The Importance of Community

Over the last year, the value of community has become vibrantly apparent to me. Sure I, like most people in ministry, knew about and probably taught on the value of community. But I don’t think I’m alone in the reality that while I espoused this, I didn’t actively have community or seek it out.

Back in September of 2021, I began a cohort through Slingshot that radically changed my life and perspective on ministry and relationships. I was in a bad place spiritually, emotionally, and mentally, and I didn’t even realize it. I attended our first gathering and found community and people in similar stages of life and ministry. I felt like I had found my tribe.

Fast forward to March of 2022 and I went on a mental health leave of absence from my job. I remember telling my cohort friends over Zoom and barely getting the words out to tell them I wasn’t okay. The response and support I received was unlike anything I could have imagined. They called me brave. They prayed for me. They constantly reached out to check in and encourage me. They sent texts, Scripture, prayers, and resources.

When we gathered in person in April, I was just beginning to make some headway in my mental and spiritual health journey. I knew I was making progress but wasn’t where I needed to be. When Elise and I arrived at the cohort, our friends checked in on both of us. They loved us, laughed with us, grabbed meals together, prayed with us, cried with us (okay mostly with me), and most importantly encouraged us in our journey.

Looking back, this group, our people, are one of the reasons I’m still in ministry today. They showed up for us in real and tangible ways. They stuck by us even when I was at my weakest and lowest point. And that is what our cohort continues to do. We have rallied to different individuals over the past year as they have endured difficult moments, celebrated the highs and the wins with each other, and we have built ongoing relationships with each other where we simply check in and hang out with one another.

Outside of my cohort, I have built more intentional friendships with people in my life. I have always been someone who has lots of acquaintances but only a handful of close friends. But the importance of having quality, deep, and intentional friendships has been something I have realized I need. While I was on my leave I had multiple friends reach out to connect and foster our relationship, and now I can honestly say I have closer friends now than I ever have had before.

The reason I share all of these details with you is to highlight that close friendships and relationships are imperative to our own health, growth, and formation. Having people who hold you accountable helps you to grow and mature as an individual and as a Christ follower. When there are people who stand by you and encourage you when you are on the mountaintops or in the valleys, you will feel your heart strengthened and cared for. As you open up to people and they to you, you will see that you come to have a greater understanding of what love and connection look like.

We aren’t meant to do life alone. We are crafted for community, which is why we see God intentionally connect Adam and Eve. Even Jesus had a group of friends He shared life with. We even see this in the early church throughout the New Testament. God doesn’t simply tell us to find people who are like us or to do life alone, but instead paints us a picture of a community of diverse people who share in life together.

If you are like me and you don’t have many close friends or if you are a lone wolf who is content to do life on your own, let me encourage you to rethink your rationale in those decisions. Consider the blessing and the gifts that relationships and friendships bring. I’m not saying this will be easy, nor am I saying that it will come without hurt and pain. There may very well be moments when relationships hurt. But the amount of the good moments and the rewards that come from them strongly outweigh the negatives. Seek out community. Build strong and meaningful friendships. Open your heart to people and allow yourself to be vulnerable. Doing so will provide you with much needed encouragement, community, and relationships that will last a lifetime.

Mission Trip Reflections from Kentucky

I recently was able to take a short term mission trip to Hazard, Kentucky, to help with relief efforts following severe flooding in July. To say that this was an incredibly humbling and impactful trip would be an understatement. The devastation and hurt that I saw was unlike anything I have seen before. The stories I heard and the destruction I saw will remain with me for the long term, and it has shaped my vision for where we will be sending student teams for the foreseeable future.

This area of our country has been largely forgotten due to its location, socioeconomic status, disasters in other places, and more newsworthy media. But there remains much heartache, loss, destruction, and needed rebuilding.

Our team was focused on rebuilding and repairing homes and churches, and on hearing the stories residents of this rural area shared. The emotional, spiritual, mental, and physical needs are vast and everyone has a flood story in this community. Whether they lost something like a home or possessions or for those who lost someone, the hurt and pain in this and surrounding areas is very real and raw.

As I’ve had time to reflect and think about my trip, I have pondered the impact that trips like these have on our students and leaders. Today, I would love to share some of my thoughts and takeaways in the hope they bring you some insight and clarity when it comes to short term mission trips.

Mission trips are necessary.

