5 Tips for Fundraising

This past weekend we hosted our annual fundraiser for our student ministry summer trip. But due to the effects of the pandemic, this fundraiser looked nothing like those that came before.

Prior to my tenure at the church the student ministry department would host something called “Dinner and a Show.” It was exactly what it sounds like: a fancy dinner with a full performance by students that took more than three hours to host. We eventually moved away from that fundraiser and began to host a brunch on a Sunday morning to raise funds. In 2019 we hosted our biggest brunch to date, and we raised the highest amount we had ever raised. It was awesome, and we were so excited for the future success of our fundraisers and what that would mean for getting students to camps and retreats.

But then 2020 hit and we cancelled all trips and our fundraising was put on hold. At the beginning of this year we were given the opportunity to go to a local camp over the summer, and we were told we could seek to raise funds. But, there were some conditions: no food, social distancing must be adhered to, masks must be worn, and we would need to radically change what we had done in the past.

As I understood the rationale and purpose behind the guidelines and promised to adhere to them, there were hundreds of questions in my mind about how we would succeed in fundraising. My heart ached as I thought about the negative ways not having our traditional fundraiser would impact students who were in financial need. I questioned whether people would actually give if there was no food or opportunity for them to engage in the ways they had before. But as I prayed and sought out how to host a fundraiser, I began to see fundraising in a new light. Fundraising isn’t just about bringing in needed funds, but it is also an opportunity to engage the whole church body in inter-generational discipleship, to have our students serve, to bring people together for the Gospel, and to help the body of Christ grow and mature.

Today, I want to share with you five things to remember as you seek to have a successful fundraiser. These may seem completely opposite of what we have always thought fundraising to be, but I want to ask you to hear me out. And to consider these tips and think through the heart, rationale, and purpose of fundraising as it pertains to our students and ministries.

1. Fundraising is not the priority.

This may sound counter-intuitive, but it’s the truth. The more I searched my heart on seeking to understand the why behind fundraisers, the more I became convinced the purpose of fundraising shouldn’t solely be about obtaining money necessary for the cost of trips. It is bigger than that! These trips that we are raising funds for should be focused on helping our students grow in their relationship with Jesus, and because of that, these fundraisers should be opportunities to help stretch and grow our students. There should be opportunities for students to step up and step out. They should be ready to share the Gospel if needed. They should be focused on leading and being advocates for the kingdom of Heaven.

I was also faced with the reality that there are some within our church who cannot support these trips financially, but they are more than willing to pray consistently for our students. So we focused our attention not on raising funds, but raising support. We shared with our church that we would cherish their support in whatever way they would be willing to give it, whether financial or spiritual, and the church responded in wonderful ways and provided for our students.

2. Allow students to serve in some capacity.

Part of helping students understand the value, purpose, and meaning of a fundraiser and going on trips is giving them the opportunity to have skin in the game. Gen Z loves to take an active role in helping others and they love to actually put action to the words they believe. So allow them to serve in a variety of ways at your fundraiser. This may include you giving additional time to walk through training with your students, but it will pay off in the end as students actually begin to take the lead on serving. We have had students serve as ushers and greeters, students have helped in set up and tear down, they did announcements in front of the church, they shared their stories, they have served food, had conversations with people, and contributed in a variety of other ways. When they do this they understand that there is so much that goes into planning and leading a trip and because of this, they value the time they have on the trip all the more. So allow them to flourish and grow as they serve.

3. Find ways to involve the body of Christ.

This should be a part of not only our fundraisers but our ministries overall. We should seek to incorporate the church as a whole and not operate in a silo. We should seek to build bridges through inter-generational opportunities and witness the body of Christ truly function as a body. Part of getting our students involved in serving is that it allows them to see that they are an intricate part of the church, and part of getting the church involved is allowing students to understand that the church sees them as a needed part of the body. When the body of Christ is brought into the thought and purpose of what is happening within any ministry, they rally to support it and will become a vital part of your team. Seek to bring parents, volunteers, and others into fundraising opportunities in any way that you can, and encourage your students to walk with them and lead outward together.

4. Highlight the purpose, rationale, and effect of trips in the lives of students.

One of my favorite things to do during fundraising is to have students share with the church. Our student ministry actually interviews students on stage during the services and asks them questions like:

  • Why are you going on this trip?
  • How have trips with our program impacted you?
  • How have trips helped your relationship with Jesus grow?
  • Why are trips like this one important for students?
  • What would you say to students who haven’t gone on trips about why they should?

I am always blown away by the responses I have gotten. This year I had a senior say that trips like this allowed him to grow close to Jesus and showed him the importance of pouring into younger students. I had another student who proclaimed that trips like this allowed him to grow closer to his leaders who had discipled him and helped him become a better man and a better Christian. When the church body hears this, it allows them to see the necessity and effectiveness of these trips, and moves them toward giving.

5. Focus on inter-generational community.

This is a piece that I have grown to more deeply understand and appreciate during my time in ministry. We must help our churches to see that students are not the future of our church, but are a current and vital part of the church now. There is already a growing rift between generations and it is only deepening as people refuse to listen, honor, and walk with one another. The church cannot be a place where this is allowed to happen. Instead we must be a beacon of hope and change for our people.

