Making Leader Training More than Just Informational [Part 2]

Last week we kicked off this two-part series by thinking through a few ways to make leader training more than just informative. Information is helpful and beneficial but it’s important to do more than simply focus on giving information. If all people do is receive information there can’t really be any transformation because there’s no care, practical application, or really any reason for your people to keep coming.

My hope with these two posts is to encourage you to think about how and why you do leader training. The ideas we are presenting are meant to help you think outside the box. And perhaps incorporate new aspects that will not only generate better leaders, but will help develop leaders who develop leaders, all while valuing and caring for them holistically.

Pray together.

Prayer is something I cannot overemphasize enough. I think every ministry has this intention and every ministry leader, hopefully, prays often for their ministry. But when was the last time you prayed together with your volunteers? Is it consistent? Is it allowing the Spirit to guide and direct you, your team, and ministry?

When you gather for training this presents the perfect opportunity to pray with and for your team. This is an exciting opportunity to engage in prayer in new and different ways. You can pray all together for the ministry, or you can pray in smaller groups for one another. You can go on a prayer walk around the building praying for where your students gather and for the entire church, or you can even spend some time in silence praying. Trust me when I tell you that if you consistently pray with your team, be prepared to see God move in powerful and bold ways.

Practice spiritual rhythms and formation.

This runs hand-in-hand with prayer while moving past just one rhythm, and seeks to engage your team holistically from a spiritual perspective. Often training sessions can focus on how to lead small groups, caring for students, safety requirements, and other areas that are very important. But when was the last time you stopped and intentionally trained on spiritual rhythms?

Training your leaders on prayer, spiritual gifts, fasting, journaling, time with Jesus, and various other aspects is hugely important. I think it is easy to assume our leaders know all of these things and further still we may assume they are practicing them. But if they were never taught them, how can we expect them to teach and lead our students through these rhythms? Let me encourage you to take time to actually walk through spiritual rhythms and help your leaders grow in formational ways so they can lead your students deeper in their walk with Jesus.

Change locations.

This is an easy idea but not often one we think about. It is easy to default to trainings at church or in the youth room. But what if you moved it to someone’s home? Better yet, a home with a pool, or a fire pit, or a backyard where you could play games together. Being able to take training offsite or outside of where you meet normally allows you to be creative in your training, it gives your leaders freedom to think and process in a new environment, and it provides a change of scenery which can often lead to new thought processes and perspectives.

If you can’t meet offsite, consider changing the environment you train in. Move things around, bring in comfortable seating, change the lighting, make it comfortable and inviting with decorations. These little touches help you to show intentionality and change a space that perhaps we have become used to.

Provide resources.

Resourcing our leaders is a great way to both help them grow personally and get something into their hands that will be beneficial going forward. This could be handouts and studies from Barna Group, devotional guides for them to use with their small groups, a podcast, helpful tools and resources from Fuller Youth Institute, various assessments like DISC or spiritual gifts, books to read as a team, or even resources specific to your own ministry. These resources aren’t meant to just be things you get into their hands but resources that will help them grow and continue to excel as the leaders God has designed them to be.

What aspects do you make sure to include in your leader trainings?

Making Leader Training More than Just Informational [Part 1]

We just finished hosting annual fall training for all our student leaders and it made me reflect on how our structure of leader training has changed throughout the years. We have gotten into the rhythm of hosting quarterly trainings and while they all differ in focus, the heart and vision remains the same. Each session will focus on some sort of training or equipping, but will also incorporate other elements to make them more engaging, fun, relational, and formational.

Today I want to share a few easy ways to make your leader training more than just informational. I am not arguing for the elimination of information and equipping, but instead would argue that we need to make our training more holistic in its approach. We should think about the information but also the relationships, the spiritual formation of our leaders, and the element of fun.

Provide food.

One of the best ways to make leader training inviting, relational, and community-focused is to have food. Food is attractive to people and also helps to break down barriers. There is reason that Jesus taught around a meal or used imagery of food to help people understand what he was talking about. Food just makes gatherings warmer and more inviting.

So have snacks, share a meal, provide coffee and donuts. Be intentional with the food, don’t just throw out leftovers from youth group, but show your leaders you care in a very tangible way. You don’t need to blow your entire budget on the food, but be thoughtful with what you get.