Mission trips are so important in the lives of all believers but especially students. They are forming their understanding of faith and wrestling with deep and thoughtful questions. Mission trips help students see the Gospel in action and help them form a healthy, biblical worldview. But I think for some of us–myself included–coming out of multiple years where we didn’t do trips due to a pandemic, the necessity may have faded in our minds. We cannot allow that to be the case.

Going to Kentucky solidified the necessity of taking students on trips like these because of the way it helps to shape and mold their hearts for the kingdom of heaven. We cannot loose that vision and we must provide opportunities for students to step into new environments and see the Gospel in real and tangible ways.

Mission trips grab your heart.

It is so hard to put into words all that I experienced in Kentucky. I have taken multiple trips throughout my high school, college, and ministry years, but this one moved me in some powerful ways. Perhaps it was seeing the devastation and destruction firsthand. Or maybe it was the proximity of this disaster in relation to where I live (only nine hours away). Or it may have been hearing the accounts of people who lost everything and loved ones in the spans of moments.

Regardless of the reason, the reality is mission trips have a way of grabbing our hearts in ways youth group and church don’t often replicate. Serving with people who are hurting, experiencing the reality of loss firsthand, hearing stories, and seeing the power of both the Gospel and God’s people moving to action stirs something within our hearts like nothing else. This is why our students need to go on trips like these because it helps capture their heart for the Gospel in action and how it applies to their lives and others.

Mission trips move your students to action.

This past Wednesday and Sunday I was able to share about my trip with our students. I relayed stories, showed them pictures, and explained why help was needed. The response I heard from multiple leaders and students ranged from “we had no idea this happened” to “when are we going” and “what can we do.” When we are able to cast vision and share stories, it moves our communities to action and cultivates a desire to care for and serve those who are hurting.

Proximity breeds empathy.

This became so apparent to me once again as I was serving in Kentucky. When we are around those who are hurting or struggling, it moves our hearts and minds because we are sharing life with those who have experienced loss. The more we can get our students into areas and communities that differ from theirs in all capacities–socioeconomic, diversity, hardship, loss, etc.–the more they will be able to understand the hope and healing the Gospel brings and their calling to be the hands and feet of Jesus. And the more they will learn about others whose lives look different from theirs.

Mission trips will stretch and grow people.

Coming back home from my trip, something was different in me. The Spirit of God was tugging at my heart and pulling me toward an ongoing partnership with our mission agency in Kentucky. I knew that if I could cast that vision well to our students, they would also be moved to action. What I became acutely aware of was God was using my experience as a catalyst to invite others to action. And the same is true of our students.

As they go on these trips, build relationships and memories, and the Holy Spirit moves in their lives, students will return and help to ignite that passion and desire within others. It will not only stretch and grow the people who go on the trips, but we will see cascading effects on the people our students engage and interact with when they return home. They will help cultivate passion and excitement for Jesus and what He is doing in your youth group. They will tell their friends and families about what God is doing. They will ignite a passion to see the world changed among their peers. Mission trips have a far reaching impact beyond just those who go, and through these moments we will witness the kingdom of heaven grow and expand.

What Are You Teaching: All Church Series

Every now and then, our church does an all-church series. More recently, we have been using the spring semester to collectively work through a study built by multiple staff members to help our church journey in the Bible together. It involves all ages and happens in our services and in all the classes and groups that meet. But there are some unique challenges and circumstances to consider when doing these studies to help them succeed and truly be engaging for students and families.

Make sure your message relates to students. Sometimes when moving through a set curriculum for the church, there are applications and insights that are really beneficial but not always relevant and helpful to students. So look to make sure what you are teaching and encouraging students to apply is relatable to their lives and circumstances. Providing them with real and tangible applications will help them see how the Bible is practical and relevant to their lives.

Don’t teach the same thing that is taught in the services. This is a big deal because part of our vision for students should be to help them engage the church holistically and not just student programming. If we are teaching the exact same message with the same points in student programming that is taught in the sermon, students will tend to default to only the student gathering and forgo the Sunday service. This isn’t beneficial and further drives a wedge that doesn’t need to be there to begin with. Instead, even if you are teaching on the same passage from the sermon, look to find different insights and understandings. Highlight how passages can provide various applications and interpretations. Bring in new illustrations and ways to immerse students in Scripture, and help them discuss what they’re learning in both contexts.

Collaborate with others. One of the best things you can do in these types of series is talk to other staff members and leaders to see what they are teaching. This will not only provide you with insight and creativity, but will hopefully afford you new and intentional opportunities to partner with other ministries. If the adult groups are looking at a particular aspect, it may be helpful to both adults and students to know what each group is doing as there is a high potential students’ parents will be in the adult group. This provides overlap and a platform on which to engage ongoing conversations within families.