I would encourage you to help your students see the value of working with other generations. Help them to see that while other generations may not reciprocate, that does not mean they cease trying to work together. Instead it should ignite a fire to push your students to step up and lead differently and lead well. If you think about it, we are already engaging in inter-generational discipleship as we have leaders of all different ages leading our students. What we are seeking to do is replicate that within the body of Christ holistically. Seize the opportunity to cast that vision at your fundraisers and allow your students to help create change within the church of which they are an important part.

Helping Families Win: Resources [Part 2]

Last week we shared some digital resources we believe would be helpful for families. Today, I want to spend a little bit of time looking at some books I find beneficial for a variety of topics families are dealing with. These books are not all encompassing, but I believe they will provide helpful insight and guidance for families, and prayerfully strengthen the relationships between parents and students. There are also far too many books to list in a singular post, so I will be doing a follow up to this post with additional books that I have found helpful.

Living in a Gray World – A Christian Teen’s Guide to Understanding Homosexuality

This is a super helpful book from Preston Sprinkle that seeks to provide insight and understanding for the questions many students (and adults) are asking about homosexuality. This is an easy read that is filled with grace, compassion, understanding, and biblical truth. Sprinkle handles everything from questions we may have, to what the reader should do if they might be gay, to what the Bible say about homosexuality. If this isn’t a topic your family is thinking or talking through, I would still highly recommend reading this book to gain insight and understanding into a topic that is very big part of our world.

It’s Not Too Late – The Essential Part You play in Shaping Your Teen’s Faith

Dan Dupee put together this book to encourage parents who may feel like they don’t know what they are doing when it comes to shepherding and guiding their children. It is an honest and raw book that utilizes sociological research and Scripture to help you navigate the realities of development in your children and to give you tangible ways to engage and pour into them. One of the big things that Dupee will focus on is the reality that students are not removed from your care and influence once they enter middle school, high school, or college. The way you engage may look different but you can continue to engage and disciple them at those points.

If I had a Parenting Do Over – 7 Vital Changes I’d Make

Jonathan McKee is a widely respected youth culture expert, speaker, and author who loves to provide resources for parents, families, and youth workers. The purpose of this book is to encourage and challenge parents to grow and pour into their children. Jonathan offers honest insight into the realities of parenting and mistakes he has made in order to provide wisdom and helpful tools for parents navigating caring for and discipling their students. He provides helpful actions, thoughts, and insights to give parents a place to breathe, acknowledge, and look to grow as they shepherd their students. This book also has a free seven week curriculum designed for small groups of parents to walk through that is amazingly helpful and beneficial.

Understanding Your Teen – Shaping their Character, Facing their Realities

Dr. Jim Burns put together a fantastic book to help parents (and really anyone working with young people) understand and care for their students. This book is extremely practical and offers insight into how to parent well and how to help develop your student in maturity and faith, all while understanding the realities that students are navigating in a changing culture. In the first part of his book, Burns provides parents with insight into understanding their student and gives practical ways to think through and talk about issues that students are facing. Burns provides helpful thought into how to have healthy media boundaries, developing student’s faith, teaching healthy sexuality, and much more. The second part of Burns’ book talks through issues and problems that students are facing and then gives helpful thoughts and solutions for parents to consider as they navigate these topics. Some of the topics that are covered include eating disorders, bullying and cyberbullying, self-harm, abuse, depression, and much more.

52 Ways to Connect with Your Smartphone Obsessed Kid – How to Engage with Kids Who Can’t Seem to Pry Their Eyes from Their Devices!

Jonathan McKee has multiple books and resources that are amazingly helpful, and this is one of his books that every parent and youth worker should read. The focus of this book is to help students move from being tech dependent to tech enabled. Jonathan wants to help parents help their students by seeing that the technology they have should not own or command them, but instead is a resource and a tool meant to be utilized appropriately. Jonathan’s easy-to-read style of writing offers the reader 52 ideas on how to proactively engage your student that brings creative advice and ideas to the table and allows for the uniqueness of each student to help parents think about how to engage with them. There are also questions to ponder at the end of each idea, that would be very helpful to simply begin fostering a conversation with your student.

Shepherding a Child’s Heart

This is a wonderful resource to give to families with children at any age. Tedd Tripp offers two sections in this book: Foundations of Biblical Childrearing and Shepherding Through the Stages of Childhood. Tripp first offers the basic biblical principles that all parents need and then begins to look at how to formulate them into a shepherding plan as you love and care for your student. Tripp uses the shepherding metaphor often in his book because he believes that parenting is more than just a task or a developmental procedure. He believes it to truly be about shepherding and cultivating the heart of your children because focusing on the heart focuses on the true aspect of who we are.

The Quick-Reference Guide to Counseling Teenagers – 40 Topics, Spiritual Insights & Easy-to-Use Action Steps

Doctors Tim Clinton and Chap Clark have put together an amazing resource when it comes to counseling students. This book offers much insight into a wide range of topics including bullying, adoption, eating disorders, self-harm, pornography, abuse, depression, trauma, God’s will, and much more. They present each topic by first using a couple of portraits or case studies, then they give clarity to definitions and key thoughts to help us understand what is actually being talked about. They provide helpful questions in the assessment interview, they offer tips for wise counsel, action steps, biblical insights, a prayer starter, and additional resources. Now it should be said that I am not advocating for parents to become clinical counselors through the use of this book. Instead, I believe that this book offers helpful insight and knowledge to parents, and gives them practical questions and biblical understanding of the issues at hand. With that understanding, this book will empower and enable parents to have a more centered and biblically grounded conversation about whatever topic their student is walking through. It also will help give parents a better understanding through their student’s responses on whether they should seek additional counseling through a trained and qualified counselor.

