Faces On Zoom: Blank Screens And Ceiling Fans

Faces on Zoom Calls: Blank Screens and ceiling fans - why don't young people show their faces on Zoom.

We’ve all done it, right? You put time, effort, and energy into prepping a virtual lesson for the youth group. You’ve advertised, and you or your volunteers reach out to the students, then you get online early in case anyone drops in to chat. You wait, and soon people begin to log on. You think, ‘It’s going to be so great to see everyone!” You are so excited to see their faces on Zoom!

And then, That. Black. Screen. Or maybe worse, the spinning of the ceiling fan from wherever the student is sitting. Either way, even as you are missing students (because most youth ministries are down about 40% in attendance), the ones who DO show up are not seeming to actually show up. What’s the deal?

Maybe It Is Us

There are a few things happening here that we need to pay attention to. First, as always, our own motivating emotions. Some people get upset and call the student out. Some people click that little button saying “hide those without a camera” so they only see the students who felt like it was important enough to show up. The way we feel about the student without their screen on or without their full faces on the screen has more to do with us than it does with them.

Let’s be honest, even pre-pandemic, putting our time and energy into something that does not seem to engage our audience feels like a letdown. At a time when emotions, stress, and expectations are high, everything is going to feel heightened.

As the leader, you should identify your emotions connected to your response. If it is connected with your self-worth or with the rejection you feel when they don’t fully show up, keep it to yourself and sort through that later.

Once our own baggage is stowed, we can explore the possible reasons a student can have for not wanting to turn on their camera.

Why Students May Hide Their Faces On Zoom

Embarrassment About Their Environment

Being on a video call is an intimate window into a student’s life (and usually their bedroom because they have to find somewhere to be alone). What if they are embarrassed about their bedroom? What if they share a bedroom? They may have siblings that constantly need them or a parent or grandparent that may pop up at any moment? What if things are messy? Or their home life is not exactly how they portray it to be? Or maybe it isn’t what it was pre-quarantine. There are a lot of legitimately triggering things in a student’s life that may contribute to them not wanting everyone staring into their virtual window.

Overload

Many of these students are doing virtual school, virtual group hang out time, virtual connection with family members, and then, for a break, they can watch TV or get on social media. There is a great deal of literature out right now that indicates how much more emotional strain video-relating puts on a person in comparison to relating to one another in person. For minds that are not yet fully formed (and are largely ill-equipped to comprehend the consequences of their actions) this strain will be felt much more acutely.

What They See, Not What You See

How many times have you had a student cringe when looking at pictures of themselves? How many takes do you think most of them go through before they post a selfie or a TikTok?

As teenagers, they look to others around them to help reflect their own worth back to them. This is developmentally appropriate as they differentiate themselves from their families and become individuals. The pandemic has put a hard stop on that process for them, and the only people they have to help them with those reflections are their families (from whom they were in the process of differentiating).

Seeing their faces on Zoom when they are trying to interact with the rest of the group may just be too much for some of them and it makes a previously safe place become not only unsafe but detrimental to their self-worth.

So what can you do about it? Below are some ideas. Let’s address what you should not do before we discuss what you CAN do.

What You Should NOT Do

  • Do not call attention to the fact that their camera is not on
  • Do not speak to others whose cameras are on more than you address those not on screen
  • Do not make “rules of etiquette” for students in an attempt to change their ways
  • Do not confuse your need for people with their need for people. Yes, you may need to see people. But you are an adult, and therefore your processing is different from theirs.

What you CAN do

  • Take stock of which students tune in but are reluctant to put the camera on their face. Do the same students do it every week?
  • Reach out to those students (and all students). Tell them you appreciate that they are tuning in regularly.
  • Tell your students about something you see and appreciate in them, and make sure it is not physical. Keep doing so.
  • Have a night where no one uses their camera and chat is just audio.
  • Try to create your games around the option to use or not to use their camera. Or, make games optional.
  • Remind the students they CAN hide their self-view during group calls but do so in a way that does not call attention to those who are not using their cameras.
  • Forgive yourself for taking it personally
  • Give yourself, and everyone else a break. You are doing the best you can, and even if you are not, that’s ok too.

Remember, when your youth don’t show their faces on Zoom, it’s not personal. Identify your emotions and use your creativity to meet their needs in these challenging times.


Kelly R Minter is a 20 year veteran of youth ministry, and an RMHCI in the state of Florida. In addition to her work in counseling and the local church youth ministry, Kelly has been an advocate for youth involvement within the Florida Annual Conference of the UMC.



Listen to Kelly’s interview on our podcast – Making Sense of Ministry.