Have fun.

I think fun is drastically underrated when training happens. Often when we are training we focus on information, policies, and making sure everyone is on the same page. Perhaps you have noticed like I have, how those types of meetings cause people’s eyes to glaze over or they start nodding off. But what if you threw in some fun activities as well?

Try incorporating some type of group game like charades or Scattegories. Set up a volleyball net or 9 Square and just play together at different points. Or set up a church-wide scavenger hunt for your leaders with prizes. These moments help take a mundane, typical training and make it more inviting and fun, which encourages your leaders to continue to come and participate.

Incorporate team building.

Team building can get a bad rap at times. I know I have definitely been at trainings, conferences, and gatherings where the team building was actually more traumatizing than informative and unifying. If you have ever done team building with mouse traps, you know what I am talking about. But there are so many more options to make team building actually focused on building a healthy team.

There are classics like the human knot. There are some newer options like doing a Shark Tank-themed game. You could present challenges to the team that they need to accomplish with certain limitations placed on them. There is the activity that has a teammate leading another teammate who has a blindfold on. A quick Google search lists many different options including ones that focus more on unity, ones designed to make you think and problem solve, and even ones that require little preparation and are easy to run. These are all great ideas and can lead to healthy interactions, debriefs, and unification of your team.

Bring in someone new.

Sometimes a change of the speaker or leader helps in great ways. We have a cool opportunity to work with a local school that is focused on providing education free of charge to families in financial need. We have many students from that school attend our program, so we brought someone in from the staff to share about how we can best minister to and care for those students. It was awesome and so much fun, and frankly better than anything I would have said about what we could do.

So who could you bring in? Maybe it is a volunteer to talk about how to lead small groups, perhaps it is a parent or another youth pastor, or maybe you could bring in a school employee or a local counselor. These new faces will allow your leaders to see the benefit of hearing from others and hopefully help them grow and become better leaders.

What sets your trainings apart? How can you encourage your leaders to attend them?

How Student Ministers can Engage Their Community

It can be easy for ministries to focus on what is happening within their environment only, or within the church. But our mission isn’t simply to focus on what is happening within our walls but instead to look outside of them as we seek to reach the world with the Good News.

We may train our students and volunteers to reach others, but unintentionally focus on just the ministry we lead. If we are seeking to lead by example and want to model what we teach, we must step out in faith and engage with our community in proactive ways. But how do we do that? Today I want to share a few ways–some more simplistic and others more encompassing–we can actively engage and reach our communities.

Be a part of the community.

For some leaders this is easier said than done because they live in their community. For others this will be more difficult because they don’t necessarily live in the town where their church is located. That is the case for us. We live about fifteen minutes outside of our church’s community, but that reality shouldn’t stop us from being a part of the community. Instead we have to be more intentional in being a part of it.

Make it a priority to go grocery shopping in your town, go to the local parks, visit the schools, go to National Night Out, go to Christmas tree lightings, visit local corn mazes, and whatever else may happen in your community. The key isn’t to do all of things, but instead to be intentional in engaging with your community at points and venues that matter most. This not only engenders you to the community but allows you to become a part of it. In so doing you have now become a vital and needed part of your community.

Utilize local businesses.

I love to do this because it helps our church reach people, and it also allows us to give back to the community. This can be done in a variety of ways including using a local printer for your bigger projects, having local restaurants or dessert shops cater your events, utilizing local promotional product vendors instead of national agencies, and by engaging with community centers to rent them out. There are other ways you can utilize businesses but the important part is that you are connecting with them and building relational and spiritual bridges that provide opportunities for your church to be the hands and feet of Jesus.

Connect with schools.

Schools are a natural place for youth workers to get connected. For some youth workers this is easier to accomplish because they may only have a single school district that is connected to their church. For others, this is pretty difficult because they may draw from multiple school districts. Our church draws from five major districts and that doesn’t include the private schools, Christian schools, and homeschool students. If that is where you find yourself, you may be scratching your head at how to reach out to all of your schools. Let me encourage you to not look at this as something only you can tackle. Work with your team and leaders and share the load.

