Ways to Decompress & Rest

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

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

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

Healthy ways to Decompress

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

Tips for Setting Boundaries

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

The Importance of Sabbath

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tips for New Youth Pastors [Part 2]

Last week we took a look at some general tips for anyone starting a new youth pastor position. However, given that we are currently trying to do ministry during a pandemic this can look very different depending on where you serve. With safe guards in place and new requirements coming up frequently, it is important to address different ways of engaging with your students, families, and leaders in this new normal.

This week I want to share some helpful tips for those starting during this season that apply to a more socially-distanced style of ministry.

Coordinate digital meetups.

I know that many people hate video calls at this point and that Zoom-fatigue is setting in. But try hosting meetups online where people can come and get to know you. If you are doing it for students, try to engage with them outside of the normal meet and greet flow. Have some online games, utilize prizes (digital gift cards are awesome, especially if you can get them to local stores/restaurants), set up a digital scavenger hunt, or have people come in costume. All of these will help engage students who may not be super willing to jump into another Zoom session.

Increase your online presence.

Most youth workers have social media, but if you are like me… your personal feeds may be lacking. I don’t post often, and my students let me know. Even students who I don’t know personally have told me I need to up my Insta game.

My point? Students see us in all capacities, whether in person or online, and they are watching us. A great way to help students get to know is by posting about yourself. Not in some egotistical way, but in a way that shows who you are. Post pictures of your spouse and family doing things together, post where you are going or what you are doing especially if it is in town, host AMAs (Ask Me Anything) and polls in your stories, ask for advice on what to do and where to go. These are just a few ways to help you engage with others.

Utilize your youth group’s social media.

Depending on the size of your church and youth group, you may have social media accounts set up for your youth group. If so, leverage that to help people get to know you. Post about who you are and share some fun facts. Host a “get to know the youth pastor session” on your youth group’s pages. Post fun and funny videos of you getting acclimated to your new work environment. Post “Trivia Thursdays” and whoever answers the most questions correctly wins a digital gift card. Ask questions through a poll on your social media page or story.

Here are some easy questions to utilize in a post or story:

  • What would you like to see this coming year?
  • What series or topics would you like to have covered?
  • What is one thing you would like to see changed?
  • What is your favorite memory from youth group?
  • Why do you come to youth group?
  • What worship songs would you like us to play?
  • What would encourage your friends to come?
  • What games would you like to play online or in-person?

Send a note or postcard.

This will depend on the size of your youth group, but consider sending students a little hand written note introducing yourself, sharing about a digital meetup, and saying how excited you are to meet them. Receiving an actual letter or postcard is a sure way to connect with a student and their family as they will see you taking an interest in their student’s life.

If you serve in a large youth group and this isn’t a feasible option, consider sending a handwritten note to all your leaders. Your students will be looking to their leaders to get a feel for the new youth pastor, and if they have a good feeling for you it will be replicated to their students. It is also a sure fire way to value and elevate your leaders.

How have you seen ministry succeed during this time? What have been “wins” for your ministry?

Life After Lock-Down: Tips for Regathering

When it comes to reopening in the wake of Coronavirus, churches in many states have been afforded special rights and privileges as non-profits and houses of worship. We may be permitted to gather and congregate, but there are still recommendations and requirements that should be followed.

We must remember that in all things we need to represent Christ and look to reflect Him and His heart for people to our congregants, communities, and the world. We bear the responsibility to make timely and informed decisions in a reality we were unprepared for but called to lead in nonetheless.

In light of that truth, I wanted to offer some suggestions to help us as we are regathering or preparing to do so. Please know that these are not a foolproof method for reopening, but simply suggestions to help us do this in a proactive and Christ-honoring way. It is not reflective of any one church or methodology, but simply suggestions for how we can think through this as leaders and shepherds.

Don’t rush to get together.