5 Reasons To Change Churches

Thinking about changing churches? Here are 5 reasons you may want to change churches.

We have all been there as youth ministers… attempting to discern when and why to change churches. Hopefully, these ideas will help you to make your decision.

5 Reasons To Change Churches

#5 No Parent Volunteers

Now, many of us might not even know what a parent volunteer looks like anymore. Many ministries look like a “drop-off” your student only ministry. Parents may say, “Have a great time! What time does this thing end again?” Often this can feel like babysitting. This model is not all bad and may be momentarily necessary as you build trust with parents.

Sometimes, it takes more than a year to build up trust with parents to get them to buy-in to your youth ministry, participate in setting goals, and ministry direction. But more so than not, when you recruit, pray, and personally ask the people that you see as good leaders and strong Christian role models for students, parent volunteers will be there for you.

If for some reason, no parents ever want to be involved or even pray for your ministry, then that might be one reason to consider leaving, but not the sole reason to leave. 

#4 No Resources

I know that is all of us at some point. What I mean is, no resources and no hope of ever having any resources. Again, this is a matter of prayer, time, and building vision and direction for your ministry with your students and volunteers. Once people see you are serious, and more importantly, once you align your ministry’s vision with God’s vision for your students, the resources you need will be there.

Sounds kind of ridiculous and outlandish to just be that matter-of-fact, but that’s having faith. I can look back on years when I had a $0 budget or close to it and see how many amazing things students were able to learn and do on limited financial provision from the church.

#3 Better Salary 

If you are in this for the money, just stop reading and go back to school for something else. I truly believe youth ministry is a calling. You should never leave for a better salary, however, sometimes God is prompting you to move. This might be one of the reasons to move on from your current ministry. But, remember your calling, and understand God really does provide everything you need for today. You can take that to the bank!

#2 Malicious Senior Pastor

Most senior pastors are just trying to hold us accountable to do a good job. However, I am not naïve, and I have met many that are spiteful, unrelenting, and harsh even to their staff.

At times God is growing us through trials, but if it ever goes beyond certain parameters, you should not stay in a job where you are feeling belittled, betrayed, or broken down. Behavior that is bordering on abuse is surely a reason to leave or to request help from elders, deacons, or a higher court to investigate said behavior. Do not try to endure this type of behavior for long.

#1 A new call 

This is probably the only reason to really leave your church but it is not the sole reason to leave your church. Being called somewhere else is not the same as being called by God. Your call should be both confirmed internally by the Holy Spirit and externally by people in your life who are trustworthy and mature believers. A new call must be prayed over, thought through, and confirmed both externally and internally before moving.

I hope this list will help you to stay and grow your ministry right where God has planted you. He has blessed me with 19 years in the same place. I know that is not everyone’s story. Sometimes people flee places when things get hard or they feel no momentum, and often it’s not God calling them to do anything except remain faithful where they are. So, next time you are ready to flee, look over this list and see if there are some valid reasons to stay or if you should change churches.

May God forever bless you in youth ministry! 


Looking for a new ministry position? Be sure to checkout our job board!

Are you a church looking to fill a position? Did you know we’ve helped countless churches find the best person for their open position? Find out more on our Job Placement page.


picture of contributing author David Kelly.

David currently serves as the Associate Pastor at New Hope PCA, and he has served in full-time youth ministry for nearly 19 years. At every point in his life, even before working in the local church, David has loved working with students. He is a graduate of the University of Florida with a degree in Journalism and Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando with a Master of Divinity degree. David has been married to his beautiful wife, Karen, for nearly 24 years, and they have two teenage children that are about to graduate high school. David’s hobbies outside of ministry involve the outdoors as much as possible, watching sports, and writing for his Dad’s hometown newspaper.

You can read more of David’s writings here.


WHAT DO YOUTH WANT?

A photo of young girl asking what do you want to do in their ministry

It’s time to set the annual calendar for the youth ministry. Who do you invite to the meeting- church pastor, volunteers of the ministry, parents? What about the teens within the ministry; did you consider inviting them?

Many have been guilty of believing that the youth of the ministry will not know what they want or need out of the youth ministry. After all, that’s the youth minister’s responsibility, right?

The mindset is that learning the ways of Christ is something that happens to them, not because of them.

Intrinsic Faith Motivation

During the time youth spend within a youth ministry is a time where many teens find a safe space- a place for them to realize their potential, a place to belong, and a place to grow. Being conscientious of the youth’s spiritual needs by asking their input allows them to discover their voice in how they will proceed in their walk with Christ.  