How to Co-Lead Well

Many of us have more than one leader working in our student ministries. Whether it is you and your spouse or you have dozens of youth leaders at your disposal, learning how to co-lead is highly important. In many of our ministry settings we must have two leaders for accountability and legal purposes. Whatever the reason may be that you have multiple leaders, co-leading (leading with another leader) is something we must learn to do well in order to have a successful ministry.

In order to lead well with another person, there are certain aspects that we need to consider and implement. Today, we want to examine a few of those and hopefully give you relevant and helpful ways to lead well together.

Communication

Part of leading well with others involves communication. Whether you are talking with your co-leader for a small group or the three others who are helping facilitate your gathering, communication will help everyone be on the same page, it will instill value and worth, and it will help everyone lead better. So communicate with one another before the program or group time. Communicate about where you see the discussion going, communicate about arrival times, or even about conversations you have had with the students in your group. The more communication there is, the better off you all will be as leaders because it helps you work as a team.

Game Plan Together

Another aspect of communication is planning with one another. As you lead with others you should work collectively to come up with a plan as to how you see things going. This could involve who will handle what aspects of a small or large group, it could involve who will facilitate discussion, or it could even be who will speak with a student about what they shared or did. Game planning together will bring a cohesiveness to your group and allow for all leaders to have a role in what is happening. Planning together will allow for each leader to feel validated and provide everyone with a clear direction for your group.

Know Your Strengths and Weaknesses

Working with others can be challenging at times and I believe part of this is because of our own weaknesses and strengths. Where we have a strength we see other’s weaknesses, and where we have a weakness we become frustrated or bitter because of someone else’s strengths. But that shouldn’t be our focus. Instead of fixating on how great we are or where there are missteps, we should look at what each person brings to the table and use them to collectively help our students grow. A weakness is only a weakness if we allow it to be. If you struggle with asking open ended questions but your co-leader excels at it, don’t get upset they are asking the questions. Maybe lean into your strength which could be one-on-one discipleship. Both are valid and beneficial, and when used together by a team it brings greatness to what you are doing. So communicate about your strengths and weaknesses with your co-leader(s) and look for ways to excel together.

Be for One Another

This is something that we all need to be mindful of, especially as we lead together. Leaders may not always agree, but it is important to show unity. It is important to not chop someone at the knees if they misspeak about a passage of Scripture and it is equally important to not bad mouth your co-leader if they are late to group. Speaking positively about other leaders not only instills confidence in your students for their leaders, it also allows you and your co-leader to grow closer together. This isn’t dismissing behavior that is problematic but instead allowing for you two to be for one another and supportive of each other. If a problem does arise, the best way to handle it is away from the students.

Be Honest with Each Other

Being honest is hugely important when it comes to leading with others. In both good and difficult times, honesty will help your relationship with your fellow leaders. If you are frustrated by something that happened, share it in love and look to be honest about the situation. If you need help or are running late, be honest about it. Be honest if you weren’t able to prepare as much as you would have liked. This allows for transparency and opportunities for growth and for truth to be spoken. It will also allow for frustrations to be alleviated and for you relationship to be built upon trust.

Questions to Ask Yourself Before Volunteering in Student Ministry

In several months the school year will be over, summer ministry activities will be starting, and youth leaders will be gearing up for a new school year–which always includes the search for new volunteers. If you’ve considered jumping in as a student ministry volunteer, now is the perfect time to evaluate if this is the role for you.

It can be hard to discern where we should serve, whether we’re “called” to a particular role, or how to prioritize our ministry involvement. But these are important things to work through before stepping into student ministry. There will always be things you can learn only through involvement, but there are also essential things to ask before you get there.

Today I’m outlining a few top questions that I would encourage potential volunteers to ask themselves before jumping into student ministry. These can also be helpful questions to use as a personal evaluation for anyone already serving. If you want to use this post for evaluation purposes, I recommend answering the questions and reading only the first paragraph under each heading before you read the remaining paragraphs. This will help you evaluate your honest answers.

Ask: Why do I want to serve in student ministry?

Let’s start simple: why do you think you want to serve? Be brutally honest as you answer this question because often your motives will reveal your heart. List as many reasons for serving as you can think of.

If most of your reasons start with you–like what you want to get out of it, or what you think you can offer to students–it might be good to press pause and take a step back. In as much as you will get something out of volunteering and you might bring a lot to the table, these should be secondary, not primary motivations. Student ministry is about sacrificially serving Jesus and the students, about being there for them, showing up consistently, and having the fortitude to dig in when the going gets tough.

If you step in with self-centered motives, you will end up disappointed, and you will most likely struggle in your role. You may find yourself comparing and competing with other leaders, looking for student affirmation, and feeling rapid burn-out when you don’t get it. On the flip side, if your motives are oriented toward serving the Lord first, you will look to Him to define your success and give you strength in the hard times. And if you put the students and their needs ahead of your own, you will have a better perspective on your purpose in student ministry.

Remember: It’s not wrong to feel like God has gifted you in this area, and that you have special gifts you would like to use to serve students. Just because it may feel like a motive is selfish doesn’t mean God can’t and won’t use it. Actively seek to give your gifts and desires back to Him.

Ask: How do I honestly feel about and view students?

If you were to be completely honest on how you feel about middle school and/or high school students, what would you say? When you see them at church or out in your community, how do you view them and what do you think about them?

