One of the things all Student Ministries deal with is constant change. Every year we graduate a class of seniors and inherit a new class of sixth (or seventh) graders. The reality is we lose some of our more mature disciples, while adding to the numbers of our more immature disciples.
So that would be addition by subtraction…. my bad, I meant subtraction by addition. This is the constant cycle of turnover that we face as student disciple makers, and as the cycle turns it brings a subtle shift to our focus. We position a new class of seniors to take the reins of student leadership, and seek to integrate a new group of sixth graders into our ministry.
In essence we focus on leadership development, and student congregation retention. That makes sense too, because we want the older student leaders to model a mature faith to the younger ones, while trying to make sure we retain all our newbies. After all, today’s newbies are tomorrow’s student leaders within our ministries. So we seek to establish a cycle of continuous leadership development and number retention/growth.
This subtle shift of focus can even occur within the most structured Student Ministry, but I think it is in this ever so subtle shift of focus that a disease has infiltrated us. This disease has distracted us from our mission of seeing God glorified and enjoyed in the lives of our students and youth workers. It’s a disease that consumes every facet of Student Ministries, which includes our volunteer youth workers, how/what we teach, the execution of our small groups, and most importantly our students understanding of the supremacy of Jesus Christ.
I don’t have a name for this disease, but I know its symptoms. The symptoms are all concerned with how or what we focus on. Focus requires attention, applied energy, and an investment of time. What you focus on and how you focus on it will directly impact your students and volunteer youth workers, which in return will create your culture.
Here are some of the symptoms I have observed:
Symptom 1: The focus of raising-up and building student leaders
Do we want student leaders? Yes, we absolutely want them. Are we called to make leaders? No, we are called to make disciples of Jesus Christ that operate out of their faith in who He is and His great works.
Symptom 2: The focus of retaining students
Do we want all of our students along with their family and friends to come to know, love, and worship the Lord God? Yes, we desperately desire that. So shouldn’t we focus on doing everything we can to make sure the students don’t just return but return with their friends? No, we should focus on making disciples that go into their peer groups to make disciples.
Symptom 3: The focus of developing behaviors
Do we want our students to behave in a manner that reflects their faith? Yes, behavior is important. Then shouldn’t we teach behavior based lessons? No, the basis of all our teachings should be God, His works, and our new found identity in Jesus Christ.
Symptom 4: The focus of placing students first
Wait, we are a student ministry aren’t we? Absolutely, we love our students and hope to see them saved and sanctified. Then we should place our students first in our ministries? Absolutely not, we are disciples of Jesus Christ, and therefore He always comes first.
Remember the shift is subtle, and it grows out the best of intentions, but it can have retarding effects on our students desire to pursue Jesus Christ. In the coming posts I will further discuss my observations of these symptoms, their effect on our ministries, the Word of God that my views flow from, and what I think we can do to overcome this disease.
What does it mean to suffer? Why does God allow me to suffer? Why would God call me to suffer? As we grow up into our relationship with God we seem to struggle with the answer to these questions.
While the kingdom of this world invites us into a never-ending pursuit of more, the Kingdom of God invites us into a never-ending pursuit of Christ Himself. This venture then proves to be way more costly than we could have ever imagined. Living for the Kingdom of God, at least the way the Bible details it, is difficult and counter-cultural.
Our students struggle with this concept.
As Youth Pastors, we need to prepare our students to identify themselves as “suffering sojourners.” You could also use the synonym “afflicted aliens.” This definition is taken from a combination of 1 Peter 2:11 and 1 Peter 4:12-16.
“Beloved, I urge you as sojourners (aliens) and exiles (strangers) to abstain from the passions of the flesh,which wage war against your soul.” -1 Peter 2:11
Are we preparing students to view themselves and live as aliens and strangers in a foreign land?
The relationship that we have with the creator of the universe calls us into radical abandon of what this world deems important, and into radical obedience to the counter-cultural will and way of the Father. Students must understand that outside the full-presence of God, we are not home. This is not where we were created to be. Sin has separated us and this fallen world draws us away from His presence. We are temporary residents in a foreign land who long to be home, and lovingly invite others to join our pilgrimage.