Understanding the youth’s intrinsic faith motivation and personal accountability to their Christian growth by asking what they want to do will hold more merit when you obtain their input. It will also instill in them a desire to be a part of the ministry and lead in the church. When the youth want to attend youth group the ministry will grow because they will tell their friends and their friends will see how they are setting an example of how to walk with Christ. Don’t believe me, from God’s mouth to your ears: 1 Timothy 4:12 (NIV) “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.”

WHY DON’T YOU ASK, WHAT DO YOUTH WANT TO DO?

Watching kids play is one of the wonders we adults envy about being a child. It does not matter if they know each other. They just ask, “do you want to play?”, or “do you want to hang out?” And off they go, a relationship and friendship formed on a question asked. 

When we ask the youth “What do you want to do?” we know we are setting ourselves up for a lot of movement- on the go, non-stop motion. I feel tired already just thinking about asking. And, there is also some risk in asking this question. They could overestimate their abilities or their plans could fall flat. These things, too, can be exhausting, but this is the youth minister’s role- to guide them in the faith and provide a safety net. 

Asking the question “What do you want to do?”, will also provide you with insight into the wonders of how youth see themselves by answering the question, “How do I build a relationship with God?”.

It is their youth group and their spiritual growth after all. 

RELATIONSHIPS

Asking teens what they want to do helps to build relationships in the ministry. Ultimately, we all want to feel that we have purpose and our opinions are valued. By allowing the youth to have input, you are teaching them to be leaders and to be self-accountable to their spiritual growth.

Knowing the why behind what they are doing is going to lead to a relationship with Christ. God wants to have a relationship with his children of all ages. Do you think He does not speak to the youth? “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I set you apart…” Jeremiah 1:5a

OPENING UP THE DIALOGUE OF WHAT TO EXPLORE AND LEARN

How do you begin the conversation to know what the youth of the ministry want to do? 

Fishbowl Ideas

Whenever a teen has an idea they could write it down on a piece of paper, throw it in the fishbowl. Gather them together later and have someone read the ideas aloud to the group so that they can vote on their favorite ideas.

Guided Discussion

Keep track on a whiteboard, sticky notes, etc. of categories of ideas (fun events under $10, fun events over $10, outreach events, Bible study or lesson topics), have the group vote on a certain number of ideas per category, and list the top idea in each category.

Gallery Walk

Create a gallery walk of 3 to 5 ideas from years past and have the youth provide feedback and lead them through a decision-making process. (This website describes how to hold a gallery walk.)

Learn to listen to youth. You need their input. They are quite intelligent and their opinions of the direction of the ministry will grow the ministry spiritually and in numbers. You are developing ministry leadership, and if they feel ownership over the ministry and are having fun, they are going to tell their friends and invite them to participate in the ministry as well. 


Theresa Morris, M.Ed.

Theresa Morris, M.Ed.

Theresa has worked in the field of education for the past 13 years, where she has been the director of a tutoring center, taught grades 1, 5-8, a Curriculum Resource Teacher and Dean of Students.  Currently, she is an 8th grade science and a certified instructional coach through the UF Lastinger Center Coaching Academy.

She is also the host of Friends Talking Education

Theresa has a BS in Computer Information Systems from Columbia College, Orlando, and an MS in Educational Technology from Nova Southeastern University and an MS in Educational Leadership from American College of Education. She serves as a Core Competencies Assessor for the Youth Ministry Institute. Theresa enjoys cultivating relationships and igniting a student’s own passion for education.

Give Yourself A Break

Give Yourself A Break - a man resting

I do not know who needs to hear this but give yourself a break. You are doing the best you can, and that is more than enough.

Are you finding it hard to be motivated to do things right now? Do you feel like the things you are doing are not good enough?

Do you wonder why the things you do feel less fulfilling?

Are you someone who previously did not exhibit signs or symptoms of depression and now you are wondering if you do?

Are you sleeping irregularly or even sleeping at all?

(If these are you, you may want read part 1 and part 2 of this series grief.)

Saying yes to any of the above questions is not necessarily good or bad, like many things in our lives right now it is simply just what it is. We are beginning to recognize the changes in ourselves from pre- quarantine to during quarantine, but we have not yet let go of the expectations from our pre-quarantine persona. We work really hard to keep ourselves busy, or get down on ourselves because we are not doing what we “thought we would do”. But holding ourselves to the standards to which we subscribed two to three months ago is an inappropriate action and has some pretty negative consequences.