Remember everyone may not be on the same page. It is important to remember when going through all-church series that some students may not have a full grasp, if any, of the material you are walking through. So make sure to do due diligence and help students fully understand what is being taught. Also, remember that students may not be present at each level of the study due to other commitments and so summarizing what has been taught is important and also helps students continue to remain engaged.

Encourage students to be a part of the broader conversation. Make sure your students know everyone in the church is going through the series, and that they have a voice because they are the church. Encourage them to engage in conversations with family and friends. Challenge them to ask deep and meaningful questions. Provide outlets and opportunities for them to engage with church leadership on these topics and series.

What are You Teaching: Reading & Studying the Bible

“Only eight percent of global teens believe the Bible is the word of God and read the Bible several times a week.”

This is a stat the Barna Group posted on their Instagram account last week which caught my attention. It didn’t really surprise me, but it did cause me to reflect on how we can better equip and encourage students to read and study Scripture on their own.

If your students are anything like me, I wasn’t taught Bible study methods growing up. I was given a series of Bibles over the years, and found myself navigating through them on my own. Teen study Bibles helped to some degree, but I wasn’t taught what to do when I had personal devotional time. So I just read passages and tried to make sense of them, often failing to do so.

I can’t help but wonder if the students in our programs have had similar experiences. If they have, it’s no wonder they don’t want to read the Bible. If you don’t know how to understand it or where to start, it can feel like a daunting, confusing, and sometimes boring task. Students should be equipped to read, study, ask questions, and understand, so that they can uncover the beauty, depth, and purpose of God’s word.

In this third installment of the What are You Teaching series, I’d like to offer some ways we can help encourage, train, and engage students in their personal Bible study.

Translations: A simple place to start is by making sure your students not only have their own Bible, but one in a version or translation that is easy for them to understand. If the language/wording used is difficult to follow, chances are students won’t stick with it for very long. So look for a solid version that is written in a way that is clear and easy-to-read. Check out this past post for some suggestions.

Audio Bibles: Some students hate reading, or struggle with it. Others find themselves so busy with school, activities, and other commitments, that it is genuinely difficult for them to carve out time to read. Whatever the case may be, don’t forget that an audio Bible is an option. It may help your students to read and listen at the same time, or they can listen while driving or riding in the car between activities. For others, it may help them to calm their mind before going to sleep or while getting ready for school in the morning. If they’re interested in listening, they can download the YouVersion Bible app for free and listen to audio recordings of multiple versions.

Bible study methods: So your students have a Bible, now what? Make sure they are equipped to study it on their own. Some basic study methods include O.I.A. (Observation, Interpretation, and Application), Discovery Method, or S.O.A.P. (Study, Observe, Apply, Pray). These will help your students as they encounter Scripture on their own. You may also want to supply them with pre-scripted studies, that either you or a trusted source have created. Check out this post for some suggestions.

Recommended reading: As you get to know your students, you will learn their passions, interests, and struggles. Rather than have them start reading anywhere, guide them to passages that will appeal to and capture their interest, speak to their season of life, or help them get to know Jesus better. Sometimes students struggle to read the Bible because they arbitrarily open it and read wherever the pages fall. Or they may try to read through a book and get bogged down in a confusing story. Help them connect to the Bible by making personalized reading recommendations.

Start a study: Consider helping students grow further by hosting an in-depth Bible study for those who are interested. You can use this time to equip them further, challenge and encourage them, and address topics with which they may be wrestling. This is another opportunity to personalize it to your group, helping them see how the Bible connects to their real life situations.

Questions: For a while it seems in some churches, asking questions about the Bible was almost taboo. Help continue to break that stereotype for your students by encouraging them to ask questions about the Bible. Host a “stump the pastor” night or an “ask me anything” about the Bible. Even if you don’t know all the answers, take time to do the research and come back with information. Students are naturally curious. Encourage them to bring their questions to God, He can handle them all.

Creativity: Tap into creative ways to read, study, and process the Scriptures. Help your students see that it isn’t just about opening the Bible in a quiet room. God is creative, and we can interact creatively with Him and His word. This may look like artistic representation of Scripture through drawing, painting, or Bible journaling. Students may want to write their own music, spoken word, or poetry in response to what they’ve read. They don’t have to share their creative response with anyone but God, but if they want to, consider hosting an event for them to share their creations and the story behind them.