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. – 1 Peter 4:12-14
I love this passage because it normalizes suffering for the cause of Christ. Peter essentially says, “Don’t act like suffering is strange and unexpected! If the world came after Jesus, it’ll come after you!” Peter then goes on to say that if we are insulted for our belief in Jesus, we are blessed with the presence of the Spirit!
I’ve noticed two types of students: Those who want to blend in, and those who want to stand out for their own glory. It is rare to see students standing up for something other than their own glory or edification, but this is precisely the type of disciple we are trying to cultivate. We want to see students who are unashamed of the gospel (enter Lecrae song), and the ramifications of following faithfully.
Instead of blending in, we want students who boldly (whatever that looks like for them) proclaim the gospel in word and deed. Instead of bringing glory to themselves, we want student who direct that glory where it is due. This process is equally difficult for our extroverts and introverts.
Living as a alien, standing out, not settling in, not going with the status quo, not giving into cultural norms, transforming culture, getting uncomfortable, getting made fun of, standing up for truth, and pointing others to The Truth is no small task.
But Jesus is worth it.
How are you encouraging students to be suffering sojourners? Comment Below.
The notification came through on my phone and I saw who the Tweet was from. My heart did a little flip of excitement as I read the words by my dear friend, “Spending the weekend painting+sharing #scripturedoodle at the @umyoungpeople youth rally. Wish you were here @MeganEFaulk”
I wished I was there, too. So, I replied: “@Worship_Artist @umyoungpeople Talk about a #FlashbackFriday !!! Some of our best moments! Proud of you! Love you always! Xo”
My friend was sharing her love of worship through art at a Youth Rally for 4,000 teenagers and adult leaders that we helped produce when we were just teenagers and young adults. We were raised in ministry when someone saw our gifts as young people. They put April (@Worship_Artist) and I in the same places, a lot of the same time, and required us to make things happen for the Kingdom. We experienced the power of the Holy Spirit together at a young age, cried, laughed, shared, oh, and were on a fantastic team of laborers who put that youth rally together on the eastern shore of Maryland.
April and I both moved away from our hometowns to fulfill God’s calling on our lives and are always excited to see each other whenever God allows our paths to cross. I went to Philadelphia for college and she went to South Carolina. She stayed south, found an amazing man to marry and have a family with, and an incredible church which supported both she and her husband’s gifts in creative ministry.
I moved to New Jersey after college graduation and began walking out a calling that rocks my world in youth ministry daily. We’ve both made some hard decisions that pushed forward God’s Kingdom here on the earth because we’ve chosen to trust Him instead of please people. I have a vivid memory of a mentor we shared saying “You girls are dangerous,” when we were just seventeen years old. I didn’t know what that meant then, and I’m kind of only really learning what that means now.
April paints on stages for thousands as she worships Jesus, her first Love. She shares the dream of #ScriptureDoodle by meditating on God’s Word through, well, doodling, and teaches people to do the same! I blog a little bit, write for different youth ministry resources, speak at random conferences, and have a calling to a local church ministry that is real and crazy and often really crazy.
Here’s the thing, though: On Friday night as we were tweeting, floods of memories came back to me! We were young, making mistakes, planning big events, praying with people to receive Jesus, and there were very impactful adults all around us pushing us to do these things. They saw gifts in us and LAUNCHED us into ministry. I became overwhelmingly thankful for our launch pad!
Let’s be real, youth workers, we didn’t get where we are by ourselves. We’ve let conviction compel us, passion push us and righteous anger energize us. Whether your launching pad into youth ministry was because of someone or something, or in spite of someone or something, we could never do this alone. We all came from somewhere.
I’m convicted today to be thankful for my launching pad. For the people who poured their lives into mine from the beginning, for the people who put me in settings to do ministry at a very young age, because they knew God had gifted me with heart for His Kingdom.
Where’s your launching pad? Who is on it? Have you said THANK YOU lately?