Hierarchy of Needs

Abraham Maslow was the son of Jewish Immigrants from Kiev, and he grew up in Brooklyn, NY. He went to school to become a psychologist and later taught at some prestigious institutions. But the thing for which he is most known is “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs”. He listed the human condition in this way:

  1. Physiological needs: These include air, water, shelter, clothing, sleep, and reproduction. The things our bodies need to survive.
  2. Safety Needs: Security of body (knowing you/your body are physically safe), security of employment, security of health, security of resources.
  3. Love and Belonging: Friendship, intimacy (emotional and sexual), family, sense of connection
  4. Esteem: Confidence, feeling like you have achieved something, respect, status, recognition, being comfortable with yourself
  5. Self-actualization: The desire to become all you can be. This includes creativity, morality, spontaneity, problem solving skills, acceptance of facts, and lack of prejudice.

(Just a small caveat before we go on. Maslow’s structure here is not based on science, but on observation of the human condition. Also, it tends to be heavily western influenced, meaning that while the first two steps are virtually universal, the next three could be in different orders depending on the culture to which a person subscribes.)

For many of us, we were operating regularly on a level 3, 4, or 5.

Where You Are Now

Right now, most of us are at 1 and 2. And how could we not be? When we now live in a world where physical touch is prohibited except in our own home, where our jobs are in jeopardy because no one knows where the money is coming from, where our liberties which we assumed are threatened, and we are forced to relearn all of our ways of connecting, how exactly would we continue to affirm ourselves, or seek out esteem, or continue almost any of that which came before? We are living on the line between before and after, and it is not normal. The standards to which we held ourselves before quarantine are no longer appropriate for our level of functioning. So, give yourself a break.

Maslow’s theory is depicted as a pyramid. While that is not an unreasonable depiction, it does insinuate that these things happen in a distinct order. The last three levels can be much more fluid than the current layout appears, but the first two are very static. We need the things our body necessitates to keep going, and then we need reassurance that it will not (and cannot) be taken away from us. And, most of us do not have that assurance. Even if your job is rock solid, we are told that we potentially cannot trust the air. Why else do we need facemasks?

Friends, it makes sense that we do not want to do the things we used to want to do. It makes sense to feel more at risk than we used to. It is even understandable to feel like (gasp) a failure. When we are holding ourselves to standards that are no longer appropriate for our level of functioning, we are going to feel like we do not measure up…because we literally cannot.

So what do you do about it?

We need to check our motivators. Ask ourselves regularly “What is motivating me to feel this way?” and really listen to the answers our body gives us. When we feel down on ourselves, go back to the 10 minutes before the feeling began. What did you do? Who did you talk to? What did you see or experience? Are the understandings to which you are subscribing (and then applying to yourself) products of before or products of now?

Letting go of the operating expectations from before and learning to live in levels 1 and 2 is, I believe, the last part of the grief process for many people. Because those understandings of our worth and function are so grounded in those expectations, letting go of them may mean letting go of the lens through which we see (and understand) ourselves. Once we are able to do that, however, we can find our way into the “after” with a new (if not improved) understanding of our needs, and the needs of those around us. 

We are doing the best we can, so give yourself a break!

Want more, listen to Kelly’s interview on our Making Sense of Ministry Podcast!


Kelly R Minter is a 20 year veteran of youth ministry, and an RMHCI in the state of Florida. In addition to her work in counseling and the local church youth ministry, Kelly has been an advocate for youth involvement within the Florida Annual Conference of the UMC.


07: Chris Wilterdink on Faith Formation During Virtual And Crisis Ministry, Rites of Passages, And Creating Safe, Formative Spaces Virtually

Chris Wilterdink form Young People's Ministries discusses faith formation during Covid19

In this episode, Chris Wilterdink from Young People’s Ministries shares his expertise in discipleship with us. He discusses a new insight into how our brains are wired for feedback, the importance of formative and safe spaces in our ministry, and what faith formation looks like now in crisis and virtual ministry. If you are involved in youth, children, or family ministry then you definitely what to hear the insights that Chris has to share with us.

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Ashley : 0:01

Welcome to the making center ministry podcast presented to you by the youth ministry Institute, a podcast designed to help you lead well in your ministry transform lives and impact generations. Here’s your host Brian Lawson.

