This weekend I had a new weekend volunteer start. It was really cool to see her excited to jump right in and get started. While we were talking she told me that she felt God calling her to youth ministry with kind of a nudge specifically towards teen girls. It was great to see how excited she got talking about something she was so passionate about which got me thinking…I believe she received three things yesterday that we all need from time to time.
UnderstandExpectations – Just loving on students is not a goal or expectation. Don’t get me wrong, I use that phrase a lot but leaders need to know in what way do we love on students. They need to be able to understand what you expect of them. So be clear in your expectation, and if it takes a long time to explain it than you probably need to look for ways to explain them as simple as possible.
Express Ideas and passions – I have to remember that God called them to serve. He also gave them the passion for ministry. So I must not take that lightly and make sure they know that their ideas and insight are just as important as anyone else. I would probably say their insight is even better with them being on the outside looking in. Also, when a volunteer feels heard and valued they buy into the ministry even more. Allow them to express their ideas and passions. It doesn’t have to be done just the way you want it done all the time. They may surprise you and give great ideas and insight.
Early Wins – I remember when I first started in youth ministry. Every win I would get gave me more confidence to keep going and even gave me the confidence to stretch myself and try new things. Volunteers are there not for monetary reward, but their reward is in the change they can make in others and themselves.
If you’ve been in youth ministry for a while maybe you need to revisit the expectations that are set. How often do you get to share your ideas and passions? Maybe it’s time for a one on one with your boss. Maybe you need to take the time out to just reflect on some of the wins in your ministry. Sometimes when you’ve been in ministry for a while you can become numb to these three things. It can cause you to set your youth ministry on cruise control and you never really get excited or have that fire you once had for ministry. I know there are more, but I wanted to highlight the three that I valued as a volunteer and as staff. What would you add to the list?
Do ministry on purpose! – What use to be done automatically must now be done purposefully. When you start dating someone everything is new and exciting. The time you put into the relationship seems effortless and everything flows perfectly. Well, after a couple of weeks/months/years things aren’t as new as they once were and all the things that were cute early on become common. All the things you did early on which came automatically now must be done purposefully. Being thoughtful and considerate towards one another has to be done purposefully. Because the more the relationship becomes common the more you lose those things. I believe it’s the same in ministry. When you are young in the game of youth ministry everything is exciting. Loving on students is easy and when you see God doing something in their life, you are screaming “that’s awesome” and it gets you so pumped. Then you get a few weeks/months/years into it and things become common.
You no longer reach out to the new students.
When God does something awesome in a student’s life you act excited but you’ve seen it happen a million times, so the enthusiasm and appreciation is not from the heart.
You stop fervently praying for students.
You no longer show genuine interest in the lives of students.
You become the “high-fiver’ that ask students, “how are you?” and hope they say fine so you don’t have to hear about their problems.
The list goes on and on. When the newness of something goes away you have to become purposeful about it or you become noneffective.
Some areas you might have to be more purposeful in:
Reaching out to new students.
Being genuine in your enthusiasm and appreciation when a students life is changed. Know that you are being used by God to change the course of someone’s life forever.
Praying for students fervently and expectantly. If you are spending 8 hours a day programming and only 5 minutes praying and seeking God for your students, ministry has possibly become to common.
Show a genuine interest in all the lives of your students not just the ones you know.
Seek out students who need your time and love. Ask more detailed questions than just “how are you”. Ask: how’s your family or how’s your walk with Christ?
What has helped me do ministry purposefully has been keeping a heart of thankfulness. I have this exercise I do that helps me stay thankful. I play three of my favorite worship songs and while they are playing I write down everything that I am thankful for. The first song I write down the things I am thankful for concerning my family. The second song I write down the things I am thankful for concerning individual students, and then the third song I write down the things that I’m thankful for concerning ministry. When I am done I can visually see all things I have to be thankful for. Seeing how God has used me in the lives of others gets me excited about what else God can do with my life. Knowing that I don’t deserve the blessings God has chosen to bless me with reignites the fire for ministry and life in Christ for me. I do ministry purposefully when I’m reflective and thankful.
So if you can see yourself in this post and you feel like you are just going through the motions, think about what areas you need to do ministry purposefully. My prayer is that this post starts conversations that moves people back into a healthy place in ministry. The honeymoon phase of ministry is over, now what?
First of all, there are no quick fixes. Had a conversation with one of my life group leaders that was having issues with one of her students. Her student has been through some very tough things in her life, and my leader wanted to know how should she began to care for and support her student. I shared with her a few things she could do and so I thought I’d share them with you.
Prayer – Praying for the Holy Spirit to lead and guide the conversation is so important. The bible says in Ephesians 6:12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. So you’re not just talking things through and everything’s all good. You are going to battle with forces in the student’s life that wants to keep them where they are. It’s a spiritual battle not a physical one. You need to be prepared and ready. You need wisdom only God can give (James 1:5), so prayer, prayer and more prayer should be your weapon of choice.
Active listening – The currency to being heard. Active listening is more than just not talking and hearing the other person. There is a certain posture you carry when you actively listen. You are sitting and/or standing facing the person. You are looking them in the eye, and if you are sitting you are sitting on the edge of your seat giving them your undivided attention. When you are actively listening you are very slow to speak.
Empathy – You don’t have to fix or give instructions right away. Mourn with them/cry with them/sit in silence with them. Allow your presence the opportunity to comfort them. We might not even know it but God uses our presence in peoples lives to just be a comfort to them. Which is not easy because we want to say that word or sentence that puts them back on track. The bible says in Romans 12:15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Sometimes students know what they need to do but just need the presence of someone as comfort.
Give Holy Spirit inspired guidance – The reason why I used “Holy Spirit inspired” is because you should be seeking God to give you what they need to hear. Sometimes it’s not what you say, but how you say what you say that makes the difference. Sometimes you are just there to help them find the answer themselves. Allow God to guide. Whatever guidance you give them think baby steps.
Refer when necessary – Don’t be afraid to refer students and parents to professionals. Even though you refer them you still have a job to do. You support them with prayer and your presence.
Set Boundaries(Very Necessary) – A lot of times we get all the other points but then we forget to set boundaries and we burn out. Students who lack attention from the proper channels will abuse the attention you give them. They don’t do it on purpose, its just the way it is. You must set boundaries for the sake of your spiritual and relational well-being. You will be spiritually drained and all of your relationships will be affected because you are literally being drained by one person who is dealing with issues that must be dealt with responsibly.
Don’t do it on your own – This must be a group effort between you and the parents. Bring other trusted leaders into the mix to pray and maybe even spend time with the student. The parents need to be in the loop every step of the way. How much you share with the parents depends on the situation. My rule of thumb is “when in doubt, tell them”.
I was thinking today about my weekend volunteers and how much I appreciate them. I am so thankful for them because they care about the ministry just as much as I do. Before I got into youth ministry I worked for World Vision. I led and worked with volunteers all the time. The five things I’ve listed below are things that I have to remind myself of constantly because they make a huge difference in the experience of my volunteers. So I thought I would share them.
Give clear direction – If you want to get the most out of your volunteers, give them detailed instructions of the things you need them to do. A great way to train yourself to be super detail oriented is assume no one is assertive. If you need them to clean up, then you need to show them how you want things cleaned up. I’ve learned that if you are to general in how you want them to do things, they will do it the way they know how. You could be making more work for yourself by not being specific in what is needed from them. I’ve overseen many volunteer groups and I can’t stress enough the importance of you giving your volunteers details. Remember they volunteered which means they want to help, but they will only be as effective as you plan them to be.
Set goals – When volunteers know their target they work hard to hit it. Let them see your vision for the day Remember they are their to help and they want to do as much as possible. So don’t be afraid to challenge them.
Attitude is everything – Volunteers will mimic what you and your team do. So if you all complain and have bad attitude towards what you are doing so will your volunteers. If you and your team exude excitement about what you are doing and model it for your volunteers, your volunteers will follow. Model the attitude and excitement you want your volunteers to have.
Encourage – Who doesn’t like hearing great job. Also, when you encourage your volunteers you keep them engaged in serving. It also lets them know you are engaged with whats going on at their level. Which says a lot to those volunteering.
Praise – Understand that the people who are volunteering are giving you their most prized possession which is their time. Let them know how much you appreciate what they are doing for you. Show gratitude every chance you get, because you need and you want to keep volunteers that care about your ministry just as much as you do. They need to know how important they are to the ministry.
Wanted to share with you all an email I shared with my team. The idea behind it was to not just assume everyone was doing this or even comfortable with doing it. I wanted to bring it up so that we could become better at it as a team. If you are on staff this should be an area you want to grow in. That does not mean that it has to be your wheel house but it should be something you are trying to get better at. You must be a model to your volunteers and student leaders. There is nothing worse than someone telling someone else something to do that they aren’t willing to do themselves. Also, it’s just better for the ministry. Here it is:
I have been here for 5 months and I have met a lot of great students. In fact, at camp my intentions were to meet and connect with as many students as I could. I was very successful in my efforts and I made significant and life changing connections with students, which I know we all have in some way. About three weeks ago I started thinking about these relationships and how awesome they are, and how I can’t make it through the refinery without being called or hugged which is super awesome. I also started to think about the last student I introduced myself to that I didn’t know and with a genuine heart just wanted to show that kid the love of Christ for those few seconds of introduction. It’s been way too long and I have become super comfortable with the kids I know….which is great but sometimes being comfortable can become complacent. I believe there is power in the hsm t-shirts. Meaning, when someone wearing an hsm t-shirt stops in the busyness of the weekend and introduces them self to a student it is huge for that student. I am in no way saying we have to get their life story or fix their problems in the five seconds of introduction. I do think in those five seconds we bring dignity and self-worth to some students who could be constantly rejected by parents and others. Which I can say after talking to so many of our students that God’s unconditional love is something that our students need. Now, if you are already doing this that is super great and I encourage you to continue. If your kind of like me…feeling comfortable with the students you know, super focused on the tasks of the weekend…..I ask that you would try every weekend to meet one new student you haven’t met before. Be intentional about showing God’s unconditional love in that moment (those five seconds or so). I believe this would make a huge impact on our ministry.Just something to think about –when was the last time you introduced yourself to a new student?
The health of your youth group is based on the relationships that are made. All roads lead back to connections. Students come to youth group based on some type of connection. They thrive in youth group is based off of some type of connection. Also, you must know that you can’t do it alone and instilling the importance of making connections and building relationships in your staff, volunteers and student leaders is crucial. You can do all the programing, teaching and leader training you want but at the core it should be about making new connections and strengthening existing ones.
I love reading about how Jesus connected with others. He saw everyone in need of the relationship He came to give. As a youth worker, paid or non paid, that’s how we should see every student that walks through our doors. They need the relationship that Jesus died for us to have. Now, no one person should be expected to meet and connect with a dozen of students at one time. If each leader, volunteer or even student leaders made a commitment to connect with one new student at a time the impact would be huge. Even if it was a student you saw all the time but never took the time to really connect with them, it would be huge for that student.
My first experience in youth ministry was taking a group of guys out for pizza, and then a sleepover full of snacks, movies, video games and conversation. No one in the church I was attending told me to do it, I just did it. The time I spent with those students and the things we did, was basically based off of what I would’ve loved to have happen to me when I was a student. I wanted to be someone they could share their struggles with but also enjoy a lighthearted conversation. I wanted to be able to speak into their lives God’s truth and also be the one they came to when they had questions.
My motive behind connecting with students was not just to be their friend, but also be someone who they could connect with when they needed guidance in the spiritual and the natural areas of life. Now, I know some people would say well the way you connect with students is you find a leader that’s a great fit for the student you are trying to get connected. I also know that the majority of youth groups don’t have that luxury, and personally I don’t think they need to.
