Our Picks: Reasons for Thankfulness in 2020

Have you felt like this has been a year for the record books…and not in a good way? Have you found yourself wishing that 2020 would just be done? Have you been frustrated or discouraged for far too much of this year?

We get it, 2020 has been a difficult year in many ways. But if we think honestly about this year, there are also many things for which we can and should be thankful. This week we want to share with you reasons we are thankful for this year and ways we have seen God show up. Our hope and prayer is that you find this to be encouraging and uplifting, and that it helps you to think through the ways you have seen God at work in your life during this season.

Ministry is still occurring.

Even though this year has brought challenges and differences, ministry is still happening. Yes, it looks very different in some ways, but ministry is still happening. We are still able to fulfill the calling that God has placed on our lives, and in many ways we have been stretched and grown during this season as we continue to pursue that calling. Ministry hasn’t died, but instead is growing and shifting in how it is done for the better.

Students and families are hungry for what you offer.

Students and families desire community and the truth of God’s Word. And during this season we have seen that so clearly. Students want to be encouraged and challenged, families desire a place for their students to grow, and students want to be with people who love and care about them. This is an opportunity for us to rethink how we are getting the truth of the Gospel to our students and how we are looking to engage in community with them. This hasn’t stopped because it’s 2020, rather we have the privilege to rethink and reshape how we do this for our people.

More time at home with families.

I’ll be honest: in the beginning this was awesome. Working from home, just changing from lounging sweatpants to work sweatpants, having unlimited amounts of coffee, lunch dates every day with Elise. But as time moved forward, I realized I began to get frustrated because home and work were no longer separate. I no longer had a place to retreat to after a long day because I stayed in the same spot…well I moved from the dinning room table to the couch, but still. Eventually I took a step back (in thanks to meeting with our counselor) and realized that working from home is a huge blessing and setting boundaries is key. I set work times, I put my phone on do not disturb after hours, and created the space I needed. This then allowed for me to be more focused on time spent with Elise, to be all in. I got to spend my days with the person I am closest to and to truly do all of life together. This allowed for us to take advantage of the time we had together and to leverage it for the good of everyone involved.

God is still at work.

This is something I need to remind myself of weekly, and sometimes daily. It is so easy to be discouraged in 2020 and to find yourself feeling down, overwhelmed, and questioning if what you are doing is working. While connecting with leaders, parents, and students it has been easy to ask “what has been difficult” and “how can we serve you?” But it has also been encouraging to ask “how have you seen God working” and “what is going well?” Asking these questions has helped us to see God is doing amazing things and that just because how we do ministry has changed doesn’t mean that God has stopped working. It can be easy to just see the hard things, but it is also important to remind ourselves that God is working, even during those hard moments.

We have been forced to assess what is needed and working.

I know this isn’t necessarily the way we wanted to go about this, but if we were to look at 2020, many of us would admit we have taken a hard look at what we have done in the past and changed it. And in many ways we have been forced to change it for the better. This year has given us insight into how ministry should look and perhaps has encouraged us to change what we have been doing. I have found that the big programs and weekly gatherings aren’t the capstone to ministry, but rather small groups and discipleship. We moved from a large gathering to small group meetings and it has strengthened our program so much that we will continue in a similar model moving forward. This is something we would not have considered if not for 2020, and now we are reaping the rewards from it.

As we think through this past year it is easy to just pull back and say “2020 is a wash and I can’t wait for 2021.” I get it, we’ve been there. But if we do that, we ignore the power and work of Christ in our lives and in the world. We want to encourage you to take some time to step back and think through reasons you are thankful for what happened in 2020. What were moments that should be celebrated? What did God do in your life this year? What were ministry wins in this season? How has God stretched and challenged you? How has God provided and blessed you and your family? What were moments that made you smile?

These questions allow for us to step back from all the craziness and discouragement this year has brought, and instead allow us to shift our focus to what God has done in and through us. Yes, 2020 is one for the books, but it is also one where God has continued to move and do great things. Let us remind ourselves of what He has done and thank Him for the continued blessings He gives to us.