Brian Lawson : 0:13

Hey everybody, and welcome to episode number seven of the making sense of ministry podcast. This is the podcast designed to help you lead well in your ministry, transform lives and impact generations. Our guest today is Chris Willard Inc. Chris is the director of young people’s ministries at discipleship ministries of the Methodist Church. Chris’s work includes resourcing discipleship systems and processes throughout the entire United Methodist Church, especially in regards to people in between the ages of 12 to 35. In short, Chris works with leaders across the country and even throughout the world to help them in their attempt to grow disciples of Jesus. In our interview, Chris shares with us a new perspective on the way social media has actually made children and youth more wired for feedback the importance of formative safe spaces in our midst Finally, I have to tell you that I believe our bookkeepers think we are absolutely crazy. Have you ever had to explain weird ministry purchases to your church finance office? I mean, that’s how we feel right now. You see, it’s our mission and our heart to serve you. And after listening to your feedback, and hearing the great work you are doing, we’ve decided to drastically lower the prices of our YMI online courses? We lowered them so low that I’m just waiting for our bookkeeper to calls into their office for a conversation. Anyways, friends head over to why am I online to get your free introductory course and see the new prices that we are offering. We really just want to support you. And that is our ultimate goal. And we really think these courses can help you be the best possible leader you can be in your ministry. Down the show notes will be the link to why my online. Okay, let’s get into my interview with Chris. Hey, Chris, thank you so much for being on the podcast today. Really appreciate you being here.

Chris : 2:35

Brian. It’s an absolute pleasure looking forward to it.

Brian Lawson : 2:39

So I was looking at some of the articles that you recently wrote and released. And then one of them you talked about a breakfast club, I believe that you hosted called the doughnut hole. Could you tell us a little bit about that experience?

Chris : 2:54

Yeah, so I was a local church youth director out in the Denver Metro area. And the doughnut hole was a breakfast club hosted. I mean, early in the morning, right? Like I was in my mid 20s, late 20s, when I was at St. Luke’s. And it took something special to get me up and out of bed by six o’clock in the morning, on every Thursday during the academic school year, but I had a really, really awesome parent and volunteer and person who was a teacher at this particular High School. And so she was the staff sponsor for this kind of extracurricular club and then because of that connection, I was allowed to come in and just kind of build a little bit of a community and and host a breakfast with doughnuts once a week, then that’d be a pretty great group. I would never have told the kids this that were there but we kind of used a covenant discipleship model where it was like we we kind of created an accountable discipleship group without using that really awesome language.

Brian Lawson : 3:59

So So for people who may not be Methodist, necessarily it could you just explain what a covenant group is?

Chris : 4:07

Yeah, absolutely. Okay. So if there’s one thing that historically, churches in the Methodist movement have done fairly well, it would be those things that we call small groups in ministry today, the historical terms would have been something like classes or bands. And what those were were small groups within a local united or I’m sorry, within a local Methodist congregation. And within that local Methodist congregation, small groups would form based on ages or life stages or genders, and that was because there wasn’t a full time pastor that could be around all the time. And so these small groups would set up covenants or agreements with each other, for how they would try to live out their faith or live out their discipleship or their Christian teaching, during the course of the week of their normal life in between when they would see other during church services on Sundays, and over time, those came to be called covenant discipleship groups or accountability groups, where people would get together and say, Hey, so we said that these are the ways that we want to act as Christians. Let’s check in with each other once a week to talk about how that’s going. What did we do? Well, where did we kind of drop the ball? What do we wish that we did differently? And maybe how can we act differently in the future if we want to really be intentional about be continually forming our faith? So the covenant itself just refers to the agreement that the group would kind of write and hold itself to? And sort of be the centerpiece for those check in conversations once a week? And honestly, in youth ministry, that kind of model, I think is gaining a lot of traction because young people themselves I think, are getting very, very wired for feedback, especially from their participation in social media and having different accounts.

Brian Lawson : 5:59

Yeah, Wow. So that so I don’t think I’ve heard that before that they’re wired for feedback in that sense, and you think social media is contributing to that?

Chris : 6:10

Yeah. And I know that this is a little bit of conjecture on my part, but you know, just hang on for the ride. We’ll see how we go. The reason that people post on those is to get feedback on what they’re doing, right. Like, on Instagram, when it first started, there was that whole we’re taking pictures of what we’re eating sort of phase right where it was like all these pictures of food and you took that picture because you wanted to share an experience that you were having with other people and get feedback from them like oh my gosh, that looks delicious. I wish I was there with you. We should hang out next week. We should do you know, get the likes. Get the hearts get the whatever’s. And so there’s a there’s an element of the accountable discipleship or a covenant discipleship group, where if young people are getting used to the idea of posting what they’re doing or sharing a window into their lives, and maybe during COVID, this is particularly magic magnified, because that’s sort of all we have, right? We can text we can do this online posting, because we don’t get to see each other in person. But I get to share an experience and invite feedback on that experience. And something that maybe the church is still learning to do well, is inviting young people to post the things that are formative for their faith or formative for their discipleship process, and invite feedback or questions from their peers that might not be connected to a church or might have questions about faith or those sorts of things. So yeah, when a young person posts Hey, I’m at the donut hole on Thursday morning, and it’s so great to see these people not only do you get the the likes and the clicks for the delicious looking glazed doughnuts that I provided, or you know, the crazy sprinkle ones that come along with a dozen pack. But it also gives everybody an opportunity to talk about kind of faith formation practices. Again, we would never use that term like with the kids. because they’d be like, Oh, is that what I’m doing? But yeah, I mean, I feel like I could make the case pretty easily that we post on social media in order to get feedback. And if we want to be holistic with our faith formation or our discipleship practices, we have to encourage young people to not be afraid to share some of their journey or some of their questions or some of their experiences in faith on social media platforms themselves because it invites feedback and might reinforce, you know, the kind of behavior that a youth minister or a parent would really like to see. You know, if I post something about me going and serving and I get a ton of positive feedback like oh my gosh, I didn’t even know that there were people in our city that needed that food, or oh my gosh, I volunteered there to through my school. I didn’t know churches did that, too. It’s a really cool, positive feedback loop that I think really feeds a lot of growth in a discipleship pattern or a discipleship process.