Make it personal: Do you believe the Bible is the Word of God? Has it changed your life? Have you wrestled through difficult passages? Share this with your students and bring them into your story of encountering Scripture. Students need to see adults who believe in God’s word and how it has been a part of their lives. They need to see that it can be a real and important aspect of the Christian life, and not a boring part of their to-do list to check off. Students connect with personal stories and will benefit from hearing yours.

What are You Teaching: Culture and Worldviews

Current events, cultural movements, worldviews, and relevant topics in the lives of students present great opportunities to dig deep and critically think about practical biblical application. But in order to handle these topics well, we need to be mindful of what is happening, how we approach them, and what the Bible says about them. Last week, we kicked off this series by discussing spiritual rhythms and today we want to continue by engaging the topic of culture and worldviews.

Speaking on these topics is paramount to our ministries because it helps our students see how the Gospel is relevant and applicable in our present reality and culture. Students are seeking to understand how they can be Christians in a world that is juxtaposed to Christianity, and at the same time trying to understand how the issues of today are guided by God’s Word. So as we teach on these areas, it is important that we help students see how the Gospel transcends time and space and the real applications it has for us now. This will allow our students to make biblically-informed decisions and help to elicit needed change from a Godly perspective.

Know your topics. If we are teaching about a topic our students are dealing with, we owe it to them to be well-versed and knowledgeable about that topic. For instance, if you are going to teach on sexuality, it would be beneficial for you to know the correct terminology, culture perceptions, and biblical insight. This will allow you to engage your students where they are at and you will be able to help them understand how to apply the Bible to these types of conversations and cultural settings.

Dig deep into current cultural contexts. I think sometimes it is easy for us to simply present what the Bible says and believe that our students see the application within their spheres. But the truth of the matter is it can be hard for students (and really anyone) to apply what the Bible says to modern context. The Bible doesn’t speak to every circumstance in our present culture, but there are principles and truths that do apply. Helping our students understand how to apply these truths means we must first understand their cultural context. We need to know what issues they are dealing with, why certain issues are important to them, and how to help them navigate cultural distortions of biblical truths. By doing this you can help your students prepare to engage this world with biblical truths that are covered in love and grace.

Know the pressures your students are facing. This is more than just knowing the cultural context, it is about knowing your community and students and the pressures that are uniquely surrounding them. No one group of students, communities, or environments will be exactly the same. So it is important to know the tensions your students are encountering. It may be issues with technology, sex and identity, or social justice concerns. Mental health could be a big factor for your students, or it could be socioeconomic status, or questions about faith and God’s goodness. Whatever the pressures are, the only way you will know them is by engaging your students, families, and communities and seeking to understand their key concerns.

Be aware of how your students think and engage. It may surprise you how your students think and what they believe. They may have differing opinions than yours on biblical truths and principles, and that is okay. Students, like everyone else, need to formulate their own views as they make their faith their own. This doesn’t mean we sit by passively and treat them with kid gloves, but instead we take their opinions and views into consideration and don’t just shut them down. Allow them to push back, ask questions, and formulate a biblical worldview as they navigate their faith.

Give practical application. This is a big one for students. So often they want to contribute to change, growth, and progress, and the application we give should help guide them in how to meet those desires. If they care about justice, help them find ways to advocate in your community and nationally. If it’s about providing food and clean water, guide them to local food pantries and national organizations they can support. If it’s about race and equality, help them find ways to engage their communities in dialogue and movement toward practical change. If it involves changing perspectives and views that may be harmful in the church, show them where to serve, how to elicit change, who to talk to, and advocate with them.

Present biblical truths with grace and love. As I shared above, students will often have differing views than what we may present. Whether it’s because of personal preference, experience, or cultural impact, their views may not always align with the truths of God’s Word. Even when what we present counters their views and perspectives, we must always remember to share these truths with love and grace. Students don’t often hold differing views just to disagree and cause tension, but their views are often informed by relationships, sympathy and empathy, and cultural trends and norms. Because of this, we must be willing to engage in dialogue and discussion that both hears and understands our students and their views, but also lovingly presents the truth of the Bible. Remember it isn’t always about being right, but instead helping to shape and guide our students to an understanding of God’s Word and helping them make their faith their own.