How you feel about students deep down will manifest itself as you serve in student ministry. If you find them annoying, obnoxious, entitled, or a lost cause, those views will eventually manifest themselves. You can’t fake it with students.

If students frustrate you, ask God to change your heart and help you see them the way He does. Allow time for God to break your heart for students before you jump in and serve. Keep in mind that if you find one age group challenging (i.e.

Remember: Even if you view students with love and respect, your heart toward them will still be tested. Student ministry can be very challenging, and there will be times you don’t want to love students. In the moments when you feel incapable of love, look to God for strength and direction. Only He can sustain you through difficult seasons.

Ask: What priority level can I give student ministry?

Some additional questions to answer include: How many ministries/extra activities am I involved in and how much time do they take? How much time am I able to commit to student ministry? On a scale of 1-10, how important is student ministry verses the other activities I’m involved in? To help you answer some of these, you might need to first talk to whoever is over the student ministry to get an idea of how much time you will need to commit each week.

The bottom line is that student ministry often requires being a top-tier priority. You will discover that it doesn’t just require a couple of hours each week. To truly invest in the lives of students, you will need to interact and spend consistent, regular time with them. This is not to say that you can’t have a life or other involvement outside of student ministry, but at times other things may need to take a back seat to your role as a youth leader.

If you commit to numerous ministries and activities, eventually one area will suffer. If you’re already serving in several large roles, it may not be a good time to get involved in student ministry. It’s important to know that more isn’t always better. Sometimes keeping your commitments minimal will help you have time, energy, and space for those who desperately need you.

Remember: Over-commitment in life is not sustainable long-term. This also includes over-commitment in student ministry. Make sure to create space in your life for spiritual in-flow outside of student ministry. This can include time with family and friends, a Bible study with peers, and regular time in prayer and the Word.

Ask: What am I hoping to get out of serving in student ministry?

In a way we touched on this in the first question, but let’s dig a little deeper. What are you hoping will be the end result of your time volunteering in student ministry? Do you have a certain vision or goal for your involvement? What are you hoping will come out of your time investing in students?

This is a way to assess your true motives, to ask the tough questions, and seek God for the answers. It’s hard to always have pure motives all of the time, but if your motives are rooted in things like affirmation, recognition, or building a brand, it may be time to do some heart work outside of student ministry.

The truth is that student ministry isn’t about any of us; it is about God, His mission, and being a willing part of what He is doing. If your hope is to see and join in what He is doing in the lives of students, then you are on a good track. Remember that at the end of it all, it won’t be about you or what you did or didn’t do (so in that, don’t worry about perceived failure), it will be about God and what He did.

Remember: If you step into student ministry and see change and growth in your own life, it doesn’t mean that you’ve made it all about you. God will use the crucible of service to refine and shape you, especially in the moments that feel like failure. If He has called you to student ministry, He will use you and He will equip you for the work. Continue seeking Him, in the triumphs and the setbacks.

Ask: What do I have to offer?

Ask this question genuinely, not pridefully. What are things unique to you that you can bring to the table? What are things you can offer to the ministry? What passions can you share with younger generations?

The truth is that God has gifted all of us for service in His kingdom, and I think we can miss what we have been given if we don’t identify it and seek to use it. It may feel awkward to list these things, but they can help you determine if student ministry is the place for you.

If you do decide to step into student ministry, look for specific areas where you can implement your skills and passions. If you love to teach or speak, look into opportunities to share with the group. If you are a musician, look into leading and teaching students. If you enjoy baking, bring sweets and treats to share with the group. If you have a passion for social justice, look for ways to empower and equip students with the same passion.

Remember: Don’t disqualify yourself for trivial reasons. If you think you’re too old, know that inter-generational relationships are crucial to the life and growth of the church. If you think you’re too out of touch, ask genuine questions and let the students teach you. If you think you’re ill-equipped, ask God to empower and embolden you. And if you feel scared, remember that students are people too, and they desperately need the love of Jesus.

If you’re still uncertain…

It may be time to set up an appointment with the pastor or student ministry leader. Be open about your desires and concerns, and let them ask you questions. They can help you discern if student ministries is the place for you. You may also be able to sit in on one or two nights of youth group to get a feel for the ministry and what you would be doing. Sometimes it takes jumping in fully and committing to a year to see if student ministry is where you feel called to serve. Remember to be honest and to be open to where God might lead you.

5 Ways to Improve Volunteer Communication

Let’s face it: without a team of volunteers it is exceptionally hard to run a student ministry. It gets harder still if that team doesn’t know the plan.

I have often found that a team functions best when there is a clear plan and goal because of clear communication. If I am being honest I am not always the best communicator when it comes to planning and sharing what is happening.

This is a place I am constantly looking to grow in, and as such I wanted to share with you a few ways to enhance communication with your team. I have had to learn to do these things and honestly have learned a lot through mistakes. Most of these are digital, but some are face-to-face as well because both are extremely important.

Ask your team how they communicate.

I have a questionnaire I ask my leaders to fill out (both new and returning leaders) and I ask for their preferred means of communication. This allows me to see how they communicate and be able to utilize the best forum. It also highlights any issues that may develop if someone doesn’t use a certain method. Some of my leaders only use WhatsApp and because it is only a couple of people, I make the effort to communicate with them there if I text the rest of the team.

Choose your medium and use it.