Brian Lawson : 9:17

Yeah, I mean, I think that you’re talking about positive reinforcement, right? We’re reinforcing those habits that we hoped to see them develop and grow, becomes part of who they are. Really. I think, you know, COVID has definitely made us realize if we didn’t already know that ministry, virtually has to happen. It may not be permanent. And and it’s not the only form of ministry, right. But it needs to be part of what we’re doing and in youth ministry or children’s ministry, more youth ministry than children but maybe some of the other fifth grade students would have these ministry sometimes looks like encouraging like you’re talking about when they’re sharing something on social that is that is related to faith or it is about their development or their growth. And you comment or you message them and say, Hey, that was fantastic. You are inspiring to me when you post things like that. So if anything this has taught us how important virtual ministry really is. Which brings you back to your story about the doughnut hole. There’s something unique that it kind of taught you about faith formation, particularly in the season we’re in now what what was that that you as you were reflecting on the doughnut hole time that you’re learning about faith formation as a whole?

Chris : 10:36

Yeah. Good pun there at the end, who by the way, that’s fantastic. Thanks. Yeah. The I mean, the hook was the doughnuts, right? I mean, it was called the doughnut hole. And the centerpiece i thought was the donuts that I would show up with, but what it really taught me and reminded me of and this is played forward a million different ways in my ministry. Is that it really comes back to relationships that there is value when people carve time out for each other. And and being able to listen to each other and gather you know, whether it’s around doughnuts or any other kind of table or just being able to have time with each other, to invest in relationships, and have honest enough conversations where the next time that you see each other. You remember what you talked about you ask that person, hey, how was that thing and that shows that person they are valued that they are listened to and that they are cared about. And really, that was the centerpiece of the doughnut hole experience. And I didn’t put this in the post itself. But the the staff sponsor and volunteer from my church, who helped coordinate this thing was very, very passionate about being able to create those honest and open listening spaces. Because she was a teacher at Columbine High School the year of the Columbine shooting in 1999. So for her it, you know, not only was this professional thing as a teacher to student, but really in terms of an expression of her faith, and knowing just how important it was for young people to be listened to, and accepted and have a space that could be honest and brave, and that they didn’t have to, you know, put on a show or be dishonest about who they were, or what they were struggling with really allowed, I think, that group to read and become, you know, what it was for the course of the decade that I was serving at that local church.

Brian Lawson : 12:35

Wow. So she saw this the significance of what you’re doing in a different way than most people probably have seen.

Chris : 12:43

Yeah. And because of that, really, you know, kind of went to bat with the school system, to allow the group to be able to happen. And not be a surprise for anybody that is in children’s ministry or youth ministry or, you know, life stage faith Development Ministry. Right now, because COVID, again, to your virtual point, you know, is teaching us that those formative experiences those safe spaces, those brave spaces can happen in person or online. But the point is that they have to happen, they got to be able to be there. And so having people that are passionate about intentionally creating those spaces where sharing and relationship are at the core of all the things, really, really is beneficial. So yeah, huge shout out to Laurie McMullan from back in the day at the doughnut hole.

Brian Lawson : 13:33

So what ways Would you say that this and maybe you’ve already answered but but it may be slightly different what ways would you say this pandemic has or will shape our future understanding of faith formation within the lives of students and children and families even?