Regardless of where you find yourself as a youth worker, we all can connect with schools in really simple and meaningful ways. Email the administration to encourage them and let them know you want to be a resource, and drop off donuts for the front office or the teachers. Reach out to the Christian clubs and ask how you can help them out, drop off fresh baked cookies with notes from your church staff team, connect with the athletic director and see if they need a chaplain for their games. Ask your students how you can help them make an impact, and make sure to swing by for See You at the Pole. Even seemingly small things can have a huge impact when it comes to connecting with schools.

Collaborate with parachurch ministries.

If I am being honest, this is not something I am very good at. I often forget to reach out to these ministries in partnership and that is a big misstep. Recently, I was able to connect with our local Young Life chapter, and it was an awesome opportunity to share life with one another and consider how we can work together for the Gospel. As we chatted, I realized just how many of my students were participating in this parachurch ministry and it dawned on me that still other students were probably participating in others. If that is the case, why not come together to have a greater impact and reach?

Many parachurch ministries will reach students we may not have the opportunity or ability to reach, and their desire is to connect students with a local church. It is a perfect discipleship track, and one that churches and ministries can collaborate with and assist. Working with parachurch ministries gives both of the ministries an opportunity to not only reach more students but to have a more profound impact on the community.

Serve in the community.

This is one that probably feels the most burdensome because it adds a lot more onto our shoulders. But the truth of the matter is that it is only burdensome because we view it that way. Service for the kingdom of God is never meant to weigh us down or to feel overwhelming, but instead is a wonderful opportunity to help the Gospel go forth.

Often we may view service as another aspect of our job, and while that may be true to a certain extent, I believe we can leverage it so as to make service outside of our job feel taxing and unfair. But service is a gift and an opportunity. It is a way to put our gifts from God to use and to bless others. It is allowing the Spirit to work in and through us as we seek to love and care for others. So my encouragement first and foremost is to not let service become just another task, but instead let it flow from a heart that has been transformed as you love others. The more that you embody this mentality the more it will be replicated in students as they serve.

With that said, it is important for us to find ways to engage with our community through serving within it. It could be as a coach for one of the sports teams (and it doesn’t need to just be for students). It could be by volunteering in afterschool programs. Perhaps it is by hosting a lunch for the teachers in the school. Maybe you serve at the local foodbank. Or you could do neighborhood cleanups. The key with serving in the community is doing so of your own accord to help people see Jesus. It allows you to engage with people and to begin building relationships with the ultimate goal of helping them know Jesus.

When It’s Time to Say Goodbye to a Volunteer

Have you ever found yourself in a situation when you knew you needed to tell a volunteer they couldn’t serve anymore? How did it make you feel? Do you think you handled it well? How was it received? Do you still have a relationship with that leader?

As ministry leaders we are in a very unique circumstance in that most of the people who “work” for us are volunteers. That means that when it comes to having to let someone go, the matter is infinitely more complex. How do you fire someone who volunteers their time? Can you actually fire a volunteer?

The reality is that these moments are multifaceted and difficult. They involve complex relationships, multiple layers of emotions, and of course the struggle of figuring out what to do and say when that volunteer is no longer a volunteer. Will you find a suitable replacement? What will students think? How will your relationship be with that leader?

Part of being the leader of a ministry means that we need to step into situations that can be difficult and uncomfortable. But just because they aren’t the easiest of situations doesn’t mean we avoid them. Instead we must face them and do our best to honor and love the other person as we lead. In fact, I would assert that a godly leader has an obligation to have these conversations because it models a Christlike attitude and leadership quality to our people. Jesus didn’t shy away from tough conversations but instead leaned into them and used them to help people grow and flourish. But how do we do that? Today, my hope is to offer you some suggestions on how to best enter into these situations and care well for the other person, yourself, and your ministry.

Let nothing be a surprise to the other person.

A good supervisor should always be intentional with guiding and growing their team members. This applies to both encouragement and critiques. When a person who reports to you needs guidance and refining, you should be seeking to help them grow and improve. That means that if you are letting a volunteer go, they shouldn’t be caught off guard by the reasons you present because they should have been previously approached.

Be honest.

These moments are never fun or easy, but they can often be more convoluted as we try to soften the approach by not being fully honest. I am not saying we lie during this times, but I do think we can be not fully honest and transparent because we still want to care for our people. But lack of honesty can often lead to confusion and more hurt. So in these moments look to be honest and transparent with your volunteer, not to be cutting or to hurt them, but to honor them and give them the dignity of being honest with them.