As youth workers we are forever surrounded by new and different ways of communicating. But if we continue to switch it up on our teams, they will never know where look. I had a volunteer during my first year at church who would respond to my emails via text. It wasn’t ideal because when I would be looking for information from them, I wouldn’t know where to go. I finally sat down and made it clear that the main way I communicate is email for standard youth group stuff. If it is an emergency or a day-of change it would be via text or phone.

My teams know this is the standard case, and as such they are expecting my communications via these platforms. It has helped to streamline our communication and works well for sharing information. Choose whichever way is best for you, and stick with it. If you do change it, communicate that to your team.

Be consistent.

A big thing I have learned is that when we say we are going to do something, we need to do it. Don’t promise to communicate via email and then switch to text. Doing this not only confuses leaders and doesn’t communicate well, it also creates a lack of trust in what you are doing. Be consistent, and if change needs to happen, bring your team in before you make the change.

Communicate early.

We plan out our schedule a year at a time. Typically this is during late spring and we are able to get that information out to leaders before the start of the new school year. They see when we have events, trips, retreats, and we also note when we do not have youth group. This allows our leaders to prepare for the year and know what is coming; there are no surprises.

I also make an effort to get our small group resources and plans out to leaders at least 24 hours ahead of youth group so they can prepare for the evening. I send the schedule, notes, and the questions for small groups so leaders know what is happening, what is expected, and they have the ability to mentally and spiritually prepare for the next day.

Communicate in person.

Much of what has been shared has been about digital communication, but we cannot overstate the value of face-to-face communication. Those are the moments when you get to truly shepherd and care for your people, and you get to cast vision and passion for the ministry as well. Take time to communicate clearly, answer questions, and receive feedback. We should never undervalue our leaders and must always seek to be with and for them.

Leading Small Groups: Self-Guided Discussion

There may be times as a small group leader that you don’t have pre-scripted questions, or your students aren’t vibing with the questions you have. While it may not always flow seamlessly, those are times when I like to move to what I call “self-guided discussions.” These are discussions facilitated by a small group leader, but essentially led by the needs, responses, and thoughts of the small group. Here is a basic look at how to lead your group using a self-guided discussion.

If you can, do a little pre-discussion prep.

The longer you spend with your particular small group, the more you will learn about them. You will be able to identify key areas that impact their lives individually and collectively. As you learn these things, you will be able to identify key topics or themes from weekly lessons that will be most relevant to them.

If you know the lesson topic prior to youth group, you can prep beforehand. Otherwise, you can take notes and write questions during the teaching time. Look for ways to connect the topic or key points of the lesson to the lives of your students. Come up with some questions that will lead students to make these connections on their own, rather than simply spoon-feeding them the answers.

Ask, “What stood out to you?”

If I can tell my students are engaged and thinking through to the topic, I want to hear what is standing out to them. Often I like to ask this question first to see what spoke to them, what they are thinking about, and what they might need to spend extra time talking through. Sometimes this will dictate the entire direction of our discussion time, especially if it is a topic I know will benefit the entire group.

When asking this question, you may get answers (or comments) that don’t exactly relate to the lesson topic. Sometimes your students might go entirely off topic. If it’s something worth talking about, I would encourage you not to completely shut down the discussion. Some of the best conversations I’ve had with my small group originated from what seemed like a tangent. It’s okay to deviate from the intended topic and let conversation grow organically as long as it’s beneficial and not an attempt to distract the group. This can be one of the best aspects of self-guided discussion.

Ask follow-up questions based on students’ answers.

After asking the students what stood out to them, use their answers to guide your questions. Pick a key word or topic from their answers to hone in on. Ask follow-up questions that will steer the conversation in a helpful direction. This is a great way to help students connect broad topics to real-life application. It also allows you to spend more time on things that are important to your students, rather than glossing over them to move on to the next question.

Apply questions and answers to specific life circumstances or issues.

As I mentioned before, it’s important for us to assist students in connecting the truths of Scripture to their lives. They need to be able to see the relevance of lesson topics for their lives. These connections may be easy for them to make, but other times they may struggle. This is where you as a leader can guide them into making these connections with the questions you ask. The more you know about your students, the more you will be able to connect topics to their specific life circumstances.

Within this, it is important not to disclose things you have been told in confidence by students. Use discretion in how you address topics, keeping student privacy in mind. If a student has shared an issue previously with the group at large, I recommend speaking to them privately before bringing it up again in the group. This can be as simple as pulling them aside and asking for their permission to bring up the topic, or asking them if they would be willing to share about it.

Encourage your students to ask questions.

Self-guided discussion truly becomes self-guided when your students start asking questions. This may start with them asking you things, but eventually they will hopefully begin to ask each other follow-up questions. Even if you don’t know the answer to a student’s question, encourage them by affirming their question, and if needed, doing some research so you can follow-up with an answer. Be honest and open with your students. You don’t have to share everything, but you will be able to connect with them on a deeper level if you let them into your life. This will help to build rapport between you and your students.

Preparing as a Volunteer Leader

Fall is almost upon us and so is the start of another school year. Whether you’re a veteran leader, or this will be your first year serving in student ministry, it’s a great time to prepare for the upcoming year. It’s easy to simply roll into student ministry without giving it too much fore-thought, but I believe taking some time to prepare can be beneficial. Here are a few ways to help be better prepared for the start of this ministry year.

