Saturday, December 1st, 2018
When my sons were young and playing peewee city league football, I noticed how much time coaches spent trying to teach these little dreamers their individual assignments. Getting an eight-year-old to move on the snap to the right place on the field was quite an accomplishment. My youngest son was placed on a football team with a reputation of being a winning dynasty in the third-grade age group. I was concerned he had landed on a Friday Night Tykes team with an overly aggressive coach. It was common knowledge among veteran coaches and parents that this team had not punted the ball in seven years! In fact, they didn’t even practice punting. If punting had been required in a game, they would have been out of luck. How then, with such young players, did the coach get such a high level of performance? The coach was not a knowledgeable ex-football star. He was not an overzealous parent who scheduled extra hours of practice. He did not employ shrewd recruiting tactics to gain an unfair advantage. His team was not particularly loaded up with speed or size. In fact, he seemed rather relaxed and wanted the kids to have fun. Don’t get me wrong, he wanted to win and he was passionate about his team, but that was not his secret.
It wasn’t until after watching a few practices that I understood where his advantage came from. His system for developing a tiny team of winners unfolded before me. The secret in his sauce: flip cards. That’s right: laminated, color-coded, hand-drawn flip cards. Unlike all the other teams that yelled out plays to the quarterback and then yelled subsequent commands to get players to move to the right positions, this coach used a visual. He simply showed his players where to go, what to do, and a picture of the result of that movement.
Each player was represented on this little 5×7 card. Running backs in blue, receivers in green, lineman in black, and the quarterback in red. Color-coded, dotted lines directed each player where to go. Before you judge the effectiveness of such a simple system, let me add that they only had seven plays off three formations. Now, without trying to draw too much from this little memory, let me outline for you the brilliance of his structure and the parallel application to student ministry.
His system for getting youngsters to correctly perform on the snap was:
SIMPLE: The entire practice was simple. The coach had obviously decided to leave the complicated, tricky, and gimmicky plays to others. They simply practiced a few plays until they were on autopilot. Simple became excellence, excellence became the standard, and the standard became the expectation of winning. Like coach Herman Boone (Denzel Washington) said to coach Herb Tyrell (Brett Rice) in the classic football movie, Remember the Titans: “I run six plays, split veer. It’s like Novocain. Just give it time, always works.” It did, and it does.
A simple system for executing youth ministry will outlast a complicated one. A highly complex system might look good on paper, but can become too burdensome for some volunteers. A complex process can inadvertently become a drag on enthusiasm no matter how well intended.
- How long does it take for a new volunteer to learn your system?
- When was the last time you sought neutral eyes to evaluate your system?
- How do you evaluate your system internally?
SCRIMMAGE: Except for running to get in shape and learning football basics, the team spent most of their time actually playing the game. They played each other, as well as inviting other teams to scrimmage during practice time. This kept the kids from getting bored with their position, which often leads to under-excelling at a particular task. Involvement keeps youth and leaders looking forward with anticipation of what God is doing. Finding a place for everyone and giving your volunteer team a safe place to practice their faith and express their gifts will pay huge dividends on game day.
ENCOURAGEMENT: From nicknames to laughter, the coach spoke to his players as if he was certain they were capable of doing what he asked of them. His encouragement caused them to believe in themselves. It is not an exaggeration to say kids and parents looked forward to practice nearly as much as game day—nearly.
Youth ministry needs to maintain an element of encouragement and fun. Experiences and memories are often created by the lighter side of ministry, so don’t become so serious that you forget to keep it enjoyable.
VISUAL: A coach who takes the time to create color-coded 5×7 cards understands something about the developmental stage of his little gridiron troupers. His “playbook” was directed at the concrete learning style of his target age group. He taught his players according to how they learned and retained information, rather than instructing kids in the manner he wanted to teach. His players saw it, they got it, and they did it.
Student ministry leaders must understand they are serving the adolescent community and their families. Youth are not mini-adults no matter how sophisticated they dress, act, or speak. Understanding adolescent learning behavior is essential to correctly planning, executing, and evaluating youth ministry.
COACHING: The coach did not try to run the game from the sidelines as if he was the quarterback. He did not micromanage the players with audible instructions as if the game depended on him. He understood the players learned and improved more from experiencing successes and failures with each down. Rather than yelling commands to each player as if he played the position, he equipped and coached quietly from the sideline.
He sparked in them the idea that this was their game and that he was just the coach. Sounds ridiculously simple until you watch some of the antics displayed by some overzealous and intolerable characters still coaching. You wonder if they realize they can no longer play the game themselves and they cannot play the game through their kids. They constrain themselves up and down the sidelines only because they are not allowed on the field. I think some of them would actually be the all-time quarterback of their team if the rules permitted.
Youth ministry demands we never give up on coaching youth or volunteers toward the person God has designed them to be. There must be a balance between expectation and reality. They are not always going to play the game as we would expect or desire. Their execution might be messy at times, but it’s more important for them to carry the ball than to appear perfect in their attempt.
Is there a youth or group of youth that you feel ready to give up on?
Do you have a trusted ally or mentor with whom you can evaluate, celebrate, and troubleshoot your challenges on a regular basis?
Does your prayer life include a system for lifting youth and leadership up to the Father?
MODEL: Not only did I get to see the “dynasty” in action, I watched it cruise to three additional championships until my son outgrew the age group and moved on. As the city recruited other willing dads to become coaches, I became involved. First as an assistant and then as a head coach. And as you would imagine, I adopted the same principles that I had seen modeled the previous three years. It made my job easier and much more enjoyable, win or lose.
One size does not fit all when it comes to churches or youth ministries. There are, however, principles that are adaptable from mini-church to mega-church. Once you see success in action, zero in on the transferable elements that sustain it and put them into service for your specific ministry.
Resist the temptation to play every position on the field or coach every player on your team. We are not the players, but rather the coach. We are not the go-to ball carrier, but rather the one equipping others to carry the ball. Coach youth and youth leaders up to know their job and turn them loose to do it. Train your volunteer staff in positions where you cannot give focus. The bottom line is we need to be about the business of developing players and coaches.
We have far too many youth ministers who are quarterbacks, running backs, receivers, and linemen. We seem to know it all, can do it all, and look for opportunity to demonstrate our all. We spin the plates and take a bow as the crowd applauds. As energetic and appealing as it is to be so accomplished, this is not what Paul meant when he said: “I have become all things to all people that I might win some” (1 Corinthians 9:22).
Building your ministry with an element of simplicity, scrimmage, encouragement, visual, coaching, and modeling will render an overall enjoyable season. When the season is enjoyable, you stop looking for greener pastures, other positions, or other sports, and simply enjoy the one He has called you to serve.
Recently I found myself watching a 30 for 30 sports documentary titled “Broke.” It was an overview of the exploits along the road to riches and back again by professional sport figures. Some of the discussion included a reference to the life expectancy of professional athletes and how long and how well they capitalize on their financial windfall. That piqued my interest as to what the actual life expectancy was for pro athletes. Did you know the average life expectancy of a first round NFL draft pick is around 9.3 years or approximately 149 games?53 When compared to most professions, it is a rather short career. Our research indicates the average life expectancy of a student minister is between eight and ten years, with seventy-two percent leaving the ministry by age thirty-nine, twenty-two percent by age twenty-nine, and sixteen percent in less than two years.
Unlike pro athletes, there is no financial windfall waiting for you the day you are drafted to your first team (thank you, Captain Obvious). However, unlike pro athletes whose physical abilities decrease with age, youth ministers become seasoned with a more mature application of skills and gifts.
Creating a healthy system for effectively coaching leadership to minimize the personal plate spinning will keep you in the game longer and make your ministry more effective and enjoyable.
Would you consider a rather introspective thought exercise? Ask yourself the following three questions and give yourself time to honestly think and write notes of what comes to mind.
- What type of leader am I?
- What type of leader do others see in me?
- What type of leader do I want to become?
Leading well in student ministry can be the result of being inspired, changed, coached, or even delivered. Yet, inside each great spiritual leader is a beginning point from which dissatisfaction gave birth to a desire to improve personal spiritual leadership and management skills. In doing so, leaders begin a prayerful and sometimes painful process of allowing God to develop the skill set He desires.
Tuesday, March 6th, 2018
I was a young boy when the circus visited our small town. Our family loaded up the Fleetwood station wagon and went to the big show. From food carts and clowns to endless contest booths, I have two distinct memories that remain. First, my older brother, sister, and I were each given a white cardboard stick with a pink fluffy snack wrapped around it. It was the first time I had ever seen or tasted cotton candy. My taste buds disapproved, so I never became a fan. What I remember most about that hornet’s nest-shaped snack was that it was extremely sweet smelling and sticky. Eating it was like pulling off a huge chunk of cobweb and finger-stuffing it your mouth. No sooner than it passed my lips, it dissolved into nothingness. All that remained was a tiny sugar ball the size of a Tic Tac. It did not matter how large a bite you pulled from the candy hive, it still disappeared in only a few seconds.
Many student ministries remind me of cotton candy. At first glance, it appears large and filling until you take a bite. Then it dissolves into an unhealthy tiny little ball. Large, small, deep, shallow, professional, lay-led and everything in between, the effects of Cotton Candy ministry dot the church landscape. It is no respecter of ministries and can find its way into just about any size, style, or flavor of ministry.
The size of the church does not provide immunity from CCM (Cotton Candy Ministry). Neither does impressive dedicated youth space. From large professional student ministries to small volunteer-run outposts, CCM can become a silent killer. Sometimes it pops up even at the sincerest churches with great reputations. Some promote and operate ministry programs and package their website and social media as if a professional marketing company is at the helm, but are unaware of the CCM creeping up on their doorstep. On closer examination, these ministries provide little toward Kingdom increase. The vast activity, planning, and marketing seem to dissolve into only a fraction of the intended ministry impact. Perhaps they are full and inviting ministries for a season, but three months after the youth leader moves, the ministry dissolves into a partial of what it appeared to be. While CCM can be a bit hard to diagnose at first, once you become aware of the symptoms, you will be able to guard against it developing within your ministry. If you are currently seeing signs of CCM or have inherited a CCM ministry, there is good news. It is easily treatable and the cure is in your hands under the Lordship of Christ. Although this book as a whole will help you diagnose and treat CCM symptoms, let me refer you to the evaluation instrument called The Youth Ministry Assessment Guide found in the appendix section.
Now, back to the circus. The second thing I recall about the circus was the amazingly entertaining plate spinner. He started with one, then two, then three, and before we knew it, he had a dozen plates all spinning on a bunch of thin poles. Some plates would start wobbling and he would rush to attend one, put another spin on it, and quickly rush to the next plate. He moved with precision and awareness, from one plate to another, tending to the ones that would slow down. Before they came crashing down, he would rescue the plate by giving it a fresh spin while moving up and down the line. It made me nervous to watch as he positioned himself just in time to spin-up plate after plate. Focused and busy as a bee, he demonstrated his ability to keep all twelve plates spinning. To stop and answer a question would have been absurd. To step back and enjoy the display would have been impossible. After a while, the anxiety of the crowd gave way to applause as the hurried plate spinner finally removed each plate from its pole without breaking a single one and took a bow.
Now, I am not trying to say ministries are similar to a circus (although that may be the case for some), but often ministries today are operated much like the plate spinner. Let’s look at this analogy in three parts.
- Inherited plates: You inherit a youth group with one or two plates that need the spinner’s attention, so you jump in and add your touch to keep the existing plates spinning. Soon, to establish your specific ministry, you spin up another plate, then another and another. After a year or two, you have a dozen or so plates up and spinning, all of which seem to require constant attention from you, the plate spinner. You start to feel that if it were not for your constant attention, some of the plates would fall, others would break, and it would be your fault. After all, you are the plate spinner and it is your job to keep the plates spinning, right? You secretly and increasingly wonder if anyone else around here knows how to spin a plate. You resist a still small voice somewhere in your logic that says: “Well, yes, as a matter of fact, there are others who already know or are willing to learn the art of plate spinning.” Imagine what it would be like if the plate spinner decided to change his act. What if he were to teach others to spin one plate each? One person spinning a single plate. Better yet, two people spinning a single plate. Before long, he would have the same number of plates spinning, but each would be looked after and monitored by the person assigned to that particular plate. Now, admittedly this approach will likely not invoke much applause from the crowd, but the end result would be an ever-increasing number of spinning plates with no limit to the number that could be added.
- Core plates: Some plates are essential to every student ministry such as fellowship, worship, evangelism, discipleship, and missions. We cannot omit any particular one and still achieve true ministry health. While some student leaders have woven these essentials into their ministry for decades, many others simply ignore the core needs of ministry health and spin only the plates that are colorful and convenient. You must determine which plates are essential and which need to be sunsetted.
- New plates: These are the programs or ministries that you begin under your banner of reign. These are not the inherited plates you maintain, but rather ministry plates created for a specific purpose, which receive your branding, your style, and your initiative to launch. The question is, how many new ministry plates can you spin up? How much time do you have to keep them spinning? At some point, a plate spinner (even professionally trained) will resist new ministry opportunities simply from a lack of time to crank up another new ministry. Sometimes, it doesn’t matter how great the potential for Kingdom impact might be, the youth leader simply has no more time to give. New ideas or ministry opportunities never make it onto the strategic planning table simply because deep down, that minister knows if one more plate is added, it will put the entire plate spinning operation in jeopardy.
Too often, we are so accustomed to doing the work required to crank out yet another successful ministry event that we struggle to find adequate time to fulfill the relational calling of a youth pastor. Primarily this is because we operate within a church culture that has taught us and allowed us to be the quarterback rather than the equipper, trainer, or coach.
Wednesday, May 24th, 2017
Wednesday, March 22nd, 2017
For the past ten years, I have heard whispers questioning the validity of summer youth camp. As the whispers turned more frequently into questioning voices from passionate youth ministers, I felt a need to weigh-in on the subject.
Camp or no camp?
Unquestionably, all student ministry programming should be held to honest evaluation and scrutiny. Everything we calendar in the name of ministry ought to have Kingdom impact. The ministry calendar however, should not exclude a valuable tool simply because it has been around for a long time. It is tempting to board the trending train where things seasoned and aged are sometimes pronounce obsolete as it leaves the depot in search of the newest alternative. I have no dog in this fight, but I do have a lot of skin in the game so allow me give full disclosure here. I am not, nor have I ever been, paid by any camp producing entity for an endorsement. I have never served on the board of any youth camp organization or been a summer camp employee. My opinion is offered as an objective and impartial observer. So, trust me when I say . . . there are some things which almost always produce Kingdom impact if done with excellence – and I believe summer camp is one of those things – as are small groups, relationship building, and leadership development – to name a few.
Let me share four compelling reasons to incorporate summer camp into your student ministry calendar.
1. The “Get-a-way” principle: There is high value in removing people from their everyday environment, distractions, and conveniences into a focused and purposeful getaway experience. Jesus did this with His disciples for the purpose of helping them understand WHO He was, WHAT He required of them, and WHERE He was going to end up. Getting away to rest, focus, and learn is neither a new concept or all that genius – its just highly practical and valuable. That’s why fortune 500 companies take retreats, why the US Naval Academy sponsors a one week Summer Camp, and why successful companies like Chick-fil-A and Hobby Lobby utilize employee retreats to achieve their goals.
2. The “Investment” principle: Dedicating a specified time away is an investment in relationships, discipleship, leadership, and team-ship. Summer camp serves as an investment towards at least 4 of the 5 biblical purposes of student ministry: Fellowship, Worship, Discipleship, Evangelism, and Ministry Service (not a bad return for a single strategic event). If it is a mission focused camp like Mfuge, then you are likely swapping Evangelism for Ministry Service and can still achieve four of the five purposes.
3. The “Life Change” principle: The simple truth is – when lost students attend a Gospel centric summer camp with programming excellence, there is a high probability they will return home as a new creation in Christ. Of my 35 years of doing summer camp (both contract and custom built) the return is between 40-70%. Not only is the salvation potential high, but spiritual markers and faith growth spurts are more likely. When summer camp highs fade into school semester lows, it is a valid downer – admittedly, but that is not sufficient reason to kill it. Like a rubber band that expands and contracts, it does not return to the same exact form it was before being stretched.
4. The “Biggest Bang for the Buck” principle: If you add up what is spent through the church youth budget and programmed ministry event fees over one year, you will find summer camp to be a pretty good bargain. Compare YMCA camp costs at $500-$950 without leaving town and eating at home each morning and evening. The average high school sports camp runs $300-$1200 depending on the age level and does not include transportation. According to USDA healthy food facts, it cost parents between 195-$295 per week just to feed a teenager. It may be cheaper to send them to youth camp than keep them at home eating snacks between meals and consuming hot water, electricity, and fuel.
Let me share a small sampling of camps designed specifically for youth.
These camps are designed for church groups and do not allow individual camper registration. I have personally directed, spoke at, or visited each of the following camp ministries except one – Generate Camps by YM360. Generate camp made its debut in the summer of 2016 and is a trustworthy and high quality option knowing it is produced by several of the same masterminds who once produced Student Life Camps.
Contract Camps (programming, recreation, family group leaders provided)
Centrifuge Camps by Lifeway
Generate Camps by YM360
Global Youth Camps, Chattsworth, TN
Camp Anderson in Central FL
Student Life Camps by Lifeway
Summer Camp Facilities (you create your own camp from scratch)
Laguna Beach Retreat, Panama City Beach FL
Blue Horizon Lodge & Retreat, Panama City Beach FL
Springville Camp & Conference Center, Odenville, AL
Surfside Christian Retreat, Panama City Beach FL (Small – 72 beds – but directly on the beach)
Camp Lee, Anniston, AL
Several denominational conventions maintain an extensive network of camp facilities for rent. Southern Baptist have a large network of camp locations through many of their state conventions, as do Methodist and Assembly of God.
Wednesday, September 21st, 2016
If you have been around youth ministry very long then you have observed how some student ministries seem to grow wide but have little to show for it when it comes to growing deeply devoted followers of Christ.
On the other hand, you may have noticed that some youth ministries grow spiritual roots deeper than a Redwood tree but can’t’ seem to attract or win the lost through their efforts.
So today we are going to consider 7 essential steps you can take to grow your student ministry both deeper and wider?
The following list is a summary of sorts – a collection of responses that surfaced from a combination of student ministry consult interviews and surveys.
I have organized the list into 7 essentials found among growing youth groups. This list reflects part-time and full-time ministries without regard to the level of professional youth ministry training achieved by the volunteer or paid staff leader.
So what are these Seven Essentials for Growing Student Ministries Deeper and Wider?
The first one is
1. SMALL GROUPS: Growing student ministries focus on small group relationships as much as major event. Recognizing the important role small groups play in the spiritual development of an adolescent is a key factor to growing both numerically and spiritually. To calculate your small group effectiveness consider the ideal formula of having one small group for every 8 students in your average attendance. Each Small group should float between 5-10 students with an ideal of about 7 in attendance. Depending on the age group, interest level, and the time availability of the teacher/facilitator, one group may need to be smaller while others can afford to expand without losing the necessary high-touch factor.
If you want more info on the important role of small groups check out the training video on our YouTube channel dedicated to this topic and titled “The Importance of Small groups”
So the first essential is the importance placed upon small groups.
The second essential practice to growing deeper and wider is a focus on excellence.
2. Quality Excellence: Growing student ministries have a natural tendency towards programming excellence. The idea is that growing ministries strive for producing programming that is perceived as high quality. Regardless of whether it is or is not high quality compared to the star-powered mega-church – to the parents and youth involved in it and who serve within it – the ministry is perceived and received as programming excellence. Even if it is not Disney quality it is considered top-shelf by comparison.
So the first essential is a focus on small groups and the second is a pursuit of excellence. The 3rd essential is placing high value on involving students.
3. Growing student ministries will look for opportunities in which to place students into leadership roles. They want students to be personally involved in accomplishing their mission, vision, and weekly ministry gatherings. They know the value of students developing spiritually through doing, through preparing, and through personal involvement. This essential recognizes the fact that student leadership cannot be limited to those who play and sing with the praise band, are extrovert, or popular.
So the first essential is a focus on small groups and the second is a pursuit of excellence and the 3rd a high value placed on student involvement.
The 4th essential is to avoid failed ministry repetition.
4. Growing student ministries strive not to repeat unproductive ministry programming or events. Growth happens with those who are willing to discard or conclude a ministry that has proven unproductive over time with best effort expended to see it be successful. If you have given your best effort at making a ministry productive to no avail, then you must have the courage to discontinue it. Remember, an unproductive ministry due to programming ignorance or laziness is not the same as an unsuccessful ministry.
The 5th essential is what I call flood light encouragement.
5. Growing student ministries identify and encourage one another using a flood light rather than a spotlight. Understanding the benefits of flood light ministry is a key to high-touch growth. When we treat all students the same regardless of abilities, looks, popularity, athletic ability, etc. the tendency towards inclusiveness breeds acceptance and growth. A spotlight promotes individualism and exclusiveness much like a clique whereas a flood light distributes its beams equally regardless of how much or how little a youth brings to the table.
6. Growing student ministries will embrace and promote change. Now I don’t mean changing things for change sake (although sometimes even that is necessary in extreme stagnant cases) When it comes to change, we must remember that every ministry has its season. Some ministry programs will last a life time, like Summer Camp or Disciple Now Weekend. While the content may change and the programming updated, the concept of an annual ministry event like summer camp may outlive several generations of youth. On the other hand, some ministry initiatives have a very short life-span and are established with the intent of only accomplishing a specific, time sensitive ministry goal. Knowing when it is time to conclude a particular ministry program must be bathed in prayer and executed with humility and confidence.
The 7th and final essential to growing a student ministry deeper and wider is celebrating parent involvement.
7. Growing student ministries celebrate involvement and participation from parents and other adults. More than chaperones, these are adults who are youth friendly – who choose to invest in the spiritual development of teenagers. These are volunteers who are committed to providing students with significant other-person to which they can turn when the storms of adolescences flood their lives.
Deep and Wide . . . its not just a kids song from days gone by.
Friday, July 22nd, 2016
What is it that makes some youth ministries more successful than others? Why do some stagnate, decline or fail while others grow healthy and numerically? Is there a collection of habits that successful or exceptional student ministers practice? In our survey and interviews we have found ten practices that stand out as doable and adaptable for just about any student minister.
For this study I focused on two criteria for classifying a student ministers as highly exceptional. Managing a growing student ministry for at least three years. I chose three years for two reasons.
1. First, the 3 year mark is just under the cut-off of the average length of stay for paid student ministers in the US (3.9 yrs).
2. Second, the 3 year mark helps prevent a skewed result from those who have not managed or built a ministry but rather inherited the kingdom, so to speak. Growth for one year – good for you! Growth for two years – awesome! Growth for three years – now we might just have the real deal going on here!
Let’s take a look at these habits and practices.
1. They Exercise: While this is probably not what you were expecting to top the list it is a reality of healthy youth ministers and ministries. Youth pastors who remain active through a sport, hobby, exercise routine, running club, organized leagues, etc. were more likely to remain satisfied in their position and be successful in the youth ministry arena.
2. They Celebrate: Not only do they celebrate the involvement and victory of volunteers, parents, and student leaders, they also celebrate big and little victories in the lives of students, families, and major ministry events. The celebratory factor creates a reputation of joy and excitement radiating from a winning team.
3. They Are Not Afraid to Fail: Successful student ministry ships are captained by those who are not afraid to attempt something new or extraordinary. It is not that they are never afraid but rather they make a habit of overcoming fear in order to experiment with change or create something from scratch. They do not allow fear keep them from what could make the ministry successful.
4. They Are Confident: This is not the same as being arrogant but more akin to being secure – in what they know, who they serve and how they will organize the ministry God has entrusted to their care. Since the church already suffers from an overabundance of arrogant leadership, we should strive to balance the scales with humble confidence.
5. They Plan and Administrate Well: Over the years student ministers have acquired quite a reputation for being disorganized. I think it suffice to say that if you want to succeed in student ministry you will either organized, plan, and manage out of a natural skill set or you will force yourself to learn, adapt and acquire the needed skills to plan and manage well. Otherwise, you will become a casualty of chaos or burn-out.
6. They Prioritize Well: Successful student ministers have a habit of putting family in the correct biblical order – ahead of ministry. Some of the most frustrated people in the world are spouses of student pastors and often the root of a premature exit. Too often student ministers appear better at managing the ministry calendar than their marriage and families. It must be both/and.
7. They Maintain a Devotional Prayer Life: It is no surprise that successful student ministers hold their daily devotional time in high regard. They insist upon nurturing an ongoing devotional commitment. It is the one thing, no matter what comes, must be retained, restarted, reignited, and reestablished however many times it takes to preserve it.
8. They Are Not Afraid to Ask for Help: While this may appear surprising to some, most youth ministers realize how much pride exist among ministers. This is especially true among youth ministers who are often times young, inexperienced, and highly pressured to produce. This can lead to a reluctance to ask for help for fear of appearing inept. Successful student leaders know when it is time to get assistance and they are not too shy or proud to ask for it.
9. They Listen More Than They Talk: While this is a valued trait in any profession, it is especially beneficial in the world of student ministry. Listening is paramount among those who serve teenagers as teens need to express their thoughts, be heard, and listened to. Often youth are learning about themselves when they are talking, and listening will deliver a truck-load of insight.
10. They Know the Team They Are On is More Important than the Team They Lead: One of the realities of successful ministry enjoyment is arriving at the conclusion that the staff team is more essential to your success and happiness than the youth staff or volunteer team you direct. While both are certainly important, one must take priority and that one is the pastor and staff you serve alongside.
“For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” Hebrews 12:11
“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” I Cor. 9:24-27
Wednesday, April 8th, 2015
How much of it do you have? According to The World Health Organization the United States ranks 36th in Life Expectancy out of 193 countries. This means the average male in the US can expect to live 78.3 years while females can expect to outlast their male counterparts to age 81.3. By contrast the average male in Kenya plans his last birthday at age 60 while the average male living in Sierra Leone may not see his 40th birthday. If you live approximately 78 years and enjoy the average number of hours per sleep per day (9) then you will have consumed approximately 427,050 hours of discretionary time or about 48 years.
Most of us do take the time we do have for granted but in the world of youth ministry we must not waste it on things that do not have or lead to Kingdom impact. One of the major reasons is because youth pastors have a maximum of seven years to leverage against the development of the students entrusted to their ministry care. In most cases, students are entering and exiting the student ministry arena at different ages making our time for impact even more precarious.
So we return to the initial question: How much time do you have? Unless you know precisely when you are going to die you cannot answer the question with any certainty.
Let me encourage you to guard your time by practicing three important Time Management Tips.
Considering the minutes God entrust to your care, be sure to:
A. Manage it WELL – Because . . .
• Time is finite.
• You only have so much of it.
• The amount you do have is unknown.
• It is a non-renewable resource.
• When it is gone it’s gone for good.
B. Manage it SMART – Be careful not to allow your time to manage you. Instead, take control of your calendar as a smart steward distinguishing between that which is tentative and which is necessary. With all the modern technology available to assist with managing work and personal calendars, there remains far too many poor time managers. I am amazed at the number of managers (ministry and secular) who for whatever reason find themselves missing meetings, double booking, and over committing.
I have college-age and young adult colleagues who can access and demonstrate a thousand apps on the newest smart phone or tablet but can’t arrive to a meeting on time or make notes to remember what decisions were made during a planning session.
One student minister expressed that he would be a much better time manager if his computer did not also house his favorite games. His distraction and addiction to gaming competition was a hindrance to his smartly managing his time.
C. Manage it BIBLICALLY – Remember, your time is not your own.
• You are accountable to God for the time He graciously bestows you.
• You are accountable to your supervisor for how you spend it.
• You are accountable to you family for how you prioritize it.
Spending plenty of time in the scriptures will make you and your ministry significantly stronger. Take your student-targeted sermons seriously. If you are writing from scratch, good for you but don’t feel guilty for using ministry tools for sermon ideas and outlines. Conversely, if you mostly use or only use ministry tools for downloading sermon outlines and scripts – please, please write something original. Not only will it ignite a passion to preach what God gives you but it makes you a better persuader of the Gospel. Remember, only the scriptures through His divine revelation can change the heart of a student, a student minister or a student ministry.
“Making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” Ephesians 5:16
“So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” Psalm 90:12
“The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.” Proverbs 16:9
“Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time.” Colossians 4:5
“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” 1 Corinthians 10:31
Tuesday, January 6th, 2015
According to Ken Kaegler’s study of Youth Leaders who were fired or burned out 85% are graduates of a college or University. Of those who hold a degree, 49% have an emphasis or specialization in Youth Ministry. This means 15 of 100 youth ministers have no college level training and of those who do hold a college degree over half have no specialized training for the work of student ministry. Developing core competencies for student ministry service has never been more accessible yet many student leaders seem to be opting out of the academic component. Isn’t it enough that you love Jesus and love teenagers – well . . . NO it isn’t? The church deserves your best as do the staff, pastor, parents and students. From self-education to formal degrees you are the only one who can prevent you from becoming an expert in student ministry. To this end, consider obtaining as much training as you can. Perhaps a list of options can help you achieve your next goal.
- Attend a National Youth Workers Convention
- Adopt a mentor who has the degree and experience from you can draw.
- Observe and glean from a successful ministry in action.
- Enroll in an institute for greater credentials and skill honing.
- Network through professional youth ministry journals and culture experts.
- Subscribe to helpful blogs and webinars.
- Finish college or seminary.
- Audit a student ministry course.
Do whatever you can in pursuit of becoming an expert in your field. Commit to becoming a life-long learner of the ministry you serve.
Consider the following two options.
- Self-education:The primary idea here is to take the initiative to train yourself. You are either a window or an obstacle to learning. a) Research learning – this might include books, how-to resources, insightful blogs, websites, etc. b) Mentor-ship – no one person can provide you all the mentor-ship you need so don’t look for “a” mentor but rather several mentor outlets who will allow you to become a sharecropper of sorts as you harvest from their field of knowledge and experience.
- Formal Education:If you have not been to college consider enrolling. If you are currently in school consider taking youth ministry electives or pursuing a youth ministry major. If you need to go back to school, enroll as soon as feasible. There are so many great online options through today’s technology that few excuses are credible.
Let be share three cautions:
- Don’t become a “download dog”. If the foundation of your ministry revolves around a downloadable file then you need to upgrade your level of expertise. Too often there is the temptation to google it, copy it and voila, your good to go for another Wednesday night. Let me encourage you to be a content creator. There is significant benefit in creating your own content and this generation appreciates it because they are themselves by nature content creators. In fact give them a seat at the creation table and allow them opportunity to produce student ministry content.
- A degree is not a magic wand. Having a degree does have its advantages but anyone can testify to the fact that a degree alone will not create success. There are plenty of ineffective ministry ships being captained by someone holding a college degree. Simply having a degree does not make you an effective student pastor but it does give you the knowledge base to become one.
- Don’t do nothing. Next year will arrive whether you advance your expertise level or not. Why not ring in the New Year knowing that you have taken concrete steps towards increasing your competence level.
Education is knowledge and those who lead God’s people have prayed for such a blessing as to know more about how to lead His people, obey His word, govern His leadership, and exemplify His will. May it be so with you as you seek knowledge for your position.
“Give me wisdom and knowledge, that I may lead this people, for who is able to govern this great people of yours?” II Chronicles 1:10
“The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge, for the ears of the wise seek it out.” Proverbs 18:15
“Teach me knowledge and good judgment, for I trust your commands.” Psalm 119:66
Sunday, October 26th, 2014
According to the US Patient Office, cruise control (also called speedostat #2519859) was developed in 1948 by inventor and mechanical engineer Ralph Teetor. With the oil crisis of 1973 cruise control became a popular option for saving gas and soon offered as standard equipment by the mid 1970’s. Of course the beauty of this technological marvel of speed regulation is that you can simply set it and forget it . . . at least for a while.
Cruise control allows drivers to direct less effort in getting where they want to go and endure less stress in the process. However, it also produced an unforeseen consequence – getting so comfortable that paying close attention to safety becomes ancillary.
In student ministry be careful not to set the cruise control. Instead strive to lead your ministry out of imaginative priority rather than dutiful auto-pilot. Leading from imagination and excitement is more productive and healthy than leading from memory. The goal is to help create and shape the future rather than simply repeating the past. It is tempting to operate a student ministry from the cruise control – set it and forget it . . . letting it run until it needs your attention at a critical moment. Unfortunately there are too many student ministers who have set the cruise control and except for a few increases and decreases in speed, it remains pretty much the same ministry. The faces change with incoming sixth graders and outgoing graduates but otherwise it remains very similar. How can you tell if your ministry is running on cruise control?
Seven major indicators that your student ministry cruise control may be engaged.
- Your sermons more often come from your archive file than your study file.
- The only thing you changed on the student ministry calendar was the year . . . again.
- New faces come mostly on fifth grade promotion day.
- The good news is that there is no bad news.
- You don’t remember the process for scheduling youth for baptism.
- The youth worship order is a template that requires only song title changes.
- All your student leaders are veterans.
Three suggestions to help disengage the cruise control.
- Calendar with Purpose: Don’t just repeat ministry events because the dates roll around. Consider the needs of the students, parents, and the targeted lost community. Let the purpose dictate the calendar rather than the calendar dictate the purpose.
- Calendar with Passion: Create a platform where creative minds offer alternative ministry ideas that bring passion and urgency to reaching students with the Gospel.
- Calendar with Vision: Plan your ministry calendar with an eye towards the future rather than the past. Only repeat ministry events that produce progress in achieving the ministry vision and goals. Don’t be afraid to drop something from your ministry calendar, especially if it does not require a ministry to produce it.
If you need a break from the face pace of ministry management then let your volunteer team step up to assume some of the heavy lifting for a few weeks. It might be tempting to set the cruise control and step away but remember the long-term success of your ministry and your health depends on your being engaged and invested personally. Cruise control is great as long as it is not your priority plan for executing student ministry.
“Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.” Colossians 3:23-24
“The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, But the soul of the diligent is made fat.” Proverbs 13:4
Saturday, October 18th, 2014How important are small groups in student ministry – well, I think they are so important that I’m not sure it can be articulated in a short while. Whether you are the youth pastor, small group leader or potential volunteer candidate, I want to share with you a dozen benefits teenagers receive from the ministry of small group leaders:
- They have another significant adult caring about what they do and the decisions they make. I once heard Psychologist Dr. James Dobson report that 40% of kids are born into homes with no father to mentor them, correct them or cheer them on and that every ado adolescent needs a “significant other” adult willing to journey with them for the sake of what I call the THREE “C”s Challenging, Correcting and Cheering.
- Youth receive weekly encouragement to grow spiritually from someone other than mom or dad. Let’s face it, there is only so much mom and dad can say and only so long it will be heard before the ears of a teenager become supersaturated with the do’s and donts during adolescent development. Small group leaders bridge that gap for parents and in the cases where spiritual parenting and modeling is absent, the gap they fill is quite significant!
- Small group leaders provide an important support beam when hurricane force winds blow through the life of a teen. An invested connected parent and youth leader simply cannot meet the needs of enough students – they need help from committed small group leaders.
- Youth receive an encouraging word or a smiling face at sporting events or other type activities. A caring presence from non-relatives is a KEY player in keeping them on the right side of the road or correcting their actions when needed.
- Youth get to connect with an adult who is truly excited to see them at church.
- Youth are NOTICED when they are not present in small group and they respond positively when they realized their presence is NOT Incidental or taken for granted.
- Students benefit from of the voice of affirmation – whether a text, tweet, facebook, phone message or old fashioned snail mail note – they cant help but know invested small group leaders care and will not give up on them.
- Students need a “neutral adult” for practical life issues – being too close to the situation makes a parent vulnerable to emotional rule. A small group leader can support the parents from one step outside the boxing ring.
- Only in small group can a student find the connection deep enough to have a SAFE place or person in time of need.
- Youth are accounted for in small group – from a practical management side, they are noticed when present and when not present. Small group leaders provide the ultimate management system for the youth ministry.
- Only in small group can spiritual truths be planted using the highest retention rate methods. Its these teaching methods that provide future Holy spirit recall moments.
- If you want your students to become fully devoted followers of Christ INVEST in small group and small group leaders.