Ways to Decompress & Rest

Feeling tired from the past nine months? Are the pressures of doing ministry becoming overwhelming? Has your home become more work place than refuge? For many of us in ministry, the reality of doing kingdom work in the middle of a pandemic has been taxing and overwhelming. The constant push-back, disappointment, discouragement, and cancellation of events and trips has been difficult to say the least.

These things compounded by our own emotions, personal struggles, and realities we are facing can be felt deep within our souls. The more I have reflected on this time in our lives the more I am convinced that we as ministers of the Gospel must be decompressing and modeling healthy rhythms for those we serve. But the great question before us is, how? How do we do this well? How do we do this when time is at a minimum? How do we do this when our sacred spaces have all but been removed?

Today, I want to share with you some ways to decompress and some tips for building healthy boundaries to protect your own spiritual, physical, emotional, and mental well-being.

Healthy ways to Decompress

  • Take a Sabbath. I wrote on this about a month ago, but the more I think about it and study Sabbath rest, the more I realize ministry leaders are not good at this. Let me encourage you to build this into your rhythms and find time to incorporate the Sabbath into your life.
  • Find a counselor. I could not be a bigger advocate for counseling. This is something that I firmly believe everyone in ministry should be doing. Having someone you can talk to who can help you think through difficult circumstances, help you see through the fog, and allow for you to have a place to freely express how you are feeling and where you are at is not only healthy, it is life giving as well.
  • Turn off your phone. This is a big one for me that I have talked about before. But so often our phones are tools that actually bring about more anxiety, worry, and doubt. Our phone buzzes with an email or text, and our hearts jump a bit. We see a message from a parent and we instantly wonder if everything is okay or if we messed up. While phones are great resources, they are also a direct avenue to our hearts and cause problematic emotions and thoughts to creep in. So consider turning your phone off or putting it on “do not disturb” on your days off. If this is something you believe you cannot do, then consider sharing that you will be doing this with your superiors, volunteers, and students so they know your rhythm. Or consider turning it off for a portion of your day off so you can focus on what’s important.
  • Find a new hobby that can be completed. This is something I have found helpful among ministry leaders. Our jobs are never done. Unlike many other careers where there is a metric to tell you when you have completed your goal or target, we don’t necessarily have that. What that means is we are constantly working to accomplish a task that is never fully accomplished. And that can be exceptionally frustrating. So consider taking up a hobby like lawn care, reading non-ministry related books, creating something, cooking, visiting all the new restaurants in your area, or trying to find all the ice cream places in your state and try them. Yes, some of these are crazy but who doesn’t like ice cream? But the point behind them is they all have a completion point. Doing something new that has an end goal will help you feel at piece completing something.
  • Write things down. This is huge, and I will be honest, I am not great at this. I don’t do well with journaling or putting my feelings to paper. But Elise is. She has journaled for as long as I have known her, and has done it for most of her life. Being able to write down how you feel, the tensions that are in your life, the victories, the low points, and just to put your thoughts to paper will help you to process and think through what is happening. It also gives you a resource to look back on and reflect on how God has answered your prayers throughout your life.
  • Pray. I am not throwing this in because we are Christians but because this is true. And I think often times we can be just as guilty as others when it comes to forgetting to go to God. We tend to do this in difficult times, but we must remember that we need to be praying constantly to build spiritual protection, awareness, and depth in our lives to help us weather the difficult moments. So let me encourage you to build healthy prayer rhythms into your life to help you decompress and process what is happening. Carve out time each day or throughout the day to take your requests, praises, and deepest longings of the heart to God.