Get in the know

Our ministry hosts a leader training session before each school year starts. This helps us to get on the same page, go over any rules and requirements, talk about the plan for the year ahead, and bond as leaders. If your church doesn’t host leader training or if you’ll miss it, I recommend scheduling a meeting with your student pastor. Use the time to hear his/her vision for the year, learn important rules, find out who is in your small group, and grow in your understanding of the program and its leadership. The more you can learn about the students, the ministry, and the leadership, the more effective you will be as a member of the team.

Meet with key individuals

If you have one or more co-leaders, I recommend getting together before the school year starts. In addition to getting to know each other and how to work together well, you can take time to pray over and cast a vision for your group. This may sound like a lot of work, but if you have a direction and goal you are all working toward, it will help to build intentionality within your small group time. You can also think about how you want to lead discussion, how you can work together to challenge your small group, and how you want to divide any tasks or responsibilities. If you come in with a plan and vision, or if you simply show up with zero fore-thought, it will ultimately reveal itself in how you lead. As the old phrase goes, “failing to prepare is preparing to fail,” and students deserve the best we can offer.

In addition to meeting with leaders, you may want to meet up with your students as well, if possible. Any time spent with students is a great opportunity to bond–they get to know you and you get to know them. You will become an even more effective leader the more you know your group, the issues they are dealing with, and the things they are passionate about. You can also use this time to encourage and challenge students you have identified as leaders within the group. Help them get ready for the year ahead by identifying areas where they can serve and have an impact.

Invest in your spiritual growth

This is something we should be doing year-round, not just before the school year starts. As leaders we need to have spiritual inflow in order to produce an outflow. But now is a great time to re-focus and make sure you are getting adequate inflow. And to be totally honest, youth group should not count toward your inflow. You are there as a leader, to guide and help students to grow, not to find growth yourself. That is not to say that you won’t grow, or be challenged by the teaching, but your time with students should not be a primary source of your spiritual growth.

Personally, I find growth and inflow in a few key areas: personal devotional and quiet time, and corporate worship and Bible study. In addition to the Sunday morning worship service, I also participate in a women’s Bible study where I experience deep personal relationships and community. I also value quiet time alone when I can study the Word, pray, and listen to the Holy Spirit without distractions. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to have steady, healthy spiritual inflow.

Am I Too Old for Student Ministry? [Part Two]

Last week we dove into the topic of being “too old” to serve in student ministry, and dispelled some myths we have allowed ourselves to believe. Today we’re continuing that conversation.

There are times in student ministry when we begin asking questions about ourselves and if we are still called to serve in the same capacity. Often times this happens after a difficult season, a rough conversation, or when we are close to burnout. We also see this manifest itself in regard to age. We ask if we have been in it too long, if we are still relevant, or if we’re called elsewhere because we’ve done our time.

If you are currently serving in student ministry and asking if you have gotten to be “too old” for it, let me encourage you to ask yourself some questions and self-assess. Take time to think through why you are feeling this way, and if you need to make a change. The following questions aren’t meant to be a fix all, but instead designed to have you critically analyze where you are, and determine the reasons behind your feelings.

Am I still relating to students and parents?

Often times we ask ourselves if we are still relating well. I think we sell ourselves short and believe that if we aren’t completely relevant we aren’t relating well. Relating isn’t about relevance, it is about relationships. Ask yourself if you are still communicating the truths of Scripture into the lives of those under your charge.

If you find that perhaps you aren’t, or there isn’t the passion you had before, dig into the reasons behind it. Check your heart and your relationship with Jesus. Ask, “What is keeping me from pouring out?” Seek to recharge, grow, and improve, and then see what God does.

Is there something I am not doing that I should do to be a better leader?

Often when we feel burned out or that we are “too old,” we need to step back and ask if there’s something missing. Is there something you could be doing to help you be better at what is happening in your ministry? If you find yourself not being up to running games anymore, that isn’t cause to stop being in student ministry but instead is an opportunity to empower and build up other leaders to help carry the charge. Instead of looking to walk away, first look to see if there are areas to improve.

Have I stopped caring?

If you find yourself not caring anymore, let me encourage you to take some time away and do some internal checkups on yourself. Often when we get frustrated or hurt and nothing is done to rectify that moment, we tend to want to walk away and be done. If you find you have stopped caring, please take time to self-assess and heal. Look deeply into what is causing these feelings and seek to move forward in healing for yourself. If you allow this feeling to continue to grow and fester it won’t only hamper your ministry to students but also your relationship with God.

Why do I view myself as inadequate or antiquated?

I have often heard from older and more seasoned volunteers that they feel inadequate or antiquated and because of that, they aren’t sure they should continue serving. Let me pause and say that no matter what age you are, you can still pour into the lives of students. Step back and ask yourself why you’re feeling this way. What has led you to this moment? Was it a hard moment, a parent’s comment, was it some asking you if you can keep serving students? Stop and assess, and then look at your heart and what you are passionate about. Are you still feeling called to love and care for students? If so, stick with it and run after them.

What am I looking for?

This is a hard question to ask because it gets to the root of what we are desiring. You must ask yourself if you are looking to “advance” or if God is truly calling you to a different role. I want to be pretty blunt here: student ministry is not a lesser role, nor is it a stepping stone for advancement. If you are using it that way, please step out sooner than later because ultimately you will hurt students and hamper their spiritual growth. In order to find out what you are looking for, let me encourage you to think through these areas: are you looking to advance in status, are you looking for better pay, do you want an easier role, is God calling you elsewhere, or are you just frustrated in the moment? These will help you to discern more about what is happening in your heart and where you need to be.

