in Matthew 16:26 (and if you remember Michael Tait’s stint as a solo artist, the song “Empty), “What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?” Don’t let the things of this world woo you away from your true purpose.

Ask: Who am I trying to emulate?

Is there someone you idolize, whose career you’d like to achieve, or whose leadership style you imitate, who you feel is showing you the way you should go? Is there someone you are trying to be? When it comes to ministry, it can be easy to put other ministry leaders on pedestals, wishing we had their qualities, platforms, possessions, or opportunities. We can even try to become them, imitating what they are doing, how they dress, or their speaking style. While it’s not wrong to appreciate other leaders, left unchecked it can lead to a form of worship.

Besides the obvious issue of idolizing and worshiping a person, pursuing someone else’s life and ministry means ignoring your own. And over time you will miss out on becoming the person God has made you and intended you to be. The best and only person whom you should be trying to emulate is Jesus. He will lead you in the best direction you could ever go, to become the best person and ministry leader you could ever be. Don’t give up the best for a life spent imitating other people.

Ask: Do I have love?

This may sound like an odd question to include with the others, but stick with me. Lots of times when Christians read 1 Corinthians 13, it’s at a wedding, or some other celebration of romantic love. But I think its scope is much more broad, applying also to our lives at leaders and ministers of the Gospel. We can achieve a lot, accomplish important things, do good work, and preach amazing sermons, but absent of love, it all means nothing.

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

1 Corinthians 13:1-3

Absent of love, our efforts are futile. 1 Corinthians 13 verses 4 and following go on to spell out what real love looks like lived out. It manifests Christ-likeness in our lives, shaping us into not only effective ministers of the Gospel, but people who look like Jesus. So as you’re thinking about where you want to go, and working to get there, are you cultivating love in your life? Are you keeping the “main thing” the main thing?

Asking yourself these questions ins’t intended to make you feel bad, or so that you can punish yourself if you get off track. The idea is to build in course-correction, which may become necessary with the passing of time. There is a reason why we find repetition so often in the Bible, and it’s because we are prone to forget. Let us not forget or grow weary of fighting the good fight, it is absolutely worth it.

Trip Follow-Up with Students

Following a trip with students, the first thought in our minds is typically not “how can I follow up or debrief my students?” It is usually, “how much stuff do I need to put away until I can head home and sleep in my own bed?”

As we collect ourselves from the last few days and begin to navigate assimilating to our regular work schedule and life, we often focus on the immediate tasks at hand: putting away all of our gear that we took, washing out the water jugs and coolers, returning or attempting to return all the lost and found items, washing and cleaning vehicles, and nursing the sore muscles we didn’t realize we had.

But what about following up and helping our students re-engage with life and culture again? How do we help them not simply have a “camp high” but a truly life changing moment with Jesus that alters everything? Today my desire is not to give you more work, but hopefully give you insight and ways to help your students engage life differently as they apply what they heard and learned from their trip.

Incorporate follow-up with trip training.

One way to build this into what you are doing is by letting students and leaders know that a debrief or follow-up is a part of going on this trip. All of your meetings for a trip should be mandatory and this should be no exception. When you are walking through training and what to expect on the trip, make sure you talk to students about the importance of reengaging with “normal life” when you return home. Our goal on these trips should not be to give students a temporary high but rather help them change their lives for the long-term.

When students are on these trips they will grow in their relationship with Jesus because they are intentionally focusing on Him, serving others, and will be spending extended time in prayer, worship, and Scripture. Helping students understand that these moments don’t need to stop after the trip is over will allow them to better acclimate back to their normal routines. So make sure to highlight that the group will regather at least once when you return to check-in, debrief, and begin crafting plans on how students can continue strongly in their relationship with Jesus.

Utilize available resources.

There are tons of great resources out there that you can use to engage in follow up and post-trip conversations. One of our favorites is a book called Flipping Missions by our friends at LeaderTreks. This book is fantastic for both middle and high school students, and provides helpful guidance on preparing for the trip, devotions for during the trip, and follow-up devotionals for when you return home. Each chapter of the book is short and written intentionally for students, providing deep and meaningful truths coupled with helpful knowledge about what to expect, how to serve, and how to be missionary for Christ.

Another great resource is a book called When Helping Hurts. There are also YouTube videos from Life Church called Helping Without Hurting that can be utilized alongside the book to help make training more impactful. It is helpful to acknowledge that this resource is more suited for older students, but if you take time to discuss the book and material with your team it may be applicable to younger students as well. Taking advantage of resources will ensure that your team is prepared and ready to serve when you head out on your trip. Make sure that whatever resource you choose is suited to your team, and that it will help you ensure the trip is impactful and purposeful.

Leverage your leaders.

Often on trips we will see our students broken up into smaller groups to help the discipleship process take root. When you come back from a trip, encourage your leaders to not let those moments and relationships fall by the wayside. Instead challenge them to continue engaging with and following up with those students, even if they are not students who are in their regular groups. Part of the beauty of trips is that students can connect with different people including leaders, and these moments could be pivotal in the spiritual formation of our students. So challenge your leaders to engage in follow up, set up hangouts, grab coffee, and pray with and for the students they interacted with on the trip.

Engage in large group follow-up.

Many of the ideas above are focused on pre-trip or smaller group engagements (i.e., leaders following up). But there are benefits to bringing your whole group together to engage with each other, remember the trip, and think through how to continue growing as disciples of Jesus. These gatherings can be very unique depending on your context and may be more formal or may be really relaxed. They may also be different depending on the type of trip you’re coming back from (i.e., a weekend trip, a week-long trip, or a mission trip). Here are a few ideas for how to utilize large group gatherings after your trip.

  • Have a meal together. Consider not only bringing your group together to fellowship and rehash the trip, but think about inviting people from the church to join as well. In these moments, you can challenge your students to connect with people in the church and share their experiences from the trip. This will not only allow for intergenerational discipleship, but will also give those who supported your students an opportunity to have direct follow-up from the trip.
  • Choose a follow-up project to get involved in. Coming off of a mission trip, students are often chomping at the bit to continue helping and serving. Think through ways that students can serve and contribute in your community and at church. Gather the group together to actually engage in a service project and challenge your students to step up and consider serving somewhere long-term.
  • Collect stories from students. God works in amazing ways during trips, and we witness transformative moments in the lives of our students. Consider collecting their stories and sharing them with the youth group or the church at large. You can do this in a variety of ways: collect written testimonials and stories, record videos of students to share, or host a panel discussion to talk about what God did in through the students on the trip.
  • Have a post-trip devotional. One of the best things you can do for your students as you go on trips is have a devotional for during and after the trip. If it is possible to tie the two together, that will allow for a stronger connection overall. You can then utilize these devotionals in follow-up conversations at large group gatherings and ask questions of the group from the devotional.

Ask helpful questions.

Regardless of the type of trip or how long the meeting lasts, follow-up is always important. It is important because it helps to connect what students experienced on the trip with what is happening now in their lives. It also helps them think through how they can apply what they learned to their spheres of influence. But what questions should we ask them? Here are handful of questions that will help you and your leaders engage in helpful and meaningful follow up and application with your students.

  • What was your favorite part of the trip?
  • What changed in your relationship with Jesus?
  • What did God teach you?
  • How are you going to live differently as a result of the trip?
  • What do you need to share with others about this trip?
  • What do you hope others will see in you?
  • Why was this trip important?
  • What are you applying from this trip now that you are back to your normal life?
  • How can you serve back home?
  • Who can you share your story with?
  • How can you love and care for others better after this trip?