What are You Teaching: Spiritual Rhythms

One of the questions I get asked frequently is, “What are you teaching students?” Whether it’s parents, church leaders, other student workers, or even students themselves, it seems at some point everyone is curious about what is being taught. This week I’m starting a new series we are calling “What are You Teaching,” which will focus on different types of teachings we utilize in our student ministry program.

Before I begin to talk about one of the areas we teach on, it is important to note that while we do focus on different teaching styles, themes, and topics, we also have to be aware of to whom we are communicating. Our program has two different days that we operate (Sundays and Wednesdays) and both draw very different groups of students.

Our Wednesday night program is more invitational in structure and is focused on discipleship and evangelism. This means when we teach on topics in this environment, we stay at an entry- to intermediate-level of understanding to make sure our teaching reaches the majority of those in attendance. In contrast, our Sunday morning programming is geared toward equipping and training our students to be disciple-makers. This means we often go deeper into topics and look at application that leads not only to heart transformation but outward replication.

While both programs are focused on discipleship, how we meet that goal looks different based upon who is in attendance. I would encourage you to think through those aspects of your programing in order to help you pick the right teaching for the group that is relatable, applicable, and transformational.

This week I want to talk about spiritual rhythms and why teaching on them is important. I believe it is easy to assume these rhythms are taught at home and/or in “big church.” But assuming this puts both our students and families at a disadvantage. It is also unhelpful to assume that your students are not being taught or equipped at home in these rhythms. All that to say, don’t assume either direction. Instead view this as an opportunity to explain spiritual rhythms, allow those who haven’t engaged with them to do so, and help those who already engage with them to broaden and strengthen how they do.

Teaching on spiritual rhythms is something that can be taught to students who fall across all parts of the spiritual spectrum. But we must be aware of which rhythms we are teaching to each group to make sure they are translatable and applicable. For instance, I wouldn’t necessarily teach on fasting and meditation on a Wednesday evening. Instead, I would begin by talking about prayer and spending time in God’s Word.

But the real question is what type of spiritual rhythms should we actually teach our students? I have found in my experience most students are not aware of rhythms outside of prayer and devotions of some sort. This may be a broader narrative about what is actually being taught within our churches and how that is reflected in families, but that is another conversation for another day. I think for many youth programs it would be helpful to start with more entry-level spiritual rhythms and then scale upward as you see your students growing and maturing in their walks with Jesus. With that said, here are some spiritual rhythms I believe we should be teaching our students.

Prayer: I believe it is important to teach our students about both personal and corporate prayer. You can show them different postures of prayer, different prayers styles (like thanksgiving, confession, supplication, lamenting, etc.), different communication styles, silence in prayer, journaling, and more.

Scripture reading, meditation, and memorization: Helping your students not just know how to read Scripture but also to meditate on it and memorize it will help them deepen their relationship with Jesus and give them greater opportunities to navigate the difficulties of this world. Take time to teach how to read Scripture and also how to study it. Utilize different strategies and resources to help students learn in different ways. Highlight different tools for memorization and meditation so student don’t just read but also apply the Word of God by allowing it to permeate their lives.

Fasting: This isn’t something that Protestant churches often talk about, but it is something every Christian should engage. Fasting is something that our current culture isn’t acclimated to because we don’t often have to do without for any reason. But training our students about what fasting is, why we do it, and the results of it will help them to not only grow as followers of Jesus but also as young adults.

Communion: There have been many times where I’ve preached and handled officiating communion in our church services. One of the things I love to do is explain what communion is and then encourage parents to walk their children and students through it. It’s a beautiful opportunity for parents to lead their families and also for students to see how and why we share in this moment with each other. This can also be accomplished in student ministry gatherings where you can go deeper into the remembrance, repentance, and restoration (there’s alliteration for ya!) that comes from this sacred moment.

Giving and service: I think talking about finances is often a difficult conversations for churches overall. Asking for money never feels great. But if we frame it from the perspective of giving and service it allows us to focus not just on the monetary piece but the heart motivation. Students may not be able to give monetarily but can give of their gifts, time, and talents. So look to explain why we give and serve, how we can give and serve, and what that accomplishes for the person and the body.

Journaling: I’ll be honest, I am really bad at journaling. I can write messages, blog posts, devotional guides, and emails, but for some reason journaling escapes me. Elise is fantastic at journaling and has a way of truly putting her heart onto paper. When we journal as a spiritual rhythm it helps us share our hearts, put our thoughts about our faith journey to paper, and see how we have progressed in our relationship with Jesus as one of His disciples.