Do I need to find time to rest and recharge?

Many times when we question our abilities or consider stepping away, it is because of overworking and burnout. Before you think about throwing in the towel, take time to rest, reevaluate, spend time with Jesus, and have mentors speak into your life. Being able to reevaluate with a fresh set of eyes and a still heart will help you to see what is truly happening and engage in healthy ways.

Am I still excited about student ministry?

If you are serving in student ministry and your passion isn’t there, ask yourself if you still find joy in what you do, or is just something you show up to. There are seasons that are harder than others, but if you have found yourself to be struggling in enjoying what you do and what you are called to, get some people to speak into your life. Look at your relationships with God, family, and friends and see if you’re getting fed. Often we must look to the heart to see if we are spiritually healthy and then we can assess why we aren’t excited about our calling.

Am I simply looking for something different?

Sometime we just need a change of scenery. This isn’t a calling away from youth ministry but perhaps God is moving you in another direction to help others. First ask yourself if you are just looking to shake things up. Do you just need to try something new or change the structure, schedule, or format of the program? Don’t just walk away, look to see if changing something is where you are being led.

What would my students say if I left?

This isn’t the final and only say because there are always students who will say not to leave and the wise-cracking ones who will say you should never have come. But what I would encourage you to do is ask former and current students who you know have valid and thoughtful insight and see what they say. Ask them how they would feel if you left. Ask them if they could see God directing you elsewhere. Sometimes what we need to hear is encouragement that we are doing what God has called us to, and let’s be honest…the praise and encouragement of a students means a lot to us. Knowing we are doing what we are called to and that life change is happening is often the encouragement we need to continue in student ministry.

Am I making a difference?

This is a question you should ask yourself, your leaders, parents, and those closest to you. Don’t bank on one negative comment, or one student who writes off your program, but listen to those who know and love you. Let them be honest with you and see what their honest insight is into your ministry. A second set of eyes goes a long way in encouraging us and making sure we are on the right path.


 

Some of the best leaders I have served with have been many generations removed from this current one, and their students loved them. Not because of their sport prowess, or their ability to use technology, but because their leaders loved them, championed them, challenged them, and lived out Jesus to them.

No matter your age, if you are called, you are called! Personally, I believe an inter-generational student ministry is one where students, leaders, and families will thrive. Every ministry and church is to be a picture of heaven, and as such should have an inter-generational focus to it. We are called to shepherd and love those who are younger, and we are to mirror the kingdom of heaven in all we do. Because of that we should have old and young people together. Grandparents and parents should be serving with students. And the church should be a place of discipleship and inter-generational ministry. You are never too old, you are called and chosen!

Am I Too Old for Student Ministry? [Part One]

What is the ideal age to volunteer in youth ministry? At what age should I step away from working with youth? Am I too old to volunteer? Is there any real benefit to having older generations serve in student ministry?

These are questions I have been asked countless times in a multitude of ministry settings. For some reason we have begun to believe that our ability to to engage with and serve others is directly dependent upon our age. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. Before I get into the “right age for student ministry leaders” let me first dispel some myths we have allowed ourselves to believe:

I don’t understand culture, therefore I cannot relate to students.

I think sometimes we try to sell ourselves short because there is a generational divide or perhaps we don’t understand what is happening in our world. But the reality is you don’t need to understand culture to love and serve students. We aren’t called to be ambassadors for the culture but for Christ. So I would encourage you to consider stepping in and leading students by showing how the Gospel permeates all parts of their lives. But also let me encourage you to be a student of culture. Don’t sit by and think that because you can point students to Jesus, that you don’t need to understand what is happening. This is their world, so understanding it more will help you better serve them and point them to Jesus.

Technology isn’t for me, so I can’t communicate in the way students need.

I get it! It is so hard to keep up with technology, in fact students struggle with it too. What might be in today, will be replaced tomorrow. But here is what you need to know: simply because you don’t understand or don’t use technology is not a reason to be disqualified from serving in student ministry. In fact, I believe students need to disconnect from technology more because they are missing out on interpersonal relationships. Using who you are and your desire to connect on a relational level with them is more valuable than your technological prowess. Use this as leverage, not a crutch. But let me also encourage you to at least get into texting with students. You don’t need to use social media (although it wouldn’t hurt to have an account), but texting is the way the majority of students communicate. And if you don’t have a texting plan, check out various free apps (like WhatsApp) to use texting free of charge over WiFi.

I am too old to keep up with students, so I’m out.

Let me be pretty frank here: I am 33 years old and I can’t keep up with students. I try, but usually just end up getting hurt. Just because we may not have the physic we once did, the ability to put away food and not gain weight, or the energy that our students have isn’t a reason to walk away. Some of the coolest moments I have witnessed is when my older leaders love on students, play games even when they know they won’t win, and encourage their students. The ability to laugh, share life, and just be with one another is more important than being able to “keep up” with them. You don’t need to be the superstar athlete or the leader who can compete in triathlons, you need to be a leader who loves students, pours into them, validates them, and sticks around. That is more important than trying to keep up.

Students won’t listen to me because I am so old.

Students can be tough. I am a student pastor and there are times I truly wonder if they hear what I am teaching them. I prepare messages, I study hard, I try to relate, but there are moments I know they don’t listen. But I am not saying that to discourage you. In fact I am saying that to encourage you! Because while some students may not always listen, there are those that do. And even the ones who may not listen for a season do hear and learn from what you say and do. Don’t think that if someone doesn’t listen you aren’t needed or valued. In fact it is just the opposite. Lean in, keep pursuing them, and love them all the more.