Be clear and concise.

Often in these moments subtlety and ambiguity are not your friends. I am well aware that we try our best to care for our people and to not cause them hurt or pain, but to not be clear or try to soften the moment without being fully honest isn’t going to help anyone. And I would also assert that not being fully honest or clear will actually do more harm in the long run because that leader may feel unjustly wronged because they don’t know what really occurred.

So when you talk to your leader be clear in what you say and concise. Do not go on and on in your conversation with them, but instead be concise and allow them to seek out more information and clarity if they need it. Now, I think it should also be said that being clear and concise is not an excuse to be hurtful or overtly negative toward your leader. When we are concise and clear, we must also remember that the person we are talking to is one of God’s children and we should still seek to be loving and kind with them. Neither option cancels the other out, but rather should be utilized together.

Remind them of what they are called to.

It is helpful to remind your leader of what the expectations are for leaders in your ministry and to show them where they were not meeting those expectations. In these moments it would be helpful for your leaders to know what they are being held to. That means that as leaders we should have some type of stated or printed set of expectations for our leaders that they have had access to. That way everyone knows what they are being asked to do as leaders and it gives you a place to refer to in these moments. But also use this time to challenge them. It isn’t simply a moment to remind them of what they weren’t doing, but instead a challenge to them to grow and meet the requirements and potentially revisit serving with you at a later time.

Follow up as needed.

This is on a case-by-case basis. Sometimes follow up conversations are warranted and sometimes they aren’t. There will be moments where you and your leader can continue with your friendship and other times when you cannot. Be discerning in what needs to happen after the fact and continue to honor them and their wishes as you move forward.

Pray.

I think most of us are aware that prayer is a vital part of our lives and ministries, and it is kind of implied that we will be praying about these types of moments when they happen. But when I say pray for these moments I mean before, during, and after.

When it comes to having these conversations with a leader, it typically shouldn’t take us by surprise. We know it is coming and should be covering the conversation in prayer. Pray for your heart and theirs. Pray for clarity, wisdom, and discernment. Pray for patience and the ability to hear one another. Pray that this conversation doesn’t affect their view of God and the church. And then continue to pray this way during and after the conversation. Do not let your prayer for this leader stop simply because the meeting ended.

The Importance of Discipleship

This past weekend I had the privilege of baptizing a former student who had become a leader in our youth group. This is a young man whose life has been radically transformed by the Gospel and someone I have witnessed grow and mature into the godly young man he is today. As we were walking out into the bay to prepare for his baptism, I asked him how he was feeling. “A little nervous because everyone is here, but excited because I know what this means.” I was, and am, so proud of this guy and how he faithfully and unashamedly follows Jesus.

As I reflected on this momentous occasion in his life, I couldn’t help but think about all the moments that led up to this one. Many people have continually poured into his life and helped guide him through some deep valleys and celebrated with him on the mountain tops. But as I thought about how people poured into his life, I had to ask this question: what would have happened if no one poured into his life? If no one poured into his life, I don’t know if he would be where he is today. It was through constant discipleship that this young man became such a strong follower of Jesus.

You see, this young man was not a bad kid but he could struggle to behave and he could push around other students due to his size when he was younger. It would have been easy to dismiss him as a “bad kid” or to find a “better” student to walk with. But, for myself and his leaders, we saw him as one of God’s children who He loved dearly and as such, someone we should love and care for. Because of that truth, this student was loved and discipled for many years and we saw great fruit come from that. He began to show up early to youth group to help set up, he began to talk about his faith in school, he led Bible studies and small groups, he mentored younger students, and he ended up coming back as a leader in our youth program. Discipleship works and it is a beautiful representation of what Christ did for His people years ago.

Our ministry is fully focused on discipleship. We spend forty-five to sixty minutes in small group each week. Our Sunday mornings are focused on table discussion groups that dig into our Sunday lesson. We encourage our leaders to meet with students throughout the week and to be actively engaged with their students and all that they have going on. Our vision statement is all about making disciples who impact this world by making disciples. Our ministry meets in smaller groups once a month in homes. It is why we are seeing more and more students have their lives changed by the power of the Gospel. Discipleship matters. This is why Jesus intentionally focused on a smaller group within the masses. It is because personal relationships, and intentional life-on-life moments that guide a student to Jesus, bring about change.