It is easy to push to gather sooner than we should because we so desire community. But we must make sure it is safe to do so. Do not simply gather because you can, gather when you should. Put safe guards in place, communicate well, and honor the guidelines set forth by the church and governing authorities.

Be a force for unity not division.

It seems that for many churches, our ability or right to gather has forced us to take a stand that has lead to much division and fracturing. We cannot be leaders who cause strife and undue division, but instead seek to be voices of the Gospel that honor those in authority as we seek to reflect Christ to this world. I am not advocating for capitulation, but I am saying be mindful of your speech and actions and look to unite people together as Christ did. May we put aside biases, personal agendas, and political parties, and simply be a force for the Gospel of Christ.

Root your decisions in the Gospel.

It seems that for many churches the guiding principle to gauge reopening has been if their rights have been infringed upon. But that isn’t how we should measure if and when we gather again. We must remember that we are not due any rights because of our inherent sinfulness. I know we could go back and forth about our rights here in the USA, but why do we find our identity in our country and assumed freedoms? Shouldn’t we find it in Christ, and Christ alone? If we understand that in all things we must reflect the full Gospel, then we should know that reopening must be rooted in representing Jesus by caring for our churches and our communities.

So we must ask ourselves if what we are doing is a proper reflection of the Gospel, or a manifestation of rights we believe we are owed. We must remember that first and foremost we are to be a voice for the Gospel. Everything we do should reflect Jesus to our world. How we go about reopening, the safeguards we put in place, and the ways in which we minister to our people should all be outlets for the Gospel. Our care, love, and motives should all be to reflect Jesus.

Guard your speech.

It is so easy in today’s context to use our speech in non-constructive ways. We can hastily fire off a Facebook post, share something on our social media to push an agenda, or have a flippant conversation that is overheard and could bring about difficulties for the church at large. We as shepherds of our people must guard what we say and make sure we are not contributing toward tension, frustration, or dissension. All of those will only further fracture and divide our churches. Instead, seek to listen and engage in healthy and constructive dialogue that looks to encourage and build up the body of Christ.

Be proactive not reactive.

As you prepare to open back up, think about ways to keep everyone safe and healthy. This may mean you start with multiple layers of safety procedures and changes which are okay. It is easier to remove safety procedures than it is to add them. We want to be shepherds who do all we can to protect and care for our people, and as new information and data are made available, you can always scale back to adapt. If our people just see us adding more restrictions because we didn’t do it in the beginning, it may cause their trust in us to wane.

Don’t do things just because you can.

Lots of churches are meeting and lots of churches are doing things differently. But before you do things, let me ask you a question: why are you doing them? Is it because you can? Is it because it makes a statement? Is it because of external or internal pressure? Let me encourage you to think through the “why” before you do anything.

I know many churches that have relaunched and have gone back to “normal,” but we have to ask ourselves if this the best thing to do. When restaurants, malls, communities, and countries still have measures in place to protect people, should we as the church buck the system just because we can? Instead, I would encourage us to do things in a thoughtful and measured approach to show how we love and care for our people.

Hear and respond to criticism.

Criticism happens. In fact you have probably seen or heard a lot of it since this pandemic began. But here is what we as leaders and shepherds must do: listen to our people, hear what they are saying, and respond well. When people criticize it is often a representation of a deeper heart issue or concern. We must listen to them and truly hear what they are saying. One of the last times I preached I received an email that heartily disagreed with what I said and how I said it. I am not going to lie, it hurt and I wanted to respond in kind. But I knew that wasn’t right.

Instead, I sought council from those over me and on my team, and I ended up personally connecting with the individual who sent the email. I heard their concerns, I asked questions, and ultimately we agreed to disagree. But then I took the conversation in a different direction and thanked the person for sharing, and told them how much our church loved them. The change was staggering. The person was so thankful and moved, and they emphatically stated that even though we may disagree they will always call our church home.