Our calling is real, deep, emotional, exciting, fun, exhausting, challenging, and sometimes downright hard, nonetheless, we must be thankful to the people who launched us into that place.
Not only was I convicted about my lack of thankfulness to my launching pad, but also wondering who I was deeply investing in as caring adults invested in April and I. You might think that’s a silly conviction for us as youth workers, since, well, all we do is invest our lives in students.
Are we merely investing to invest, or are we investing to launch a future generation into a ministry that severely impacts the Kingdom of God? Are we discipling or are we just teaching to teach? Who are the students in our ministry that God is calling forth to be lights in their darkened and depraved generation? Who is God calling into a life that will be messy, hilarious, and filled with glimpses of His power?
Let’s commit to be intentional about our investments in students this year, friends. Let’s ask the Lord for His guidance and pray for our students to receive deep callings into ministry to bring Hope to a world that desperately needs to encounter it.
Questions for Consideration:
- Who launched you into your calling to Youth Ministry?
- Who are you intentionally investing in to launch?
- Write a Thank You note. You know to who.
Megan Faulkner is a Delaware native, now claiming the shores of New Jersey as her home. She graduated in 2007 from Eastern University in Philadelphia with a B.A. in Youth Ministries and Communication Studies. She’s been in full time youth ministry for eight years now, and has loved most minutes of it!
She can often be found on an airplane to and from Haiti (not kidding), on the beach, or swimming/biking/running. She recently completed her first Iron Girl Triathlon with the goals of not dying and not coming in last!
Megan loves social media and connecting with other youth workers, especially through writing. Her blog, Joy in the Journey, can be found at meganfaulkner.tumblr.com
Ways to Connect:
@MeganEFaulk (Twitter & Instagram)
Sometimes after a big event, the temptation is to send out a quick thank you email to those who helped you pull off the event. But today I want to encourage you to take an additional step.
After your next big event, send out a thank you email, as you normally would, but this time send it to EVERYONE on your mailing list. Don’t just include those who helped out, or attended the event, but your entire mailing list.
After doing so, be sure to post this Thank You to all your church publications (all-church email or social media accounts.)
Here is the email I sent: http://eepurl.com/bb2xi1
This simple task will do two things:
1. Publicly thank those who put in the hours.
2. Encourage others to volunteer for the next event.
No lie, after doing this, I had three parents contact me about helping out at our next event! Why would you not start recruiting help and looking for ways to get more people involved in discipling the next generation?
What else have you done to publicly thank your leaders? Comment below!
This week has been a rush. And not in a “it’s been exhilarating,” type of way, but more of a “where did my day go?” kinda way. You see, it’s retreat week. We are gearing up for our annual Disciple Now weekend retreat. Over the years I’ve discovered that regardless of how much preparation you put in prior event week, somehow the small things jump up to grab you!
This doesn’t give you permission to slack in your preparation, but rather should be your impetus to be so prepared that you are ready to handle any curveball that comes your way.
In the following list you will find eight things that I did to prepare for our upcoming retreat, or things I wish I had done in preparation for this weekend.
7 Thoughts on Winter Retreats:
1. Outsource the the speaker and the worship.
While this might seem like an obvious decision to many of you, our brother and sisters working in small congregations often have to chose between a band and speaker for budgetary reasons. Why pay a speaker when you can simply pay a band and carry the preaching load yourself? Answer: Relationships and sanity. It is extremely difficult to get mentally ready to preach when you are also the conductor/director of the schedule. Trying to wear two hats will prevent you from doing either at 100%. It might tighten the budget, but outsource.
2. People still like print materials.
This year, we took all sign-ups, schedules, and packing lists online. It has worked beautifully for around 80% of people, but left 1/5 of our parents confused. Make retreats easy for parents.
3. Put a retreat team together.
If you have multiple paid staff, divvy up the duties and execute. If you are a solo youth pastor, recruit a parent team that will totally take meals, lodging, transportation, recreation, and registration off your hands. This leaves you free to be creatively planning sessions beforehand and free to engage in relationships during the retreat.