But what exactly is discipleship? Discipleship is defined as “one who accepts and assists in spreading the doctrines of another” by Merriam-Webster. When it comes to Christian discipleship, it is more than just having someone live the way we do, or espouse what we want them to. It is about them modeling their lives, hearts, and minds after Jesus. It is helping students see that the way of Christ is the way of life. It involves allowing them to see how Jesus works within our lives in order for them to see the reality of faith in action. Discipleship helps students surrender their lives to Jesus and place their full identity in Him and Him alone.

As we seek to engage in discipleship there are some metrics we can look at in the lives of those we disciple:

  1. They put Jesus first no matter the cost (Mark 8:34-35, Luke 14:25-35).
  2. They follow Jesus’ teachings (John 8:31-32).
  3. They love God and love others (Mark 12:30-31, John 13:34-35).
  4. They honor and seek to fulfill the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20).
  5. They commit to building up the body (Ephesians 4:11-17).

It should be noted that it isn’t about doing all the right things or about focusing on works-based righteousness. We will all fall and mess up, and that is why it is about allowing the transformative power of the Gospel to impact the lives of the students we lead. These metrics help to differentiate between making disciples and mentoring. While both are good things, discipleship helps to create followers of Jesus who are passionate about His mission. As disciple-makers we should be highlighting these characteristics to our students and helping them to grow in them and reflect them outward. Discipleship is all about inward transformation that is reflected outwardly. Our inward transformation is reflected in how we act, speak, and engage with others because of the work that the Holy Spirit is doing in our hearts.

When we allow for discipleship to be the heart of what we do in student ministry we will see a radical change begin to take hold of our students. They will grow and make their faith their own, which will result in them beginning to disciple others in their faith. Discipleship is a replicating model that will allow your students to grow and mature as followers of Jesus, and we will bear witness to them growing as leaders of our faith.

5 Quick Tips for Encouraging Volunteers

Throughout my time in ministry I have become convinced that our volunteers are the lifeblood of our ministries. I’m sure many of you would agree with that statement and you have seen the fruit of having great volunteers on your team. Volunteers are amazing people because of the ways they sacrificially give of themselves, love their students, and continue to serve in ways that go above and beyond their obligations.

I think sometimes we can take what they do and who they are for granted. We don’t intend to but we can get into an groove where we just continue with the status quo. We function normally and may unintentionally forget to care at the level we should for them. But the thing we must understand is that our volunteers are vital to our ministry and without them we will not be able to continue in what we do. My hope with today’s post is to highlight five easy ways that you can intentionally care for and encourage your volunteers.

1. Pray for and with them.

Our leaders are real people who have real issues affecting them just like we do. So pause and give them space to share what you can pray for. Allow them to talk about what is going on: their struggles and difficulties, the victories and high points, their spiritual walk with Jesus, and anything else they want to share. Then take time to pray with them and remember to continue to pray for them. The powerful impact of prayer is one we cannot overstate and is one we need to lean into all the more to seek protection, care, and guidance for our leaders. Prayer helps our leaders be seen, known, and loved in a very powerful and real way. So make sure to pray for and with them often.

2. Ask and care about their life outside of ministry.

During my recent time away from ministry, I was able to meet with my volunteers and church members but I wasn’t able to talk about work. I’ll be honest with you and let you know meeting in this way at first was pretty hard for me. I had gotten into a rut where the majority of the time I spent with people was focused on how they were doing in the life of the church or in a specific ministry. For instance, I would always ask my leaders how their small group was, how their relationship with their co-leader was doing, or how I could improve our student ministry. But now I was forced to do away with that method of conversation and focus more on who they are personally.

I got to hear more about their families, their struggles, what was happening at their schools or jobs, and how they were handling all the changes that have been happening. And it was in those moments that I began to connect on a truly deeper level with my volunteers. I realized that I had fallen into a habit of being ministry-focused and not personally-focused.

Most of you probably already do this but if you don’t, let me encourage you to shift how you engage with your people. I never meant to dismiss their personal lives, I just got into a rhythm and didn’t shift. But now, my priority in meeting with leaders will be to care for them, and then to see how things are going in ministry. Doing this not only values your leaders but shows them that they mean more to you than just being a body who shows up to watch students at youth group.

3. Follow up and remember.

This is a big one that really encapsulates the first two points. When you remember what your leaders are going through and follow up with them, it truly makes them feel seen and heard. You are letting them know it wasn’t just checking off a to-do list when you met with them but truly a relationship. Knowing that someone truly cares about you and is willing to continue to see how you are doing is an aspect of leading in ministry that cannot be understated. It is in these moments that we not only validate our leaders but we highlight what the Body of Christ should truly be.

4. Send a note or card.

Sending someone a physical note or card is one of the best, and easiest, things you can do for your leaders. I think we all know how great it feels when we get a letter in the mail. It brings joy knowing that someone spent time writing out a heartfelt message and mailed it to us. I know I personally love seeing a letter amidst the advertisements and bills, and it makes me smile. Now imagine how your leaders would feel getting a note or card from you. Let me encourage you to not make it generic or simply ministry-focused, but to make it personal and relational. These are the moments that you truly get to value and encourage your people by letting them know you care. Never underestimate the power of a personal, handwritten note to your volunteers.

5. Champion them.

I believe all of these points are important, but I really believe this one is huge especially as it pertains to your ministry and the church as a whole. When you highlight your leaders publicly and talk about how awesome they are, it brings a whole new sense of ownership, validity, and relational equity to your volunteers. I love to talk about how awesome my volunteers are during youth group or in staff meetings. I want everyone to know how well they care for and minister to our students. And I want our leaders to know that I see what they are doing and I am eternally grateful for them.

So highlight them to your students. Talk about them to your supervisors. Make sure parents are aware of how awesome they are. And tell them personally. I love to share encouraging things I have seen when I meet one-on-one with a leader. I get to love on them and tell them how grateful I am for them, and it is awesome to see how encouraged they are by those moments.

How do you encourage your leaders?

Words of Advice for Couples Starting Out in Ministry

This month we celebrated our ninth anniversary of being married. As we have reflected on the last nine years of marriage and fifteen of knowing one another, we have become acutely aware of things we wished we had known starting out in ministry together.

Within the last month of our engagement Nick lost his job. During our first month of marriage, we moved into our first home together, Nick got his first full time ministry position, and began commuting an hour and a half to his new job. About a month later we moved to our second place in a brand new town, Elise went from working in an office to working remotely, and Nick began working fifty to sixty hours a week.

The rest of that first year was filled with so many other unique challenges and blessings, and each of them forced us to grow and mature together. Looking back on that time there are so many realities and truths we wish we had known then that we have learned along the way, and we wanted to share with you a few tips to help you succeed not just in your marriage but also in your ministry as a couple.

Prioritize your relationship.

If I (Nick) am being honest, this was a struggle during our first couple of years of marriage because of my job and all of its commitments. I had my first full-time ministry position and it demanded a lot of my time. I was working sixty hours or more a week, my days off were not matched with Elise’s, and there way too many moments when we would simply see each other before we went to bed.

Looking back I truly wish I had prioritized our relationship over the ministry I was serving. Ultimately those first couple of years added much more weight and difficulty than we should have had, but I did not stand up and start making changes until a couple of years in.

Ministry is a calling from God but our relationship with our spouse should be our first priority after our relationship with God. Ministry then is a tertiary priority in the grand scheme of our lives. Let me encourage you to learn from my missteps and put your relationship with your spouse first. Prioritize time together. Make date nights a non-negotiable. Continue to go out on dates and vacations. Stop doing work at home. Spend time together and find ways to retreat and be with one another.

Listen well.

I don’t know if you are like me (Nick) or not, but there have been times when I would come home from work and just feel done. After being around people all day I don’t talk much and sometimes I am guilty of switching off. But there are also days that I would come home and I was/am a fire hose of words. I just dump everything on Elise and go a mile a minute when I am talking.

Neither of those options are beneficial to our relationship. I either am not listening or halfheartedly listening to Elise in the first scenario or I am doing all the talking and none of the listening in the second. What I have learned throughout our years of being together is that focusing on our relationship and truly listening to Elise is so important. When you allow your spouse to share about their day, you are prioritizing them and your relationship. You are highlighting that they and their day are just as important as yours. My advice would be to always seek to find balance in listening which means considering what and how much you say.

Over-communicate.

In light of what I just shared above, this may seem counterproductive. But hear me out: I am not saying that you need to talk all the time and that your relationship is simply both of you competing for time to talk. I am saying that a priority in your relationship should be communicating often and clearly about what is going on. Early on, I didn’t communicate all of the things that I needed to do for my job. In fact it would often be last minute where I would say things like “well, it’s time for me to go to work” without having shared my working hours previously. And honestly, that is the quickest way to devalue your spouse and make them feel like they aren’t a valid member of the relationship.

Instead, let me encourage you to over-communicate. Make sure your spouse knows your schedule. Communicate about what you have going on, who you are meeting with, ministry events, and your commitments. This is even more important if your spouse isn’t serving with you. One of the best ways to do this is through a shared calendar. We use Google Calendar and it is awesome! It has truly helped us be on the same page and to know what is going on. But at the same time, this cannot be your catch all. While a calendar is helpful, it is not a replacement for a true conversation that values the other person by sharing life and happenings with them.

Be honest.

Sometimes in relationships it is easy to just pretend that everything is okay. This doesn’t come from a malicious place or out of a desire to be deceitful, but more out of protection for our spouse. We think that by not sharing and avoiding the realities that we are facing, we are somehow sparing them further pain and struggle. But the truth is that the more we do that, the more distance and tension we are adding to the relationship.

I have struggled for years sharing how I am feeling with Elise. Not because I am trying to hide anything but that is just not how I was raised and with extensive trauma (ministry and personal) in my past, I don’t always know how to share. But as I have walked through this most recent season of struggling with mental health, I have come away with a renewed passion for how important honesty and transparency is in marriage.

As you are honest with one another it allows you to have not only a place of refuge and encouragement, but also someone who loves and supports you. Being honest strengthens the bond you and your spouse have and enables you to engage with anything because you know that you are always for one another.

Encourage and challenge one another.

Another key aspect to remember is that you and your spouse are a team and as such, you should be for one another. One of the ways Elise always is for me is by encouraging me and challenging me to utilize my gifts fully. I can often talk down about myself or the skills God has given to me, but Elise constantly encourages me and challenges me to reach my full potential. It is easy when you are first married to do this, but often as time goes on this can fade because we assume our spouse knows how we feel about them.

One of the best ways you can truly care for and support your spouse is by being in their corner. Help them to see the good. Encourage them and speak highly of them. Challenge them to grow and see their gifting from God. As you continue to be more supportive and encouraging to your spouse you will see the greater opportunity for growth and depth within your relationship with one another and with God.

Surrender your expectations.

Before setting off on a journey of marriage–and ministry–it’s normal to have expectations of how you think things should or will go. If you’re like us and you went to Bible college, you may think you have a pretty good understanding of ministry, theology, and how to “be a good Christian.” The reality is that college or seminary can only give you so much information. A lot of life, marriage, and ministry involves learning along the way. You will discover things and have experiences you never could’ve prepared for, and things will be both beautifully amazing and crushingly difficult.

Our encouragement is to let go of expectations, and the need to control. Instead, hold everything in an open hand to God and seek to learn and grow from what He is doing. He will give you the skills and abilities you need and His strength will carry you through both the difficult and the amazing. And let this apply to your spouse as well. Don’t look for ways to control them, instead strive to love them for who they are, celebrating their unique complexities as designed by God. We all long to be loved for who we are, and that is something we can seek to offer each other. As we do that, we create a safe space for each other to be shaped by a loving God as we individually and collectively seek to become more like Christ.

How to Handle Conflict

What is your go-to response when it comes to conflict? Are you an avoider or more direct in your confrontations? Does it weigh on you or do you just push it deep down to a place where it doesn’t seem to matter anymore? Does conflict terrify you or excite you?

No matter how you may have answered those questions, the truth of the matter is that conflict is unavoidable. I am not saying that we should seek out conflict, but we must recognize that conflict is part of the tension of living in a post-fall world. When broken people share life together, there will be conflict. The question we must wrestle with is this: how do we handle conflict?