Tips for Setting Boundaries

  • Be honest. Often times as leaders in ministry we aren’t honest with ourselves or our superiors about how we are doing. In order to actually be able to rest and decompress we need to be honest with ourselves that we need it. And we must bring in others to avoid getting to the place of exhaustion and burnout.
  • Take a spiritual checkup. This is so important for us as leaders. How is your spiritual walk with Jesus doing? And I am not asking if you are reading your Bible and going to church. I am asking if you are feeling nourished and refreshed by God’s Word and by His Spirit. Do you still find joy in your walk with Jesus? Is it something that is feeding your soul? These types of questions will help us to see where we are at in our relationship with Jesus and how we answer will be reflected into our physical lives as well (i.e., no time with Jesus leads to frustration and exhaustion, time with Jesus helps to remove the stress and weariness).
  • Bring in your spouse or close friends. Our spouses are wonderful people. Without them we wouldn’t know what to do. And our spouses know when we aren’t doing okay. But for some reason, we try to shield them from how we are doing and in doing so, alienate them and cause them to worry. Our spouses love us and we are a team. So be honest with them. Let them walk with you. Allow for them to be a sounding board of wisdom, discernment, and encouragement. If you are unmarried, find a close friend or group of friends you trust who will walk with you and you can bring in. Don’t try to go through this journey alone.
  • Ask for help. It is okay to admit when you need help. If you are feeling overwhelmed or like there is too much to accomplish, bring others in. Ask your volunteers to help with things. Consider bringing in some of your students to help run different aspects of your program or to organize that one closet that is always a mess. Go to your supervisor and be honest with them that you need help. Allow for others to step in and help you when it is needed.

Fall and Winter Programming During COVID-19

This fall we had to implement a whole new style of programming for our student ministry. In years past we had gone the traditional route of meeting on Sundays and midweek. But as our state, like the rest of the world, grappled with how to handle the pandemic, it quickly became clear that our traditional methods would not be able to continue.

So we took a risk. After sifting through no less than 10 different plans, we finally settled on one we believed would work. We switched from meeting on-site to meeting as small groups in houses throughout our community, calling them Home Groups. We believed this would be something that would continue to champion our values and mission, and after much prayer we initiated this new phase. And honestly, it’s worked. We have seen steady numbers, consistent attendance, and a deepening of discipleship-oriented relationships.

In order to do this and do it well, we had multiple steps to consider. These steps weren’t all handled the best, and in hindsight some of these are things I wish I had done. The reason I want to share this now is because as we are entering cold and flu season, there is an increased chance of programming changing for many of us. So here are some steps to help you think through program changes.

Prayer, lots of prayer.

This may seem pretty obvious, but the truth is sometimes we can get stuck in planning mode. We run ahead when we believe we have found the perfect plan without seeking God’s wisdom and direction. And perhaps you did find the perfect plan, but did you stop to thank God? The reason I want to remind us to pray is because so often during this new stage of ministry in a pandemic, we can get hyper-focused on just getting ideas and content out as quickly as possible, and we don’t stop to consult with our God. Prayer is needed (perhaps even more so now than ever before), and without prayer even our greatest plans will not succeed. So remember to go before the throne often.

Over communication.

This is one I wish I had done better at. Looking back we communicated well with most of our church staff and with our volunteers, but I really wish we had done better at communicating with parents. I can make all the excuses I want like “we put up videos on social media,” or “we sent out emails,” and “it was in the newsletter.” But the reality is our people are so inundated with communication right now, we need to be able to find ways to clearly communicate with them. In looking back, one thing I would have done is host a parent forum of some type to articulate our plan and allow for questions. This would have helped to head off all the follow-up conversations I have been having two months into our new programming style. I also would have been clear and direct in explaining our decision(s) for why we chose this model. One of the reasons we moved to Home Groups was to help with mitigation should someone come down with COVID. I didn’t share this in the beginning, but in many follow-up conversations when I do share this, it helps parents understand and feel more at ease. So commit to communicating well with everyone in order to have a more seamless approach to however your ministry will look.

Team and parent buy-in.

This is huge and goes hand-in-hand with my prior point. If you are going to change how things look for your ministry, you need buy-in. When we shared what we were doing with our new fall plan with our leaders, we lost some because of the changes. We also had to answer a lot of questions from our team, which actually helped us shape how we were looking to implement it. By bringing our team into the conversation and listening to them, the majority of our group stayed with us and has excelled at our new model. The team’s buy-in has actually helped our Home Groups to grow and flourish.