Worship: Worship is one of those things we believe everyone who becomes a Christian knows how to do. For some reason we assume that everyone knows what worship is and we don’t often teach about. But if we don’t teach our students how to worship, they will never understand it nor why it matters. Take time to make sure your students know worship extends beyond just music and singing. Highlight that different worship styles exist. Help students find their way to worship and show them how to make it a part of their everyday lives.

Sabbath: I’ll be perfectly honest and tell you until recently I really struggled in this area. I didn’t know how to intentionally pause and take time to spiritually refresh. I would assert the majority of our culture doesn’t know how to do this well either. We are so busy and so overwhelmed with everything that exists at our fingertips that we don’t usually find space to just refresh and be in the presence of Jesus. So create the opportunity for your students to experience these moments. Train them in what sabbath is and why it is necessary. Show them how it can be a full day, a week, a season, or even just a few hours carved out of a day. Help them to see what it does for their heart and soul, and how it draws them closer to Jesus as they are encouraged and refreshed.

Community and fellowship: I believe community and fellowship are spiritual rhythms that at times can happen naturally. But even as they occur naturally, they can become tribalistic and alienating to outsiders. Part of training our students in this rhythm is helping them see the beauty within the body of Christ that comes from diversity and differing opinions. When we highlight that the kingdom of heaven is made up of believers from different backgrounds, races and ethnicities, theological positions, and political views, it will help students understand the beauty of diversity and how they can have healthy, God-honoring relationships with believers who are different from them. This will also help our students understand how important fellowship and community is for the church as a whole and prayerfully help them stay connected with a local community of believers.

The Value of Home Groups

Back in 2020 when COVID first reared its ugly head, our ministry did what everyone else did: we went virtual. We shared teaching videos for small groups to watch and engage with via Zoom, we supplied online group games, and tried to host large group gatherings digitally. Like many of you, we saw our numbers gradually wane, and as we hit summertime our students were begging us to not meet online as they and our leaders (like all of us) were struggling with Zoom Fatigue.

Summer 2020 was spent searching for meeting alternatives, connecting with other youth workers to pick their brains and find new strategies, and browsing the internet for ideas on how to structure a youth group during a pandemic. Most of these searches yielded very few results. Everyone was struggling with the same questions as we never had to figure this out before, and our ministry education didn’t offer “YouthMin in a Pandemic 101.” Although I wouldn’t be surprised to see that course being offered now.

So I began to think through multiple strategies that would allow our ministry to continue, while still aligning with our vision, and meeting the need our students had for fellowship and community. Enter Home Groups. We came up with an idea that would allow our students to meet together in smaller groups around the community within the comfort of homes while all engaging the same material. We placed individual small groups in homes with leaders and provided them with a pre-recorded video lesson, games and activities, snacks, and discussion questions.

If you had asked me in the fall of 2020 if we would continue to have Home Groups after moving through the pandemic, I’m not sure how I would have responded. It was such a different style of student ministry that I wasn’t used to and it placed a lot of additional weight and responsibility upon my leaders to facilitate and lead their groups.

But enter summer of 2021. We took our students on a mission trip and for the first time we combined our middle school and high school students, and it was a rousing success. I saw my students love and care for one another in new ways. I watched my students step up and lead in a manner I hadn’t previously seen. I saw spiritual maturity in my students that was at least two years beyond where they should have been. What I was able to witness in my students was a depth, vibrancy, and spiritual maturity that had come out of taking a large group and going small.

Our students had actually grown and flourished spiritually in our Home Groups to a degree I had not seen previously because we inadvertently modeled what Jesus did with His disciples. Jesus always had large groups following after Him, but He often went deeper with smaller numbers, and from those smaller groups great fruit would be produced. What Jesus did intentionally, we had to wait for a pandemic to move us in that direction. And I am so thankful it did!

Today, now over two years since COVID entered our vocabulary, we have kept Home Groups as a part of our DNA. We have incorporated Home Groups into our programming once a month. We have also lengthened our small group time during large gatherings because we are seeing that’s where students grow and engage with the Gospel.

Home Groups take a lot of planning and organization, and at times can be a lot to handle. But the reward far outweighs the struggles. Sure, they look different now–no more video message, it’s all inductive Bible studies–but the growth and maturity still exists. We are seeing more students turn out to Home Groups than our normal midweek programming. Students engage with Scripture at deep and tangible levels. They desire the community and intimacy that homes afford. And honestly, I haven’t looked back and probably will not return to “normal” midweek programming ever again. Home Groups were a step of faith, but the reward has been amazing.

