I’m loving our student ministry’s announcement videos…check it out:
My friends at youthministry360 have been kind enough to release my latest Bible Study curriculum. I wrote this study with one question in mind: What if we assumed our students–whether they’ve grown up in church or they had never set foot in a church until they came to youth group last week–aren’t familiar with Jesus, the Bible, or churchy words like Gospel or salvation? The result is The Gospel, a 4-week study that starts at square-one when it comes to the Good News of Jesus: Why he came, why he died, and why we need him.
Head over to youthministry360 today to check it out and download a free sample lesson!
Last week, I posted 10 ideas for developing leaders on your youth ministry team. The list was focused on developing adult leaders on our teams, but you and I know it’s important to develop student leaders, too. Here are 10 ideas for developing student leaders in your youth ministry:
Ask a student to share their story. Have a student share in front of the group how they came to know Jesus or how they were impacted by a recent service project or retreat.
Make a list of things at youth group that adults don’t have to do. You’d be surprised at how many things you do each week that you can ask some students to do, whether it’s running the computer or greeting students as they arrive. Have students do those things instead; they’ll be honored that you asked them to help.
Ask students to serve in small ways. Whether it’s stacking chairs after youth group or vacuuming up a mess, students will learn that leading means serving.
Starting in January, we’re going to try an experiment that will give a few people on our youth ministry team an opportunity to gain some additional training and experience in speaking “up front” to teenagers. The books our teaching team will read together arrived in the mail this week, and it got me thinking about what other small things we could do in our youth ministry that could have a big impact on developing the adult volunteers on our team. Here are ten ideas for developing leaders on your youth ministry team:
Ask others to speak/teach once a month. Whether you put together a teaching team like we’re doing or you simply make sure someone besides you is “up front” once a month, handing over the teaching time to others will give them the opportunity to grow in the area of speaking.
Have a volunteer lead a game. You might be the youth pastor, but you don’t have the corner on games. Ask a volunteer to lead a game or activity at your next event or youth group.
Take a leader to school. If you visit a high school campus or go to an athletic event at a school, take a leader with you.
These resources will help you lead students to reflect on what it means to be thankful as Christ-followers.
To download these free resources, head on over to ym360: https://youthministry360.com/blog/free-thanksgiving-content-ym360.
And if for any reason you need help or have questions, their team is great about helping out, just let them know!
October was a crazy month for our family for a number of reasons, and this past weekend was the first weekend in a while that felt “normal.” I took the opportunity to do something with my two daughters they had been asking to do for a while: go on a behind-the-scenes tour of our church (or as they put it, “explore the church”). There were no ministry events going on, so they had fun running around the church, exploring “hidden” (i.e. locked) rooms, and seeing what the children’s building looks like when no one’s around.
The best part about our adventure was this: they thought it was really cool that their dad is a pastor. They knew that other kids don’t get to mess around in our church’s prop room (they thought it smelled funny) or play unlimited air hockey in the youth wing. It was a fun moment, because they are–even at the ages of four and five–aware that there are also times when my role takes me to overnight youth events or causes me to miss dinner because I need to care for someone or another family.
I hope that they always think that me being a pastor is cool. Because from their perspective, there will always be costs associated with my role: pastoral emergencies, having youth events on Saturdays (their favorite day to spend with me), or missing out on bedtime to be at my ninth grade guys small group. For every one of those things, I hope there’s at least one upside they can enjoy because I’m a pastor. Here are a few ideas to make sure that happens:
Full access to the church grounds. Let your kids enjoy your church building in ways other kids normally wouldn’t be able to. My kids loved exploring the empty buildings. Other ideas I’ve heard include having a picnic on the auditorium platform and allowing them to invite friends to enjoy the game room when no one else is around.
Allow your kids a free pass into your office. My girls know that they can interrupt anything going on in my office at any time. The only exception is if someone is seeing me for pastoral counseling. When they knock, I stop what I’m doing to hug them and have a conversation. They even have their own whiteboard (right under mine) that they get to draw on. And if I’m in a meeting that can’t be interrupted for a few minutes, they still get to come give me a big hug.