With parents, I cannot express enough how important it is to have buy-in from them. I have talked with numerous parents over the past few months and as I explain the “why” behind what we are doing and the results we are seeing, parents begin to get excited and ask how they can help. This is where over-communicating is key, and will allow parents to know and understand, and then jump on board. Having parents who support your program and the changes to it will help it succeed.

Leadership approval.

This is one that sometimes we may forget in the rush to get things changed. Make sure that leadership knows what you are doing and approves of it. That will help with making sure that communication is consistent across the board, and that they support what you are doing. It can be easy to just implement a change, but if it doesn’t align with what church leadership is desiring as a whole, you may have to walk your plan back. And nothing deflates a program like multiple changes or things being undone. So bring leadership in, and make sure they are onboard with what you desire to implement.

Consistency and stability.

Consistency is something that people today are lacking. Students are facing constant change with how school is being done. Colleges are changing protocols and rules left and right. Families are trying to adapt to new ways of working from home and doing school at the same time. States are changing regulations all the time. Change is happening constantly and families are desperate for consistency and stability. So when you implement changes, look to have them be consistent for the long haul. Don’t change things weekly, don’t randomly insert a change of plans. Instead, look to provide a stable and consistent change that will help families and your program.

I would also encourage you to make sure that whatever you are implementing matches what the rest of the church is doing. For example, if you are not requiring masks for youth group but the church is for all other functions, this will simply add to confusion for families and the church. So make sure what you are implementing matches the overall plan and function of the church. We want to provide stability and consistency from all levels of our churches so our people know what to expect. This will also help to strengthen the church rather than add another area for there to be division.

Allow for flexibility.

I know this almost seems to go against what I was just saying about consistency and stability, but hear me out. We switched to a Home Group model of ministry in which our groups play games, fellowship, watch a teaching video, and then discuss it. We have afforded our leaders flexibility in how their group functions and in how they engage with the video. Some groups hate games, so instead they fellowship and share a meal. Some groups never use the study questions we provide because they know their group so well that they use their own questions. Other groups have asked if they could go out for ice cream afterward with parent approval. Allowing for this type of flexibility not only allows for there to be ongoing discipleship, but it also strengthens the group as a whole. This type of flexibility doesn’t change what we are doing but instead allows for groups to grow and for students to witness faith in action.

How to Pursue Healthy Communication

This past Sunday I had the privilege of preaching in our church’s main services on the topic of “sharing our story,” which was focused on how we can communicate the Gospel story in healthy and proactive ways. So often our communication styles are not helpful because we allow for a “me-centric” approach to conversations, and I was able to share how I believe Jesus desires us to have healthy conversations both within and outside of the church.

As ministry leaders, we must model healthy communication at all levels in order to help facilitate the discipleship process. Today, I want to share with you some ways we can engage in healthy conversations from an interaction between Nicodemus and Jesus in John 3. These tips are not all-inclusive, but are simply a starting point for how we can begin to navigate the conversations and interactions we have with one another.

Be someone who is willing to have conversations.

As ministry leaders we must be willing to engage in conversations, whether they are with people with whom we disagree, or people who share similar views. We must be willing to engage with people where they are at in a loving, Christ-centered way. Maintaining an open door policy in regard to conversations, questions, and direction will set the precedent that you are someone who is willing to walk with others.

Ask good questions.

Part of healthy communication is the ability to both ask and respond to questions in a proactive manner. Questions are a sign that someone is seeking knowledge, clarity, and understanding in regard to the topic at hand. Questions should not be feared, but welcomed, and the manner in which we respond to them will continue to establish rapport and trust with others.

In a conversation it is also beneficial for you to ask clarifying questions as you seek to provide wisdom and insight. Rather than simply providing answers, seek to understand before you respond. Asking good questions can help you uncover the heart behind the questions you are being asked, which will then allow for you to better minister to and care for your people. Asking questions will also help you avoid assumptions, which can lead to frustration, misunderstanding, and ultimately a breakdown in communication.

Use encouraging language.