My point here is this: no matter what decision you make in regard to reopening, no matter what safe guards you follow, and no matter how much you communicate, there will always be criticism. But it is essential to respond with love and understanding and seek to emulate Christ in all things.

Tips for Maintaining Your Spiritual Health

When life feels up-ended, it can be easy to let our spiritual health decline. Other things crowd in–whether it’s work, the needs of others, or our rapidly changing context–and we shift into a “survival mode” that can cause us to neglect our spiritual well-being. But if we are honest, if we don’t maintain our spiritual in-flow, we won’t survive for long.

We want to encourage and challenge you to make your own spiritual health and relationship with Jesus the top priority during this challenging time, and going forward. Sometimes that can be easier said than done, so today we’re sharing suggestions for prioritizing and enriching your spiritual growth.

Spend time in the Word for your own spiritual enrichment

If you are a ministry leader, you are no doubt already spending time in the Scriptures as you lesson plan. You might be preaching multiple weekly messages, preparing devotional materials, and mentoring individuals. This can result in a lot of time spent in the Bible, but not necessarily concentrated on your own growth.

Before you dive into Scriptural “work-study,” spend time in personal Bible reading, even if it’s only for a short period of time. If you can, find a quiet place where you can rest as you read, looking to hear from God and refresh your spirit. Spend time in prayer, specifically asking the Holy Spirit to speak to you and strengthen you for the work to come.

Establish healthy boundaries between work and personal time

It can be easy to let work bleed into your personal and family time, especially if you’re working from home. Taking calls, responding to texts, jumping on your computer to do something “real quick,” can begin to add up. You may struggle with what to prioritize, especially when it comes to ministry.

There will always be exceptions, but as much as you are able, set boundaries between “work time” and “home/family time.” This may mean keeping up regular office hours, and then setting your phone on “do not disturb” after they have ended. Or it may mean working in blocks of time and setting aside other blocks for personal and family time. Whatever you decide, don’t forget to explain it to your team or those who may be contacting you during “off” hours.

This may feel selfish at first, but it is essential to maintaining your mental health, your spiritual health, and your relational health with family and friends. If you don’t set aside time for these things, ministry work can easily take over your entire life, leaving you feeling burnt out and depleted.

Engage with church services for your own benefit

For ministry workers, church services are often times that are focused on work, and what’s coming next. It may be hard to dial in as your mind is already on what needs to be done as soon as the service is over, or what’s coming up in the week ahead. Whether you participate in your own church’s service, or another one online, give yourself the space to listen, engage, and grow.

Let us encourage you to actually pause and worship with your church community. Eliminate the noise and worship with your family without the worries of what is coming up. Seek to simply be present and worship. Read the Word of God with the church, take notes throughout the sermon, sing loudly without worry of who may hear. Engage with your family before, during, and after the service is done. Respond to what God’s Word is doing in and through your life.

If you find that you have more to do on a Sunday because you have become the “official tech guru,” you can still find meaningful ways to worship. To the best of your ability, seek to engage with and respond to the service as you contribute to it. Or, you may find it helpful to rewatch the service later, or listen to another one online.

Pursue mentorship

Due to our present circumstances, mentoring is something that can easily fall by the way-side. If we can’t meet in person, we may stop meeting altogether. However, mentoring is just as important now as we seek to do ministry in new ways. So we want to encourage you: keep seeking to be mentored and to mentor. In light of social distancing, this will most likely mean meeting via video chat or phone call, but the ability to have real, honest conversations is essential to maintaining spiritual health.

Engage in other spiritual exercises

Our current context calls for creativity, especially when it comes to spiritual growth. We may have to work a little harder to focus on Jesus and building our relationship with Him, but it is so incredibly worth it. Here are a few of our ideas for creatively engaging with God and His Word.