Allow them to be friends with other staff members. Sometimes I think my girls love visiting me at the office more for seeing all their “friends” than seeing me. I’m grateful to serve with a team that doesn’t mind when my girls wander into their office or cubicle to say “hi” and sometimes get a treat. When they visit our church during office hours, they feel like a blessing, not a distraction.
Invite your family to youth events. Since my kids are so young, they haven’t gotten to do this much, but they enjoy it when they get to come to hang out with the teenagers. Our girls came and played in a mud pit during our fall kickoff, and my family visited our fall retreat a few weeks ago for lunch on Saturday. They feel pretty special getting to come to things that only high school students are invited to.
Take advantage of a flexible schedule. Some seasons in ministry require extra time from us that can make it seem like we’re cheating our family. During seasons that aren’t as demanding on your time, make sure you cheat your job instead and spend more time with your kids. I’m well aware that not everyone has a job that offers the flexibility to go on field trips with their kids or take off a few minutes early to have a special “movie night” with their kids. And when you take some time off to spend more time with your kids, let them know that you’ve chosen to take off work in order to spend time with them. You don’t have to make a show of it, but it’s important for them to see concrete examples of you choosing them over ministry.
What are some other ways to make your kids glad that you’re a pastor?
A couple of circumstances in the past few weeks prevented me from doing some things in ministry that I had been looking forward to. The first one was at our annual fall retreat, which might be my favorite event we do all year. A few days before the retreat, I got sick with a bad cold. I wasn’t going to allow a cold to keep me from the retreat, but by the end of the first night, my voice was gone and I was not feeling well at all. Thankfully, we had hired a guest speaker, but I couldn’t run our team meetings well, lead any of the up-front games, or really even talk much with students. Thankfully, we have a great youth ministry team, and a youth director at one of our campuses stepped in and handled my responsibilities for the retreat. I spent most of the weekend in the back of the room with a cup of tea to nurse my throat.
The second circumstance was the start of a six-week series in our high school large group. Every fall, we plan a series that digs into some difficult topics for teenagers, and I had been planning the first week’s message in my head for about four months. When we finalized the dates for the series, the kick-off Sunday for the series I was so excited to speak at fell on a Sunday when I was already scheduled to preach in our main services. Another pastor wasn’t readily available to switch dates with me, so someone else got to give the message to our high school students.
On the other side of both of those events, I realized something: My presence wasn’t really missed. At the retreat, all of our sessions ran smoothly without me holding a microphone. And every student I’ve talked to raved about the woman who spoke to our high school students on the Sunday while I was preaching.
I also realized this: the fact that I wasn’t missed is a really, really good thing.
That might sound counter-intuitive to you. Shouldn’t the people you serve with and lead care when you’re not there? Not necessarily. If you take a year-long vacation, it might be a bad sign if no one really cares that you’re gone. But if you lead your ministry, church or organization in a way that it all falls apart when you’re not at the helm for a short time, that might be just as bad. A good leader leads in such a way that things keep clicking along when you’re not there. Here are some reasons why:
If everything falls apart when you’re not there, then you’ve made it all about you. If every youth group, every event, every week of ministry hinges on your presence, then maybe you’re at the center of your youth ministry instead of Jesus. You should lead your ministry so that things can go on when you’re on vacation or if you get sick. Our junior high pastor taught me this. A few years ago, he got sick right before our summer trip and was unable to come with us. His junior high leadership team didn’t miss a beat. His leaders loved the students, an intern stepped into the role of point person for the junior high ministry, and everyone had a great week.
A leader’s job is to cast vision, not handle every little detail. A fun part about leading a team of youth ministry volunteers is that most volunteers actually like to be put to work. Don’t take away the joy of your team by doing everything that needs to be done. Yes, leaders should be willing to serve and get their hands dirty, but leaders also need to do what they have been gifted by God to do: to serve by setting the course of the ministry as God directs.
People learn by failing. You might be worried that if you let others have responsibility over part of your youth ministry, they might mess up sometimes. You’re right; they will. Whenever I’m tempted to be a control freak because I think something has to be done a certain way, I remember that the first time I was asked as a high school volunteer to speak at youth group, my message was a train wreck. I’m thankful that the youth pastor I served with helped me see it as a learning experience and gave me another shot, and another shot, and another shot. We don’t want to put people into roles that they are totally unprepared or unqualified for, but sometimes, things won’t go the way they would have if you were doing it. That’s okay. If you’re a good leader and a good friend to your volunteers, they’ll learn from the experience.