If you are looking to deepen the faith of your students, challenge them to think biblically about their lives, provide them with a place to fellowship and build community, and an opportunity to see discipleship happen in their lives, I would encourage you to consider Home Groups as an option. The reward goes beyond students and also impacts your leaders who are given the permission and opportunity to use their gifts and talents to help your students grow and flourish.

In what ways have the past two years reshaped how you do ministry?

Packing for Trips: Leaders

Last week we took some time to think through helping students pack for trips. But what about packing information for leaders? Are there things we should tell our volunteer leaders to bring? Are there specific items the ministry or trip leader should be bringing? What are some essentials that we should always pack?

Today, I want to explore some of these questions by sharing essential items I think every leader should have with them. Having taken a variety of trips with students, both domestic and international, I have learned there are items we should always have in order to be prepared. There are some items that only the trip leader and/or a small group of leaders should have for a litany of reasons and I will mark those with an asterisk.

A first aid kit.

First aid kits are extremely important no matter the kind of trip. I recommend purchasing a small first aid kit for each of your leaders that could fit in their backpacks and making sure it has all the essentials (bandages, alcohol wipes, Advil, antihistamines, etc.), and to also take a least one larger kit. I would actually recommend taking two larger kits that have more items in them to treat a large variety of injuries and needs.

It may be helpful to build your own kit or ask a healthcare worker or first responder to help you build one. Think about items like splints, triangular bandages, gauze, medical tape, Advil and Tylenol, electrolyte tabs, antacids, feminine products, smelling salts, blood pressure cuffs, alcohol wipes, Neosporin, braces, a tourniquet, a flashlight, tweezers, cough drops, laxatives, and whatever else would be helpful.

Bright flashlights.

If you’ve been on a trip with students you know there will inevitably be times when you will be out at night and a flashlight is necessary. However, an inexpensive store brand flashlight might not be helpful. Look to find flashlights that utilize LEDs and have a higher level of lumens. These will ensure that you have longer lasting lights with brighter beams that will help you navigate evening games, uneven terrain, finding students, or even working to repair a vehicle.

A power strip.

Have you ever gotten to your shared cabin or room and realized there are only one or two power outlets? If you have ever done a trip during the summer in a room without air conditioning and brought your own fans, you know how important outlets are. Or if you need to charge multiple devices, having enough plugs is paramount. So pack enough power strips that each room can have their own if needed.

A multi-tool.*

A multi-tool is something I would only encourage the group leader to take. Whenever we take trips, including mission trips, we don’t allow students to bring knives of any type for safety reasons. However, it’s a great resource for the team leader to have a tool for emergencies and day-to-day activities on trips. Having a multi-tool has helped my teams splice wires connecting our trailer to our van, fix broken items in cabins, and pull staples out of carpets on mission trips. Having one of these is absolutely necessary on trips.

Advil and Advil PM.

As I have gotten older I have realized the necessity of both of these medications. Advil for the aches and pains of a long busy day, and Advil PM to help you fall asleep at night on uncomfortable bedding.

Earplugs and a sleep mask.

Sharing a room with someone isn’t usually a bad thing, unless they snore. And what about noisy students? Or perhaps the AC unit that is anything but silent? Or there is light streaming in from the window. These things plus being in a different environment can make sleep elusive. That’s where earplugs and an eye mask can help immensely. They help you to remove some of the external stimuli and hopefully find much-needed sleep to be ready to continue leading your group.

Extra pens.

Whether it’s for students, leaders, or both, I’ve found having extra pens is important because someone or multiple people will need one. So bring along an extra handful in your backpack and be ready to hand them out as needed.

Instant coffee.

I tend to be a coffee snob, so recommending instant coffee is hard. But I’ve been to multiple camps and retreat centers that make coffee for leaders that just isn’t good. In fact I would argue some of the camps served us muddy water instead of coffee. That’s when having something that is passable is better than nothing. So grab some Starbucks Via or other instant coffee packets and bring enough for your leaders too so they can have some joy in their early mornings.

Propel or Gatorade packets.

During summer trips especially, these instant packets are key. But even during trips in the fall or winter time, they’ll go a long way especially if you have someone who gets dehydrated. It’s a quick way to get fluids and electrolytes into the body and allows people to recover faster.

Battery packs.