  • Practice journaling. As you read the Bible and pray, journal your thoughts and prayers. This is an excellent way to keep track of what God is teaching you, to respond to His Word, and to see how and when He answers specific prayers. If you’re creatively inclined, you can use different colors, lettering styles, and sketches to add to your writings.
  • Meditate on Scripture. Select a passage that speaks to your current context, whether it is something you are struggling with, something you want to work on, or an area of life where you need encouragement. Write the passage on a card and keep it beside your bed. When you wake up in the morning, before fully getting out of bed, take time to read the Scripture and ask God to bring it to your mind throughout the day. You can also come back and read over it during the day.
  • Listen to podcasts. This is something you can do while you’re cleaning, working out, or doing mundane daily activities. We especially love podcasts that help us think more deeply about what we believe and why. In the fall we shared a few of the podcasts we enjoy listening to. These can also help generate good discussions at home!
  • Engage in spiritual conversations with friends. Ask your friends what they are learning from God’s Word; share what He is teaching you. It is incredibly encouraging to talk through what God has been saying to us, and to hear how He is speaking to others.

How have you been maintaining your spiritual health during this season of life?

Coronavirus: Tips and Resources for Ministry Leaders

Over the past couple of weeks Coronavirus became very real for many of us, and in the coming weeks will be a reality for all of our churches and communities. This virus has left churches and youth ministries scrambling to figure out what to do and how to respond.

I have seen responses ranging from fear to faith, condemning to affirming responses, arguments to flat out fights, and this was just in pastor and youth ministry groups on Facebook. Isn’t it interesting how in the midst of a global and local pandemic, we can so easily revert inward and become exactly who we don’t need to be?

This week I want to offer some ways to engage with what is happening, tips on how to care for your people, and resources to help you navigate the current situation. My prayer is that we respond with love, compassion, and understanding during a tumultuous and trying time.

Pray and trust God.

This is a no-brainer, right? Wrong. It is easy to let fear and panic overwhelm in our hearts and minds, even as we present ourselves as calm, cool, and collected. Remember that even in the midst of the unknown, God is ever sovereign and still in control. He is neither surprised nor caught off guard, but instead is empowering His bride to continue on and be the vessel that loves His world.

Be understanding.

There is a lot going on with the Coronavirus. People are scared and worried. People are consumed by fear and are overwhelmed. Still others are reacting with skepticism and cynicism. In all things we as shepherds and caretakers of our flocks must seek to love and care for them. Hear their thoughts and fears. Listen to their input and be willing to understand how others are feeling and why they are feeling that way.

Affirm your church’s decision and don’t break down others.

We all have reasons for the decision(s) we and our leadership have made and will make. Please stand by the decision and uplift it, especially if it is made by those in leadership over you. The weight of making these decisions is extremely heavy and not something done on a whim. I know many pastors who have agonized over the decision to move to online church services or cancel all together. The potential financial hit is enough to overwhelm any senior pastor.

But even more than affirming the decision your church and ministry is following, don’t accuse or condemn other churches who are not doing the same. Regardless of others’ decisions, let us still be the body of Christ. Let us love each other and look to assist and share resources and information. Rather than question people’s faith and their commitment to their people, we need to understand that everyone is looking to respond to something we have never responded to before.

Don’t forget the easily forgotten.

There are many people who, due to the nature of the virus and the advice of our government, are staying away from large groups. Our elderly congregants are very restricted and isolated. People who deal with anxiety and chronic fear are scared of what is happening. You may have church-goers who are quarantined. And there are people who love to be around others, but because of social distancing, cannot. Check in with these people. Call them, FaceTime them, ask if they need anything. Organize, love, and care for those who could easily disappear.

Remember your college students.

Many colleges and universities are suspending on-campus activities and sending students home. This means that our college ministries are now in a great position to minister to our students. Their lives have been disrupted; some seniors are unsure of whether they will graduate now. This is a prime opportunity to care for these students and let them know they are loved and valued. Send them a text, host a Zoom gathering, or if you’re still able to, meet them for coffee. A little intentionality will go a long way with your students.