Chris : 13:48

Well, if anybody who’s listening is familiar with the work of the fuller youth Institute, you know, I mean, sticky faith came out they really have been kind of banging the drum about parents being the primary influencers of faith with a local church and people that are engaged in relationship with young people as secondary to the role of parents. And I think that COVID and the pandemic response has really shone a light, you know, not only on the academic education system and the important role that teachers play in not only leading students in class, but also preparing and guiding parents and offering support for them to be able to continue that education at home. And I think that’s just multiplied in faith settings where, you know, this experience really is showcasing the need for parents to be actively engaged in the faith formation of their children and their youth. And that doesn’t mean you know, the, the parent needs to be able to identify the best curriculum or the best resource or those things. But again, it maybe it goes back to that carving out of intentional time together. At least I can say, that’s one of the struggles that I’ve had with my own kids. Because as we record this my kiddos are nine and six. And so in this response, figuring out what our new pattern or our new sort of rhythm of life looks like. If there’s something that wasn’t building value or wasn’t meaningful or was not helpful in terms of kind of the faith formation pattern or the discipleship system that you were trying to put in place as a ministry leader, you don’t have the time and energy to do that right now. Because you can’t meet in person, and this can really serve as an opportunity to reflect on what needs to be different and how things need to be able to grow and change. So I would really encourage ministry leaders to look at those things that are the most meaningful in terms of relationship building. And then those things that really build value and make a difference in the life of children or youth or their caretakers.

Brian Lawson : 16:25

Yeah, that’s so good. We had Kelly Minter on episode six, our last episode, and she talked about how, somewhere along the lines, youth pastors got a reputation for always wanting to buck the system, right to go against it and not be organized. And now those very same people, she finds it funny that they’re clinging so desperately to the system, right to the way things have been. Because that’s what we know. Right? But right. But as you’re talking about, you know, maybe this is an opportunity for us to distill down to what is the essence of what we’re doing next. What is the key components? And what really matters? And that’s hard? Because it challenges us, right?

Chris : 17:07

It’s incredibly hard. And at the same time, like it also doesn’t have to be overly complicated. Like, I know that there’s a ton of different language related to discipleship systems and those kind of pieces out there. But like if if I was to dial it back to action related things like for things, that if I was interested in a young person or a family being able to do together, whether it’s online or in person, and these are in any order, right, it’s not like 1234 or anything like that. I’m just going to start by living Christ’s teachings. Okay. So like, that involves not only being able to get familiar with, you know, the pieces of Scripture and how Jesus kind of called us to act or stories of the disciples, the apostles afterwards, learning about those stories, and then being able to try to live those things out or the lessons from those stories out. So living Christ teachings, because we can live Christ’s teachings then we start to learn when we’re in relationship with others. So we’re doing what we’ve learned about what we think it means to be a Christian or what we think it means to be a disciple. And as we do those things, we do them with other people, whether they’re online or in person. So we learn in relationship with other people. So number two, learning and relationship with others. Okay? Because we’re living Christ teachings, and we’re learning in relationships with others, then we experience God through our actions, right? If I’m doing the things that I think I’m supposed to be doing as a Christian, and I’m doing them with other people, then I should have some holy experiences, where I feel the presence of the Holy Spirit, or I feel the presence of God or I, you know, kind of get those warm fuzzies in a group because I’m doing the things that I believe are meaningful. And because of those experiences, I then want to number four witness to those differences in me or the differences in the world because of the experiences that I’ve had, right? And maybe that goes back to the social media thing we’re witnessing then is the storytelling or the sharing of pictures or the sharing whatever. And because I’m witnessing to the differences, then that’s going to make me want to live Christ’s teachings even more. So it kind of becomes a cyclical thing, right? So in a nutshell, living Christ’s teachings, learning in relationship with others, experiencing God through my actions, and then witnessing to the differences that I see in myself in the world because of those teachings. And then it inspires me to kind of go around the cycle again.

Brian Lawson : 19:32

So as we’ve been been talking to youth and children and family ministers around the country, discouragement is rampant right now. And part of it is I think that we’re not really sure how to measure success. We don’t know what it looks like we right now in this season. So thinking from spiritual formation side and what you just described, is there a way that we can know or see if our people are experiencing those things, particularly we can’t see him in person. Do you have any suggestions for what people could look for?