Someone else will eventually take over your role. Chances are, you won’t always be in your youth ministry role, and someone is going to take your place. The question is this: What are you doing now that will set whoever follows you up for success, whether it’s one year from now or ten years from now? If you lead so they won’t miss you when you’re gone, then they won’t miss you when you’re gone. And that’s a really good thing, because it’s not about you–it’s about Jesus, who was changing lives long before you came on the scene, and who will still be changing lives long after you’re gone.
Occasionally, I’ll be contacted by a parent or someone else in our church who is concerned that we are “losing our teenagers” because of the prevalence of evolution being taught in public schools, the passage of some same-sex marriage act in another state, or some other “hot button” secondary issue they are worried about. Usually, I’m asked about what our youth group is doing to keep students on track. In the past, I didn’t have a really good answer, probably because I was more intimidated about the issue (and the person talking to me) than anything else. Now, my response is usually simple: We’ll continue to make much of Jesus, because Jesus is in the business of transforming lives, not to mention changing hearts and minds.
There are some secondary issues that youth workers should include in their teaching rotation. However, it’s easy to feel like we have to address so many of those issues that Jesus gets pushed to the margin in our teaching times and in small groups. The unintentional (or perhaps intentional, in some cases) result is that we communicate to teenagers it’s more important to know what the Bible says about homosexuality, popular music, and other “hot button” issues than it is to know Jesus.
Understand me clearly: Helping teenagers embrace a Christ-centered, biblical worldview is important. Part of maturing in our relationship with Jesus is learning to take God’s lead as we navigate through some of the “hot-button” issues of our day.
But when you talk about those secondary issues more than you talk about Jesus, you’re missing the point.
Here’s why you shouldn’t make a bigger deal about secondary issues than you do about Jesus:
Students who don’t know Jesus don’t care about your secondary issues. Really. And if you do decide to harp on those issues, you’ll either just 1) Tell them something they already agree with or 2) Anger them to the point they never want to come back. Stick with Jesus, and you’ll tell them something that might actually transform their life.
Majoring on secondary issues creates followers of YOU rather than followers of Jesus. If you give our favorite secondary issues more airtime than Jesus, eventually you’ll just have a group of teenagers who agree with you.
Following Jesus isn’t about having all the right opinions. Following Jesus is about…following Jesus. I’ve followed Jesus now for fourteen years, and there have been certain opinions I’ve held that I had to change my mind about because I grew in my understanding of the Bible. I’m sure there are things I believe now about Jesus, our world, and the Bible that I will eventually realize is incorrect. And I’m absolutely sure that I’ve voted for at least one candidate that perhaps I shouldn’t have. But those things don’t make me any less a follower of Jesus.
You don’t have to believe the whole Bible to be saved by Jesus. Seriously. Does following Jesus mean that eventually we will learn how to think through cultural issues with the Bible as our guide? Absolutely. But there’s nothing in the Bible that says if you have to believe the whole thing before you’re allowed to follow Jesus. Even Jesus’ first followers didn’t always believe the right things about him. We need to stop making it seem to teenagers that they can’t follow Jesus if they don’t agree 100% with everything they hear in our messages.
Majoring on secondary issues communicates to teenagers that they have to fit in at your church to be accepted. When you freak out at a student who doesn’t share your opinion about homosexuality, drug use, or the origins of our universe, the message you send is, “You have to agree with us to belong here.” Those conversations have a place, but make sure you allow students the room to disagree. You might find that they are more open to hearing you talk about Jesus when you don’t judge them for their views on other topics.
Majoring on secondary issues makes church about Us-Versus-Them. When we make a huge deal out of secondary issues, we communicate (sometimes inadvertently, sometimes not) that “we” are on the right side of the issues, and “they” are on the wrong side. When this happens, Jesus gets lost in the mix, and teenagers lose.
Students will stop inviting their friends. When you make it feel like anyone who doesn’t agree with your secondary issues isn’t welcome, students will stop inviting their friends because they’re worried about how their friends who don’t hold the same views as your church will be treated.
What do you think? Should secondary and “hot button” issues receive more or less airplay in youth ministry?