Have you ever found your phone to be dying midway through a day at camp but you don’t have an outlet nearby? For me it happens often because I’m using my phone to document what is happening throughout the day. So having spare battery packs is a must when you go on trips. Consider purchasing a couple really good ones that have multiple ports and can charge multiple devices on a single charge because your leaders will also most likely need to recharge their devices as well.

A good pillow.

Even if the place you are going to provides bedding, make sure to bring a comfortable pillow. Nothing ruins a good night’s rest like a waking up with a sore neck or shoulders as a result of a bad pillow. Having a good pillow will help you sleep well.

A water bottle.

Having a water bottle is a must. It allows you to stay hydrated and can help remind your students to do so as well. Make sure to have one that is double lined to help keep your cold drinks cold and your hot drinks hot.

Games or special items for small group time.

If it ends up being rainy one day on your trip, having games to use with your small group or cabin is a must. It helps to occupy the time and give your students something fun to do. Or you could bring fun snacks or special little gifts for your small group like glow sticks or personalized snacks you know they love. Also think about games you can play on the trip out, especially if it is a long drive.

Extra personal care items.*

This is something that as the main leader you should think about bringing. There are always moments when students and/or leaders forget some kind of personal care item, so take a few moments and hit up the travel item section in Target or your local dollar store for toiletries. They don’t need to be full sized items but having a handful of things like toothpaste, toothbrushes, deodorant for guys and girls, body soap, shampoo, and lotion are great items to have on hand.

What are some non-negotiable items you take on trips?

Packing for Trips: Students

Last week we talked about how to pick a location for student retreats and trips. But have you struggled with what you should tell students to pack for these trips? Have you received a frantic text or email the day of departure from a student or parent asking what they should bring?

As we continue the conversation, this week I want to share some ideas for helping students pack appropriately for trips. Next week I’ll share some insight as to what youth leaders should be packing for trips. Over my time in student ministry, I have come to realize a simplified packing list is much better to share than an overly detailed one. It ensures that students pack the essentials and helps them seek clarity when they have questions.

Before you even start to think about what students need to pack, you should be thinking about how you will communicate it to them. There are three main avenues of communication that typically can work with students: verbal communication, physical mediums, and electronic mediums.

Verbal communication.

Many ministries still utilize verbal announcements during their services and programs. These moments are critical for communicating important information in small, sound byte-style clips that peak your students’ interest. Two important things to remember with these moments is there needs to be simplicity, and direction toward a medium they can use for follow up (i.e. social media, emails, handouts, etc.).

Physical mediums.

One of the best ways to get things into the hands of students is to do just that. Get them physical sign ups, postcard reminders, or flyers. This will give them something to physically take, but the reality is these items don’t always make it home or to their parents. So be thoughtful about how much time and effort you put into these mediums as the reward may be minimal.

Electronic mediums.

Over the last decade, the importance of electronic communication has become undeniable. Students have phones and other devices in their hands constantly, and the more you can leverage these mediums the better your results. Use social media platforms, create QR Codes that can be scanned during gatherings, send emails, utilize story features on social media, and send out group texts with information. When it comes to creating online content, you may find yourself in the same predicament I often find myself: I’m not creative in this area. That’s where Canva comes in handy. It has graphics, images, and pre-made designs you can edit and utilize to best reach your audience. So lean into Canva or another design app to not simply list information but make it visually appealing as well.

So what should students actually take on trips? If you use a venue that supplies a leader packet, you may find a packing list there, but you may need to edit it to match your program’s guidelines. When I think about what students should pack, I think in categories: clothing, accessories, toiletries, camp-specific gear, and what not to bring.

Each of these are extremely focused and allow our team to highlight the essentials needed, and what is not allowed at camp. The camp-specific category helps highlight relevant items like winter gear, bathing suits, work clothes, or whatever else is needed. The accessories category allows you to remind students about things like bedding and pillows, a notebook, money, bug spray, and medicine. The “what not to bring” category lets you focus on things that aren’t allowed at the camp and what you ask students to leave at home. We always highlight leaving electronics at home, and things like energy drinks and illegal substances.

Whatever your trip looks like, remember to communicate clearly, consistently, and frequently through multiple mediums in concise ways. When you focus on those aspects you are setting yourself and your students up for success on your trips. Below is a graphic that we built in Canva for our student ministry’s last winter camp. This can serve as a springboard for your creativity, or we are happy to share how we created this to help you further. Feel free to reach out if you need help with creating your own graphic.

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?