Care for your community.

In as much as the next days, weeks, and months may feel uncertain for us as church employees and volunteers, this new normal provides amazing opportunities for us to care for our communities. My senior pastor has put it this way, “This our opportunity to be good neighbors.”

Let me encourage you to think about how you could care for first responders, hospital workers, nursing homes, students who won’t have meals now that schools are closed, grocery store employees, and whomever else God brings to mind. You may not be able to go to into all these areas due to restrictions, but you can open communication lines and see how you can come alongside and love them. Let us love our neighbors as ourselves, especially in times such as these.

Resources

Download Youth Ministry – The DYM team has put out some free resources to help youth ministries love, care, and minister to their people during this time. There are lessons, tips on streaming videos, social media resources, videos, games, small group resources, and much more. There is also a really helpful article that they put out entitled “5 questions parents can ask their kids about Coronavirus” to help students and children process through their emotions, thoughts, and feelings.

Restream – This is a great resource if you are looking for a product to stream your services or programming on a different platform than Facebook Live or Instagram Live. There is a free option as well as two paid options depending on your needs.

LiveReacting – This is a resource that allows for you to create interactive Facebook Live videos. You can load pre-recorded videos, play games, create polls, and more all through this one platform. There is a free trial version if you just want to try it out, as well as monthly subscription plans.

Outreach.com – This organization is offering a free live streaming service for churches that plans to go live on March 20th. Check out freeonlinechurch.com to submit your email to be on the list of people who can sign up when it launches. This is a great option for smaller churches or youth programs looking to stream services and content.

Ministry to Parents – This is typically a subscription-based service that any youth program should sign up for, but with everything going on they have put out a really helpful article on talking to families about fears and the Coronavirus. This not only offers helpful steps, but it also has additional links for more information and resources.

Parent Cue – Another great resources to always be engaged with, Parent Cue has put together a really helpful article on “Managing fear and anxiety during a health pandemic.” It provides great talking points, helpful links and suggestions, and suggestions for managing life going forward.

Red Cross – The Red Cross has put out an article to help cope with this present reality. This article is extremely helpful for thinking about those who are dealing with fear, isolation, stress, and all the emotions coming through this time.

Church Leaders – Church Leaders shared a very comprehensive guide for dealing with the Coronavirus as a church. This is also available for download so you can have it handy to give to your staff teams. This can be easily adapted to your church and context, and it is super beneficial to have a ready-made guide to help build out your plan.

8 Tips for Generating Early Sign-Ups

Have you ever tried to get students to sign up for a trip? Have you ever received that last minute phone call, text, email, or DM asking for a student to be allowed to go? Have you been in that situation where its the week of the trip and only one student has signed up for a trip and you may have to cancel?

I get it. We have all been there. Getting students to sign up early, let alone on time, is extremely difficult. For many years I just assumed this was the norm in student ministry, but it doesn’t have to be. There is a way to make it work. I want to share some tips on how to achieve earlier sign-ups and increase them overall.

I should note that you won’t see changes overnight. In fact it may take a couple of semesters, trips, or years for changes to be seen. But don’t get discouraged. Stick to your values, keep the rules you set, and see what happens. Actual change will take time and if you begin to implement these tips it may just help move that change forward in the right direction.

1. Cast vision early.

This is something I learned early on in my tenure in student ministry. It is important to share the what, the how, and the why. If you are asking for students and families to have buy-in to what you are doing, talk about it as early as possible. Communicate why you are going on this trip. What will be the result? What will happen in students’ lives? How will this trip be paid for? Why should a student go? Why is this important in their spiritual journey? Answering these questions early on will allow for families to better plan and prepare for what you are doing, and it will generate buy-in.