4. 1-Minute Reflection after messages.
Many students will not take notes. After speaker finishes, have a 1-Minute reflection time where students are prompted to write down what they heard.
5. Intentionally make your grades intermingle.
For the bulk of the weekend, students will stick with students in their own grades. As a Youth Worker, be intentional in making sure that you are foster a gospel community that feels like family. You can do this by having a game where students are strategically placed into grade diverse groups.
6. Discussion is key.
If you have a speaker coming in, break-out into discussion immediately after the entire session is over. Student can use their 1-Minute reflection notes (mentioned above) to discuss what they found insightful during the message. Get your leaders to pry!
7. Make sure your students know WHY they are coming to the retreat.
The truth is, student attend retreats for a wide variety of reasons (friends, they want friends, they are being forced to go, they have nothing better to do, it sounds fun, etc.). I would offer that only a small few want to go for the purpose of “growing spiritually.” Maybe your students are just more spiritual than mine, but students need to be continually reminded the WHY of the weekend. Regardless of what brought them, make a continual effort to focus them on hearing from God and building gospel community.
I’ve recently been thinking about the attrition that happens among juniors and seniors in youth ministry. If you are a youth worker, then you may have noticed this trend. Classes or small groups that were once booming have dropped off and those smaller junior and senior classes have disappeared altogether. After processing this…I think I know why.
So why do junior and seniors disappear?
- Skewed Priorities – Let me just insult these students right out of the gate. Many of the juniors and seniors that drop out of youth ministries simply do not see their time at church as worth their while. While this sounds harsh, many of us need to realize that what we are offering simply doesn’t stand a chance compared to other options. Yup, that’s right. Not everyone is as crazy about gospel community as we are!
It’s not that our preaching is bad or our worship dated, but that our services and small groups have become routine. In other words, students know what to expect and believe friends or Netflix could better entertain them. All of the above points to the fact that many students have their priorities out of whack.
- Busyness – The reality is that along with all the extra-curricular activities that all students face, juniors and seniors are busy padding their college applications, working to prepare for college costs, and writing 2,000 word essays on why they deserve a scholarship from the “I Love Chicken Wings Club of America” (could you tell I made that one up?) But seriously…just talk with the juniors and seniors in your ministry. Their Wednesday schedules are brutal!
Wake up around 7, workout or tutorials, class from 9-4, tutoring and athletics until 6:30, squeeze in dinner, youth from 7-9, homework, chores, and bedtime hopefully before midnight. Students are exhausted. They have been thinking and social all day and they are ready to be lazy and disconnect.
- Freedom – By junior year, most students can drive and have been given increased independence by their parents. As underclassmen, they had to beg and plead their parents to hang out with friends. Where parents wouldn’t get out to drop off their student at a friends house, they don’t mind taking their student to church. Thus, for the student, youth serves a social purpose rather than a spiritual one.
Once students have the freedom to drive themselves, they no longer need youth group as an excuse to meet up. They can now get together anytime, anywhere. Why be social with adults who want to control our time at youth rather than go to Starbucks or the mall with no agenda? Where students with skewed priorities have become bored with the routine of church, these students may have never seen church as a priority. Rather, church was a means to an end, an avenue to socialize with friends.
So what is the answer to junior senior attrition? How do we engage juniors and seniors? Stay Tuned…unless you have the answer, then please comment below and share your wisdom!
As we open the doors to 2015, it’s time to think about how we will grow and expand our understanding of youth ministry. Each year, I like to make a list of books that I plan to read. This list includes books I already own, books I still need to buy, books that haven’t come out yet, and books that have been out for years.
This list isn’t exhaustive. I pray I get the opportunity to read more than five books in 2015, but these are simply five youth ministry books in my reading queue. My youth ministry launch pad for 2015. But to be fair, they aren’t all necessarily directed at youth ministry…what?! Yes, that’s right, youth pastors can learn about youth ministry from books not about youth ministry!
If you have read these, I would love to hear your thoughts. If you haven’t, take a look and see if they deserve your time as well!