Throughout Jesus’ interaction with Nicodemus, Jesus challenges him to think critically about his questions. Jesus doesn’t respond harshly or negatively toward Nicodemus, even though the answers to his questions may seem obvious to us. As we engage in conversations with others, we must be mindful of the language that we use. Negative language will push people away and give them a sour taste, not only toward the church, but also toward the Gospel. This is not to say that we do not speak truth, nor engage in difficult conversations. However, the manner and conduct with which we approach these conversations can allow for a healthier, fuller, and more honest dialogue to unfold.

Practice active listening.

We are a society and a church that as a whole struggles to listen well to others. Often we say that we listen, but the manner in which we do is passive listening. Passive listening entails looking for flaws in the person’s conversation or argument, listening to win, and finishing sentences before a thought is completed. This type of listening is neither productive or proactive. This type of listening is harmful and will not establish trust or continued opportunities to dialogue, as people do not feel heard and instead feel devalued in the moment.

What we need pursue as ministry leaders is active listening. Active listening entails paying attention to the other person’s statement(s) and asking clarifying questions in order to deduce the heart issue. The clarifying questions will allow for you to gain a better understanding of the issues at hand, as well as value the other person as you engage with their thought process and value their input. Active listening involves hearing the other person with a goal to understand them, before being understood.

Establish relational equity and trust.

It is important even prior to a conversation to be a person that others know they can trust because they have seen you model a trustworthy life. People should know they can trust you because you are not prone to gossiping or talking poorly about others, and they know that when they come to you they can expect the same treatment. This also involves following up with individuals, not in a nosy way, but in a way that demonstrates you care and value them enough to continue walking with them. This allows you to set the precedent that it is not a singular conversation, but a relationship that you value and respect.

Share your story.

It is important in healthy conversations to be transparent and vulnerable as you dialog. This requires tact and timing because we should not simply rush to share our story and in so doing, not allow others to share theirs. We should always defer to the other person and allow for them to share their story as they have come to us as a ministry leader. When it is appropriate, we can share our story of how God has worked in our life, or share other personal examples, to help others grow. It is important to remember the person came to you seeking clarity and understanding, not necessarily personal anecdotes, so be mindful of how much you share, and how long you share. You never want to dominate the conversation, but look instead to utilize your story to showcase the Gospel and its power.

The Importance of Sabbath

This past week I was asked a question that I’ve been asked often during this season: how are you really doing? As I was preparing to answer with my usual, “I am just taking it one day at a time” response, I was hit with just how spent I had been feeling. I was busier than ever and with more and more being placed on my plate, I was just feeling overwhelmed.

Later on, I began to process the reasons why I was feeling this way. Sure, I have been putting in more hours. Yes, ministry looks different and I am doing things I never expected to make sure it’s a success. Of course I am pouring out more than I ever have to care for the people I shepherd. And there will always be difficult moments and conversations that leave you feeling inadequate and deflated. But was that it? Were these the reasons I was feeling so tired, overwhelmed, and weary?

This past Wednesday I found myself listening to a podcast by my friend Walt Mueller from CPYU. It was podcast about Sabbath with his guest A.J. Swoboda. The conversation hit my heart in a way it hadn’t before. Of course, as a ministry worker I am familiar with the concept of a Sabbath and have worked to make one of my days off a Sabbath each week. But hearing them share about how during this pandemic ministry personnel are not adhering to this commandment from God just broke me.

Walt shared a comment from A.J.’s book on how the Sabbath is the only commandment ministry leaders are encouraged to break, when breaking any of the others are grounds for being fully dismissed from ministry. I realized that during this season I haven’t been resting well. I haven’t honored this commandment.

Instead, I have poured out everything to make ministry work during this season. I’ve put in more hours than I care to admit. My phone is always on. Email is going constantly. I have been available all the time without fail. While these all sound good to an extent, without the constant filling from a Sabbath, we will inevitably find ourselves drained and weary.

I want to encourage you to rest and to incorporate a Sabbath into your regular rhythm. Turn off your phone or put it on “do not disturb.” Do not do ministry work on your Sabbath. Bring your spouse and family into this with you. Let your co-workers and ministry leaders know what you are doing and lead out as you encourage them to do likewise. We are called to honor God not just through our work ethics and hours, but also through how we honor the Sabbath and apply it to our lives.