2. Be excited about the trip.

Have you ever started at a new church where you had to take students on a trip to a place you had never been? I have, and I will be honest: it was hard generating excitement about going somewhere I had never been. So instead of talking about just the logistics, I shared about what I was looking forward to. I shared pictures and videos of where we were going. I tried to make travelling overnight sound like an amazing adventure (and it was an adventure). My point is this: if you aren’t excited, or you talk about the trip begrudgingly or with no emotion, why would you expect students to go? Get excited and let your excitement bleed into your students as you prepare to go.

3. Know what you are talking about.

This is a big thing to remember. Make sure the information you are sharing is accurate and clear. I will admit that sometimes I have shared inaccurate information and it has kept students and families from signing up. I have been actively looking to better communicate and share what I know to be correct information. In fact, if I don’t know the answer I let them know I will find out and share it with them as soon as I do. This actually helps me be more intentional with communicating with the host site or camp. I ask better questions and get their vision for our trip and that allows me to share more accurate information with my people.

4. Communicate with parents.

Have you ever felt like parents don’t know what is happening? Or have you ever received the email that claims they knew nothing about your upcoming trip or retreat? The reality is that there will always be communication that is missed, but what we should be looking to do is over-communicate.

Think about it: parents have hundreds of emails coming to them all the time. They are seeing all the stuff you are on social media and probably even more. They are trying to balance school activities, sports, social lives and so much more. Be willing to give grace when appropriate but also seek to communicate ahead of time through multiple outlets, and continue to send out communications. Consider hosting a plenary parents only meeting to share about what is coming up. No, you won’t get every parent on your first go-around, but the number will steadily increase as they see your passion and desire to share. The more parents know, the more your students will know, and the more sign-ups you will get because you are all on the same page.

5. Have an early bird sign-up.

Want to guarantee more sign-ups? Work within your budget to have an early bird deadline. Most camps and retreat centers already have that, which is why we preregister so we can save money. But what if you offered the early bird price that you paid for a certain period, and then the price went up to the actual cost (the cost it would be if you hadn’t preregistered)? Now you are generating a desire for students and parents alike to save money. This almost guarantees sign-ups because no one wants to pay extra if they don’t have to. And you are not simply upping the price for the sake of doing so, but from an ethical and moral standard you are keeping it in line.

We do this for all of our big trips. We figure out the lowest possible cost and offer that as the early bird. Then we adjust the rate going forward in accordance with the up-charge in the conference fee. We offer four different payment times: early bird, regular, late, and last minute. At most we have three to five late sign-ups and maybe one last minute because of the price differential. Not only does this generate sign-ups, it also alleviates a lot of stress. Planning appropriate deadlines affords you the ability to collect registrations in a timely manner.

6. Offer a payment plan.

Let’s be real: for some families, paying for longer trips is taxing financially. We get that. If you are asking a family to drop a thousand dollars right away for a trip, you won’t get many sign-ups. If you present a payment plan instead, and give them a means to an end, you will allow families to participate with less financial burden up front. If you have different sign up times you will need to have a plan for each one, but again, it allows families to see how much they owe and when, which can ease the burden.

7. Don’t allow late sign-ups.

This is a big thing for me. I used to always allow people to sign up late. I would hear their reasons why they hadn’t, I would see the change this trip could bring about in a student’s life, and I understood being busy. But what I didn’t see was that I was cultivating a culture where rules, guidelines, and timing didn’t matter. It added stress and tension to planning a trip and going on it. That student didn’t have buy-in like everyone else. Recently we made the decision to not allow late sign-ups unless extenuating circumstances applied. This is a tough stance to hold and there were parents who pushed back. But we shared our reasoning and heart behind it, and when communicated effectively beforehand, parents will see that the were ample opportunities to sign up earlier.