Here are 5 Youth Ministry Books for 2015:
1. Youth Ministry in Post-Christian World by Brock Morgan
Per Amazon: “Youth Ministry in a Post-Christian World is the collection of humble, story-driven, pragmatic and Jesus-focused reflections of a fellow youth worker forced to reconsider everything he knew about youth ministry: everything except the gospel, that is.”
2. Age of Opportunity: Lessons from the New Science of Adolescence by Laurence Steinberg
Per Amazon: “In Age of Opportunity, Steinberg leads readers through a host of new findings — including groundbreaking original research — that reveal what the new timetable of adolescence means for parenting 13-year-olds (who may look more mature than they really are) versus 20-somethings (who may not be floundering even when it looks like they are). He also explains how the plasticity of the adolescent brain, rivaling that of years 0 through 3, suggests new strategies for instilling self-control during the teenage years. Packed with useful knowledge, Age of Opportunity is a sweeping book in the tradition of Reviving Ophelia, and an essential guide for parents and educators of teenagers.“
Per Amazon: “The youth ministry focus of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s life is often forgotten or overlooked, even though he did much work with young people and wrote a number of papers, sermons, and addresses about or for the youth of the church. However, youth ministry expert Andrew Root explains that this focus is central to Bonhoeffer’s story and thought. Root presents Bonhoeffer as the forefather and model of the growing theological turn in youth ministry. By linking contemporary youth workers with this epic theologian, the author shows the depth of youth ministry work and underscores its importance in the church. He also shows how Bonhoeffer’s life and thought impact present-day youth ministry practice.“
4. Hopecasting: Finding, Keeping, and Sharing the Things Unseen by Mark Oestreicher
Per Amazon: “Why are some people full of hope, while many of us struggle to get past the snooze alarm? Hope often seems elusive—both to explain and to experience. So we find ourselves instead clinging to lesser substitutes. From self-medication to lazy clichés, we apply these balms to our pain and experience little to no comfort. But we know, in our guts, that these replacements aren’t the hope-filled lives we long for, the lives we were made for. Mark Oestreicher gets it. Through hard-wrought experience and robust-bordering-on-desperate theological reflection, he offers here a fresh perspective on Hope, that virtue that God carries to us even as God carries us. Read Hopecasting and discover a good God casting hope your way.“
5. Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City by Timothy Keller
Per Amazon: “In Center Church, Timothy Keller offers challenging insights and provocative questions based on over twenty years of ministry in New York City. This book outlines a theological vision for ministry – applying classic doctrines to our time and place – organized around three core commitments: • Gospel-centered: The gospel of grace in Jesus Christ changes everything, from our hearts to our community to the world. It completely reshapes the content, tone and strategy of all that we do. • City-centered: With a positive approach toward our culture, we learn to affirm that cities are wonderful, strategic and underserved places for gospel ministry. • Movement-centered: Instead of building our own tribe, we seek the prosperity and peace of our community as we are led by the Holy Spirit.“
What’s on your youth ministry reading list for 2015? Comment Below!
It’s that time of year again! It’s time to dream, plan, and schedule what the coming year will look like in your youth ministry. Every year, I progress through the same routine to ensure that I’m operating at the top of my game for the glory of God.
This routine involves creating 3 different calendars. Watch this video I made last year that explains how you can crush 2015 and make it your most productive year yet:
Get My Ideal Work Week (Excel File)
Thanks Michael Hyatt for the new template!
We don’t talk about suffering very much in Youth Ministry. More specifically, we don’t talk about suffering as Youth Pastors.
Sure we make silly jokes about not being taken seriously, or getting paid less than everyone else, but rarely do we talk about suffering IN THE MINISTRY.
So for this edition of Video Monday, I wanted to share this video I recently came across about suffering as a leader by Matt Chandler in his talk at Catalyst 2014. He has a few really good one-liners in there that we in youth ministry can take to heart:
“God’s at work in the mess.”
“Following Jesus can end badly.”
“The man goes in the ground, the message moves on.”
Take a watch: