Talking Student Ministry
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
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
Friday, February 20th, 2009
Good communication is an essential element of accomplishing any youth ministry. We communicate to students and leaders, to parents and church staff. We communicate in large groups and small groups, with our words and our actions, and in our fliers and our bulletins. Nearly every aspect of ministry involves communication. Our purposes may be determined, our programs developed, and our principles defined, but we must communicate what that purpose is, where and when those programs are, and how the ministry will be accomplished.
In short communication is central to a healthy professional youth ministry. So what? So why does it seem like many youth leaders treat the job of researching the scripture and planning their weekly student sermon like it is an incidental element. Why do many treat the meeting with parents as a necessary evil with little to no advance planning, no agenda, no hand outs or consideration of what a parent is looking for from the time spent. I’m just saying . . . come on guys – lets plan to be more professional and respectful of the time our volunteer teams and parents give towards His ministry under our direction.
If we want to be taken serious, then we need to put on our big boy boxers and plan more like professionals OR . . . just admit that you’re not up to the job and move it on down the road so those who are serious about the world of Student Ministry can lead it to Grow Up and Become what God intends and what the church needs.