I am more of a parent figure than a leader.

Sweet! Me too! I have worked with many parents and grandparents who don’t want to be seen that way because they fear it will keep students from opening up or discredit them. What I say to that is this: students need parents and parent figures. So many students today don’t have solid parents or role models so be that for them. Show them what a loving mom or dad or grandparent looks like. You aren’t there to parent them, but to love them and point them to Jesus, and the way you do that is by being who God has made you to be. Mom, Dad, brother, sister, grandpop, grandmom, and friend. That is who you are live it out. Don’t pigeonhole yourself and think it disqualifies you, use who God made you to be to reach students.

Teens scare me! I don’t think I could do this.

That’s okay, adults scare me! There are always going to be moments when fear invades our hearts, but we cannot give it the ability or the forum to control our lives. If you are scared of serving students, ask yourself, “What scares me about it?” And seek to overcome it. God didn’t give you a spirit of fear or timidity, but a spirit of power! Use it and pour into students.

So to answer the question, what is the right age…well honestly the right age is whenever God calls you to student ministry. You are never too old, you are never too removed, you are never past your prime. If God has put students on your heart run after them. Love them like Christ loves the church. Share life with them. Listen to them. Mentor them and bring them in. Don’t let perceived inadequacies or fear keep you from action, but rely upon God, study up on culture, and run hard after students.

If you are currently serving in student ministry and wondering if you are “too old” for it, next week we will dive into some questions you can ask to self-assess.

Kitchen Floor Chats: 5 Tips for Building Relationships with Students

It was a conversation I wasn’t expecting. He had followed me into the church kitchen in hopes of getting an extra snack, but the conversation that followed tore at my heart.

Student: Hey, let me get a bag of those chips.

Me: If you come to leadership on Wednesday, you will get these snacks and more there.

Student: But I’m not on leadership… (voice trails off)

Me: Why not?

Student: I’m… I’m not sure I am a Christian. I don’t always act like it, and people that know me would probably tell you I am not a Christian and that I don’t believe in God.

So many thoughts flooded my mind that night. The first was, why is this conversation happening as I am kneeling on the floor in a kitchen frantically stuffing chips into a cabinet where hopefully they will last until Wednesday night? Then the second (after God slapped me upside my head) was, thank you Jesus for letting this conversation happen.

Ministry happens in many odd and miraculous ways. This young man was an eighth grade student who had dealt with a lot in his life and knew who Jesus was but hadn’t fully committed to letting Him rule his life. I never would have expected this conversation to happen the way it did, but it opened up a door for us to begin meeting weekly together and he agreed to answer the “hard questions” about Christianity honestly. I thank God for days where ministry just “happens” on kitchen floors and across counter tops.

The question we should ask is how do we get there? So often conversations like these happen at times and in ways we would least expect, but they happen because there has been trust built! This student was someone I had intentionally been plugging into in small but very meaningful ways, and I am convinced if we do more of this, we will indeed start having more kitchen floor conversations about Jesus. From these kitchen floor chats we will see that the next logical step is a mentoring relationship, but first we must get to the kitchen floor. The following are just some helpful and practical tips to begin the framework–the trust factor–that will lead to these conversations and more!

1. Acknowledge them

You cannot run an effective ministry if you don’t even acknowledge students when they are there. Not just on youth group or leadership nights. Acknowledge them all the time. On Sunday mornings, at the grocery store, where they work, even on date night. My wife and I bump into students all the time on date night and we love to pause and chat with them. Our priority is our time but we also love and acknowledge our students so they know that we care about them.

2. Know their name

It doesn’t seem like much but there is so much value in being known. When someone calls you by name it means they remember you and care. This is more than many students get on a daily basis. Their teachers don’t always remember them, their coaches forget them (especially if they aren’t a starter), employers see them as a number, and sometimes in families they feel forgotten.

3. Invest in their life

Go to their activities, and follow up with them! A huge thing with students is caring about what they do. I recently went to an orchestra concert for a few students and the smiles that came across their faces knowing they had an audience filled with supporters who didn’t need to be there made my day! They still tell people “my youth pastor cares enough to watch me play the bass.” Another student is into knitting (something I am not) but I ask all the time what she knits and who she knits for. She gets so excited sharing what she is passionate about and loves to come and show me gifts she makes for local widows.

4. Follow through

If you are going to do something then do it! Do not “forget,” do not “find something else to do,” but do it. Of course we will all miss things, but tell them you won’t be there, don’t leave it up to them to figure it out. Students have enough people letting them down, far be it from us to let them down also.

5. Live a life worthy of imitation

This is one we should all be doing. If we are going to call students to live like Jesus and to give their lives for Him we should be doing this as well. Students should see this in all aspects of our lives. How we speak to our spouses, how we raise our children, how we respond to frustrations (like when they talk during our messages or overflow the toilet twice in one night), how much time we spend with Jesus, how we care for others, and how we love.


This list is not exhaustive, but it is the framework for building the relationship that leads to kitchen floor conversations about Jesus. I am excited to see what God is going to do through this mentoring relationship and after that night, I am praying for many more conversations about Jesus in places and ways I would never expect!

Lord Jesus, use us to have conversations about Christianity and salvation in ways we never see coming so that many more students will enter into Your kingdom and experience Your everlasting love!