My prayer is that this post doesn’t add guilt, but challenges us all to apply the Sabbath to our lives and to allow the deepness and richness of it to overwhelm us in positive ways. I want to encourage you to listen to CPYU’s podcast and to allow God’s truth to speak to your heart.

How do you apply the Sabbath to your life? What does your Sabbath look like?

Fact or Fiction: Bigger Programs = Better Programs

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

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

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

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

The size of a ministry does not represent spiritual growth.

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

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

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

People over programs.

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

Small numbers do not represent small growth.

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

Be generous with what you do have.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be a student of culture.

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

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

Listen well.

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

Engage with students.

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

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

Be a life-long learner.

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

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

Stand in the gap.

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

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

Fact or Fiction: Extrovert or Nothing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fact or Fiction: Student Ministry is a Stepping Stone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Small Group Game Ideas

Last week we looked at socially distanced games for groups that can gather in larger numbers. These games can work for some ministries, but other youth groups have made the switch to meeting in smaller groups to accommodate state and federal guidelines.

With that being said, I would like to share some game ideas for smaller groups. Some of these are the same as last week because they can also be played in small groups with minor tweaking. This isn’t an all encompassing list, but merely an attempt to share some resources that we have found to be helpful and beneficial.

Zoom Games

The reality for many of our groups is that we will be meeting virtually at some point this coming semester. We don’t like to think that way, but it is better to be prepared for it than not. So I would encourage you to think through different Zoom Games that you can play. An easy option is utilizing PowerPoint style games that you can screen-share with a group. Another option is doing trivia over Zoom or a “Would You Rather” style game. The cool thing with all of these ideas is you don’t necessarily need to come up with them. Download Youth Ministry has an entire section on their website where you can purchase these games and many more. I would encourage you to start building up your resources now to prepare for the fall. And if you don’t end up meeting online, these games can transition easily to in-person gatherings as well.

Charades

Who doesn’t love a classic game of charades? The general idea is that you will have someone acting out an action, character, or activity that they have pulled from a hat. These can be pre-made by you and your volunteers or you can have students submit suggestions. There are lots of different ways to play Charades like as small groups guessing, or as a large group guessing, or even reverse charades where one person guesses while the whole group acts it out. Whichever one you choose, make sure to remind the people acting out that they can not make noise or they forfeit that round.

Apples to Apples

This is a classic party game and is fantastic for small groups. It does require you to purchase the card game, but it will provide lasting fun for your group. There are also many different editions that you can choose from depending on what your group will enjoy more.

The premise of the game is this: The judge picks a green apple card from the top of the stack, reads the word aloud, and places it face up on the table. Players (except the judge) quickly choose the red apple card from their hand that is best described by the word on the green apple card played by the judge. Players place these red apple cards face down on the table. The judge mixes the red apple cards so no one knows who played which card. The judge turns over each red apple card, reads it aloud, and then selects the one he or she thinks is best described by the word on the green apple card. The player of the selected red apple card is awarded the green apple card played by the judge.

Yard Games

Being able to gather outdoors while the weather is nice is a huge blessing in many ways. Games outdoors are a huge win and don’t need to be planned out in great detail because many of them can run themselves. Some great yard games include cornhole/bags, ladder ball, giant Jenga, badminton, socially distanced volleyball or basketball, Kan Jam, Frisbee, horseshoes, or Spikeball. All of these options allow for social distancing and a ton of fun.

Heads Up

If you are not familiar with Heads Up, you need to download it now and play it. It is a ton of fun and guaranteed to get your group laughing. Heads Up is an app that you can download, but it does cost money. However, there are multiple free versions that you can download as well including the Charades App, Guess Word! Fun Group Games, Charades – Heads Up, and Charades! Kids. I would just encourage you to try them out prior to the night-of.

The way this game works is someone holds the phone up to their head while the app is running and a random word or words will pop up on the screen. The guesser will need to guess the word(s) by the clues that the audience gives. Most apps will let you know how many you get right, and you can have a friendly competition among your group.

Costume Challenge

This is an activity that can be done both in-person and online. I have had many of my leaders host online costume parties, and they change the theme each week to make them more fun and engaging. You can also do this in person, and if you have to wear masks you could even see about having students tie the masks into their costumes.

Scavenger Hunts

Doing scavenger hunts is a really easy and fun way to get students involved and moving, and they can be done in person or digitally. If you are meeting at a home, you could give a list of objects and tasks to your small group to find or complete around the home and/or neighborhood. If you are doing it digitally, you could have them find different items around their house and the first to show it on screen wins the round. Last week we shared about a great website/app called Scavr that allows you to create scavenger hunts that utilize the app and all that data and points are accumulated through an online leader board.

Users must download the app and sign up in order to participate. They then create a team name and will be able to see the challenges that you have put into the game. The beauty of this app is that it tallies the results and shows a leader board throughout the event. It removes the headache of trying to create and tally everything on your own, and makes it really easy.

Trivia

Who doesn’t love a good trivia night? You can set this up for small groups or for individuals to compete. If you Google trivia questions, there are countless websites for you to choose from or you can pop on over to DYM and find a ton of games that you can plug and play for your group.

Message Bingo

This has recently been making the rounds in various online groups, but the overall gist is that you create a Bingo board with different things that will pop up throughout the message or the night. You can add squares like “the pastor said ‘umm'” or “everyone wore a mask” or “pop culture reference” or “bad joke by pastor.” You can have as much fun with this as possible, and you could even offer prizes as well. There are lots of online generators for Bingo cards, but this website offers up to 30 free printable cards that you can change the layout and design on.

The Hat Game

This is a really fun game to play with any size group, but in smaller groups you can play multiple rounds. The premise is fairly simple: there are three rounds of game-play and two teams. In the first round one player will draw pieces of paper out the hat and try to get their team members to guess what is written on them by only using Charades. The next round is the player tries to have their team guess using Pictionary, and the final round they can speak but not say the word or what it sounds like. Each round is timed and then you rotate teams.

The fun part about this game is you can switch up the categories, the method for sharing clues, the timing, and much more. It is a game you could continue to use no matter the circumstance, and each time it will be an entirely different game for your group. For more ideas and a more complete set of instructions, check out this website.

Xbox/Wii/Switch Games

I am not normally one to encourage playing video games, especially during youth group time. But there are games on Kinect, Wii and Wii U, and Nintendo Switch that are great group games to play because they are somewhat active and allow for four or more people to play. I will say this though: be cautious with what games you choose and make sure that they are games parents and your ministry approve of. You never want an activity to become a stumbling block.

Would You Rather

These are great conversation starters and allow for you to actively engage your students with both fun and serious questions. I would suggest setting ground rules for your group that include no making fun of someone’s answer, no course or crude joking, and always answer honestly. A couple of websites that I enjoy using include Conversation Starters World and Icebreaker Ideas. Both of them have solid ideas for questions with a broad range of topics and age ranges.

Highs and Lows

If you aren’t familiar with this idea, it is a great way to begin conversations within a small group. Many of my leaders use this each week because it gets students talking and engaging with the group. It can look different depending on your group and its dynamic, but the basic functionality is this: each student and leader will share anywhere from 1-3 high moments from the week and 1-3 low moments from the week. They can be funny or serious and they can lead to some fantastic laughs and amazing deep conversations.

House Party

House Party is an app that allows you to video chat and play games with your group. I would recommend utilizing the privacy settings and make your room locked so only certain participants are allowed in. But with this app you can play different games together as a group and video chat at the same time. It is very similar to Zoom but doesn’t require screen sharing for games. Everyone will need to create an account and have the app downloaded in order for this to work for your group. So make sure your students know to do that ahead of time.

House Party gives you different game options like Heads Up, Uno, Trivia, Quick Draw, and much more. It is worth downloading and giving it a test run before you implement this with your group so you know its inner workings and limitations.

What are some of your favorite small group games?