Connecting with students has more to do with the leader than the student. The cool kids, geeks, jocks, cheerleaders, the indie kids, the gamer and all of the other students we stereotype could careless about what you’re into. They just want to know that you care. I listed some transferable things that I’ve learned through trail and error, that has helped me connect with all types of students on a deeper level.
Lead by example and with words. – Preach and promote from first hand experience. Would you buy a Ford from a salesman who drove a Chevy?
Never miss an opportunity to point the student to Christ. – We believe Christ is the answer, the cure, the end all be all. In my experience a lot of the students problems are centered around where Christ is in their life. You still have to be mindful of your approach but all roads should lead back to Christ.
Never miss an opportunity to listen. – I cannot stress enough how important it is you become a listener. I know some people are good at it naturally and some of us have to work at it. It is truly a quiet mega strength that connects you with any student.
Never miss an opportunity to share your life experience. – Nothing makes a point like a life experience. When you share your flaws and failures it gives hope to others. God does not waste our hurts but he uses them in powerful ways.
Be honest and a learner. – it’s hard to fake interest so don’t try. You do not have to have anything in common with the student to connect with them. Take this as an opportunity to learn something new. Allow them to teach you about their hobbies, sports or activities. Example: I had an hour and a half conversation with two students who loved screamo music. (Google it:) ) I didn’t even know it existed. I was honest that I had never heard it but interested in learning about it. We had a conversation that went from screamo to Christ. I learned how they grew up, what type of music their parents liked and found out that they both had questions about Christianity. I believe connecting with students has everything to do with you and little to do with them.
Don’t make connecting with them about the deep talk every time. – they also need to know that they can just talk to you without expectations. Discussing movies, music, fashion and funny stuff should be a normal thing.
I hope this gets you thinking about ways to connect on a deeper level with students. I know small groups are starting up and I would encourage you to share this post with your leaders. Be intentional in speaking and training on this subject. It will give your leaders more confidence.
Relational ministry is a great approach in leading and guiding students into a deeper walk with Christ. I’ve really challenged myself in this area, because reaching all types of students for Christ and helping them build a lasting relationship is definitely something I’m passionate about. As I come across new students, I still find myself learning new things. So I thought I would share some things that I’ve learned in ministry that relates to relational ministry.
Here’s a few things about relational ministry I’ve learned:
Relational ministry has more to do with the example you set than the words you say.
My walk with Christ and my prayer life plays a huge role in leading and guiding students to Christ.
Be intentional and strategic. ” He who fails to plan, plans to fail.” Corny…I know, but so true!!
Don’t waste students time by hanging out with students to stroke your own ego.
I am a spiritual leader first and friend second. – Your spiritual authority can be easily compromised when you reverse the order.
Honesty is huge in building trust with a student. -You don’t have to be perfect but you do have to be honest.
Listening and being honest wins you the right to speak into their lives. – Listening shows I care and honesty shows character and realness.
It’s not about the quantity of time spent with students but the quality of time spent with students.
Don’t be afraid to ask the tough questions.
When the opportunity presents itself for you to disciple, obey Nike and “Just do it”. – nothing else on the agenda is more important.
Never cut a student off when they are sharing. If you can’t remember what you were going to say it probably wasn’t worth you sharing anyways.
You don’t have to have all the answers. Take their questions and discover the answer together. Maybe do a study on it together.
Boundaries are important for you to set for yourself. – Live above reproach.
Use your influence for good and not evil.- God does not tolerate people who take advantage of the innocence of students. Matthew 18:6
Be transparent and point students continually towards perfection (Christ). – Be open about your imperfections. Students will put you on a pedestal so knock yourself off by being open and honest. Also, use wisdom in doing so.
The main message I want to push from this post is to be intentional. Every student that God has placed in your life and path was placed there for you to pastor, lead, mentor, encourage and share the love of Christ with. I would even go as far to say that relational ministry equals intentional ministry.