8. Host a scholarship program. 

Regardless of whether there are payment plans or not, you will always have families who cannot afford to pay for trips. Please consider offering scholarships for those families. It may not be a full ride, but even a little may allow for a student to go who originally couldn’t. This may mean getting creative and reworking your budget to put money aside for scholarships, or hosting a sponsorship event at your church, or even seeing if the church would consider taking a special offering. Any time you can help a student go to a camp, trip, or retreat could be life changing with eternal results. So think about how you can help get students to camp who need the financial help.

Help! My Students Don’t Like Me

“How do you make students like you?”

“I am a new youth pastor and I am not connecting with my kids…what am I doing wrong?”

“I have been in youth ministry for years, but I can’t seem to find common ground with my teens in my new position.”

These are just a few quotes I have heard over the past couple of weeks from youth pastors who are struggling to connect with their students.

The real question before us is this: how can I connect with, relate to, and push my students to the Gospel? Throughout various ministries, and lots of trial and error, I have seen many ways work and lots of ways fail. I want to share a few ways to help you connect with your students regardless of where you are and how long you have been there.

Don’t put your worth in students liking you.

If you find your success, identity, and validity in students liking you, then you went into the wrong field with the wrong intentions. You aren’t here to be liked–don’t get me wrong, that’s a huge plus–you are here to disciple students and point them to Jesus. Don’t go looking to be liked but go seeking to show them Jesus and love them the way He does.

Don’t expect them to come to you.

Go to where they are. I think sometimes we believe that if we keep office hours, have an “open door policy,” and invite them over then they will come. That isn’t the case. Students in fact have been told to not go hang out with strange people. If you are in a new position, you are a strange person. They don’t know you yet. They don’t know your passions and heart. So go to them. Go support them at their games and activities. Get involved in the community. Bring donuts to their school in the morning.

Know your students.

This seems like an easy one but depending on the size of your program (and if your memory, like mine, isn’t great) you may not be able to know every student. But try to get to know the ones you can and remember them. There is so much power in being called by your name instead of “hey you” or “buddy” or “dude.” Remember their names, but also seek to know more about them. What school do they go to? What activities are they engaged in? Who is in their friend group? Where’s their favorite place to go hang out? What’s the best coffee shop? What’s their favorite thing about youth group? When you know these things and bring them up in conversations you are showing intentionality and a desire to be a part of their lives.

Be real.

I cannot stress this enough. All you have to do is look at all the memes out there about youth pastors being one way around students and another in front of church members or parents to know that the common perception of youth pastors is they aren’t authentic. Maybe it is just a meme and I am trying to be too insightful, but I think the underlying truth is there: be authentic.

Students can tell when you aren’t being genuine or you’re trying to “just relate” but don’t truly care. They have plenty of people who pretend to care or invest in their lives, they don’t need another one. Be yourself! Don’t try to be someone you aren’t. If you are dorky, own it. If you are an athlete, play basketball with them. If you are quiet, don’t try to be an extrovert. And don’t pretend to know someone when you don’t. Love them as Jesus does and show them who you are.

Have fun.

Don’t be a stick in the mud. Sometimes engaging with students means having fun with them and with what they are doing. Think about it: what adult other than a youth worker do you see playing Gagaball or challenging students to an eating competition? I’ll wait while you come up with names… But seriously, have fun with your students. If they like board games, play with them. If they are into video games, brush up on your gaming skills. You don’t have to crush it or them, and when they beat you, laugh about it.

I love playing 9 Square with my students. Some of them are super athletic and can dominate the game. I can go toe-to-toe with them, but I often choose not to and allow myself to get spiked on. Why? Not because I like losing, but I love to laugh at it and also I get to connect with the students who did get spiked on. Have fun and let your hair down.

Tell personal stories.

Elise wrote an awesome post about the power of a story and she couldn’t be more correct. Stories convey truth and emotion, and they connect with people in a very real way. I love telling stories when I teach and they are almost always personal. I do this for two reasons: people see I am real and just like them, and it allows for my students to know me on a deeper level. My students know about my childhood, college years, my day-to-day activities, and all the times I messed up. In fact, I have students come up and say “remember when you did…” But the funny thing is they weren’t there for that moment, but they were there for my story. They connect with you as you allow them into your space.