Before we go any further, I want to make a few–what I would say are obvious but often forgotten–statements about conflict:

  1. You can only handle your approach and response. You are not responsible for the other person, but you are responsible for how you engage and interact.
  2. Prayer and going to the throne of God before any conflict that you know is going to happen is paramount. Just as going to God every day is paramount. We often run to God when there is going to be a conflict, but our response should be to run to God regardless. We must ask Him to work in our lives and relationships in an ongoing way to help us mediate and handle circumstances in order to prevent unhealthy conflict.
  3. Consider what part you play in the conflict. Self-reflection is always beneficial, but even more so when it comes to conflict. It is important to think about what we are contributing, both helpful and detrimental, to a conflict. So pause, reflect, and prayerfully think about how your words, attitudes, and actions are helping to resolve or hindering the conflict.

So how do we handle conflict well? Here are a few ways that I have learned (often the hard way) on how we can handle conflict and move forward well.

Be honest and clear.

Often in conflicts we tend to speak in absolutes, minimize what is going on, and don’t often say what needs to be said. What we should be doing instead is sharing what is true and the way it is effecting us. We must be honest about how we feel and how things have been received. But we must also be clear and concise and not allow for absolutes or our emotions to drive us toward negative responses or engagements. Instead, speak honestly and clearly.

Handle your emotions.

If you are like me and can feel the passion and pressure manifest in your core in conversations and conflicts, then you know how easy it can be to not handle your emotions. But allowing your emotions rather than clarity and wisdom to drive your engagements with others can be problematic. It can lead you to be rash, critical, and at times hurtful. So instead look to address your emotions and be honest about them in conversation, but also be aware enough not allow your emotions to dictate all that you do and say.

Be humble.

Conflict can be incredibly humbling especially if it makes you aware of your own shortcomings or errors. So as you engage in conflict do so with a spirit of humility. Do not presume this to mean that you just need to take your licks and continue to do so. But do understand that being humble means approaching the conflict with a willingness to hear the other person, grow personally, and be willing to admit wrongs.

Always see the other party as someone created in the image of God.

Sometimes in conflict it is easy to see the other person(s) as the problem or even as our enemy. But that is not what a biblical approach to conflict should look like. Imagine for a moment what would have happened if Cain had seen Able as his brother created in God’s image rather than someone who showed him up and became an obstacle to remove. We would be reading a very different narrative in Genesis 4, and honestly our method for conflict resolution would have a much better example to follow. So instead of seeing someone as an obstacle, see them as a child of God made in His image and allow for that to help curate your approach to conflict resolution.

Realize that your resolution may not be the right one.

Have you ever entered a meeting convinced that your way was the right and only way to do something? I know I have. I come in with an idea and a belief that it is the best solution, and when it hasn’t been taken as such it is defeating and deflating. I believe that’s also how we approach conflict at times. We come in believing we have the right solution and when it doesn’t go our way we see it as a defeat. But the problem is that we are approaching these moments as a battle to win not a conversation to be walked through. That means we need to approach them with open hands understanding our resolution may not be the best or right right one, and that is okay. Instead be willing to accept another route and engage with the conflict holistically.

Watch your language.

This is key both within the conflict and outside of it. Words are extremely powerful and can either be helpful or harmful. How are you speaking to and about that person? We can be prone to gossip, both intentionally and unintentionally, therefore, we can severely harm relationships. But we can be even more prone to say hurtful things in the midst of the confrontation because our emotions get the better of us. Instead of allowing your language to be harmful, seek to edify, challenge, build up, and encourage one another. Doing so in all moments will actually help your heart be in the right space when you have those difficult conversations.

Mind your spheres.

This is something that I think many of us (myself included) struggle with. Living in community with others means that often times our relationships and engagements overlap. And because of that reality, we often share things with people outside of the appropriate spheres. Perhaps you have a conflict with your boss; it would be inappropriate for you to share with all your volunteers why he is a horrible boss because that will cause dissension and frustration within the church. Remember that your priority is unity within the body, so seek to handle conflict in a way that builds, rather than tears down that unity.

When it comes to conflict, what manner of resolution has been most helpful for you?

Book Review: Attacking Anxiety

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tips for Self-Care: Ask for Help

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

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

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

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

Asking for help allows you to grow as a leader.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Asking for help means releasing and not micromanaging.

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

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

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

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