Be consistent.

Don’t give up. The reality is all of this takes time and effort, and there will be moments you want to check out or walk away. Don’t! Stay invested. Keep showing up. Go to the plays and sports and coffee shops. When no one comes on a youth group night still show up. Students see you. They see your heart. Be someone who is there for and with them. Be the person they need and the person God called you to be. When you say you will be someone where, be there. When you say there is youth group, show up and be excited. Be consistent and watch what God does.

 

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.

Becoming a Better Leader

Being an effective leader means we must continue to grow and learn so we can better minister to those under our care. Leading isn’t just about being the face of a ministry or the main teacher, it is also about caring for those under your leadership.

Looking back at my ministry career I have seen areas that I have grown in and I want to share some of them with you. Now please hear me on this: I didn’t learn all of these things right away. Most of them were through difficult moments, some of which were my fault. But in all of these moments I hope that you can hear some advice and avoid the missteps I had.

None of these in and of themselves will make you a better leader, but put them together with a desire to be used by God and for God, and you will see Him use you in mighty ways.

Listen.

A big part of growing in leadership is growing in listening. Listen to your leaders, your team, your students, your superiors, and families. I am not saying that everything everyone says is going to be beneficial or helpful, but if people truly care about you and the ministry, they will seek to help you. So listen and be willing to let go of pride in order to grow and become who God is shaping you into.

Learn.

As a leader you should never stop learning. Our mission and foundation never changes: make disciples by communicating the Gospel. However, new ways of ministering, cultural shifts, advancements in technology, and many other areas are always adapting and evolving. We must be willing to learn and become better. If we ever stop learning as a leader, or believe we know it all, we will become ineffective and arrogant.

Shepherd.

If I am honest with you, this is a place where I have fallen short. At times I have allowed myself to focus on growth, establishing the program, and running everything, but I have forgotten to actually care for and guide my leaders. If we are not caring for our people, if we are not intentionally sharing life with them, we have missed the mark. Our ministry is to shepherd others as Christ shepherds. We need to love and care for our people in the valleys and the mountains. This has to be a priority in order to establish longevity in ministries and churches.

Grow.

This is similar to continual learning, but it takes it a step further. Be willing to challenge and push yourself. Try new things. Experiment. Step out in faith. Take risks. Part of growing is seeking to discern where God is calling you and the ministry you lead. How are you growing as a leader? Who is challenging you? How are you challenging yourself? Model growth and watch it replicate itself in your ministry.

Lead.

Be the leader God has called you to be. Sometimes it is easy to get in our own heads, to hear the attacks of the enemy, or to allow a critique to break us down. Do not stop leading. God didn’t empower you with His Spirit so you could sit on the sidelines. He established you as His child, called you into His service, and has put you where you are for such a time as this. Lead and lead well. Never out of pride or arrogance, but lead as Christ led. Lovingly disciple and guide the flock and empower others to lead with you. Remember that being a leader doesn’t mean doing everything. So be willing to grow and enable others to lead and shepherd them in those roles.

Retreat.

I have written about this before, but make sure that you are retreating and taking time away. Taking a break is healthy and necessary. Jesus retreated often to pray and reflect. God rested after creation. If God models this, shouldn’t we follow His example? Take advantage of your vacation time. Retreat and refresh. Shut off your laptop and phone. Spend time with Jesus. Be present with your family. Doing this not only will refresh you, but will also model an example to others of a healthy lifestyle, ministry, and relationship with Jesus.

Step back.

Assessing your ministry and your role is not a bad thing. In fact it is extremely healthy to do an assessment periodically. See what is working and what isn’t. Think creatively. Bring in new voices. Listen to people who are invested. Doing this allows you to have a fuller view of your ministry and to make the necessary changes.