Chris : 20:07

Yeah, that is a great question and a great observation because I completely agree. And I’ve seen it across the board. And some of that is because I think we’re shifting from the novelty of the, you know, the experience being new and us being in like, total react mode, right? where it’s like, oh, my gosh, this is a new challenge. We got to buckle up, we got to do this thing. We got to figure it out. And now, it’s not new anymore, right? It’s sinking in. This is a long term thing. And in a lot of ways, isn’t going to go anywhere, even once we can get together in person again, that the lessons that we’re learning and the online stuff we’re doing is going to be there moving forward. So if you’re discouraged, take heart You’re not alone. Make sure you’re talking to other people that are in ministry in your area, or you know, connect through places like youth ministry Institute and just have a little community where you can talk anyway, off the discouragement piece onto maybe some suggestions. There’s got to be more than just checking in and showing up on the zoom meeting itself. So if I was thinking about that discipleship pattern, and, you know, trying to track as a minute, history leader, what are the children or the youth or the families in my ministry doing because of what they’ve shared together or what we’ve done together? So if I have put out a Sunday school lesson for the week, along with, you know, maybe a couple of challenges to do how many stories do I hear back from people about what they actually did in the challenge or what they learned from doing the lesson itself. I know that that means a lot more effort in terms of kind of gathering that feedback because it’s just, it’s not as natural as being in the fellowship hall with a cup of really crummy coffee, and talking about how Sunday school was. But you got to be able to carve out some of that intentional time to follow up with people. It’s not enough just to be able to provide a resource or a lesson itself. You got to be able to figure out a rhythm and a pattern of doing some intentional follow up with people. And that might even be one on one right like that might be texting. If you’ve got parents that do that. That might be you know, messaging on a social media platform if you’ve got relationships and people that like to communicate that way. But being intentional about asking the questions about what youth and children and families are doing in between the times when they gather, I think is one way to be able to measure success. Especially because I think most of our churches are going to have some sort of vision or mission statement that relates to transformation of some kind, right transformation of the self or transformation of the world, or growing in maturity of some kind. That there’s this group of students whether they were, you know, whatever grade 678, 10 that You know, have gone through somewhere between three months or 12 months or even two years worth of classes, and now can’t necessarily join the church because you can’t gather in person to do a confirmation service and welcome new members. And so that one is so specific and so great about having young people in their mentors or their prayer partners being able to track the transformation that they’ve gone through over time. That I wonder if confirmation materials might provide some sort of a model for ministry leaders to be able to, you know, look at the stories or the lessons that they’re presenting. And ask youth or children how they engage with those stories or how they understand those those pieces of Scripture or church history or new relationships within the congregation. how those are changing and informing their faith and encouraging them to be sort of the the world Transformers that each church wants them to be.

Brian Lawson : 24:56

Yeah, you know, as you were, as you were talking I was thinking about how do you how do you check in with with people? You know, and I think we’re afraid to make phone calls, but it’s probably a good time to send text messages and make phone calls to parents on a semi regular basis. If nothing else, just to say, I was just thinking about you, and I just wanted to check on your family and see how you were doing right. I mean, it doesn’t have to be complicated. And you’ll get some feedback, I think naturally, through those conversations. Yeah. And then for people who may not know, confirmation, just to simplify it, in the Methodist Church by No, there’s other denominations as well that do similar things is where a student can confirm that they have taken up the faith that their parents have raised them in. In simplest and simplest terms. That’s, that’s that’s the idea of what it is. And it’s really a rite of passage and a lot of ways. So we have some writer passages that the students have missed recently, right. So we’ve got senior graduations and and we’ve wrestled through, how do we celebrate our seniors, I think a lot of people have figured out what they’re going to do by this point. A lot of people are doing drive by graduations and things like that. But you mentioned confirmations, one that we may have missed. We also have fifth graders. So some of us are graduating our fifth graders out or others are welcoming the sixth graders in, which presents a unique challenge to welcome a group in when maybe you can’t even physically be together. So I’m just I’m just curious how Chris, you would recommend maybe somebody thinks about those rites of passages in this season, particularly maybe the fifth and sixth grade one because it’s pretty timely for a lot of us. But why do you see rites of passage as significant? And then what recommendations do you have for us right now?

Chris : 26:47

Yeah, it’s a really, really great question. And since we’re recording in the middle of May, yes, I mean, I hope everybody’s got their graduating seniors of high school 2020 figured out for sure. I’m going to go down the rabbit first, and then we’ll try to pop back out of it to see if we can get some suggestions on where I’m going. But, okay, so particularly in the American culture, it’s hard for a child or a youth to understand when they become an adult in the eyes of the community. Okay. And culturally is just something that with a broad stroke, the culture of the United States does not do very well. Right. Brian, you and I were talking about before we started recording, you know, the ages of our kids. And so that fifth grade graduation going up into sixth grade seems to be a fairly big one these days. Do you know what my fifth grade graduation looked like? Nothing because I didn’t have one. Right either.

Brian Lawson : 27:45

I didn’t have one either.

Chris : 27:46

It wasn’t even a thing. It wasn’t a big deal. The move from elementary school to junior high or middle school, whatever it was going to be. For for youth. Okay, when does a young person become an adult at the age of 16 when they can get a license Probably not, we don’t see 16 year olds as adults, perhaps when they turn 17 and they can go to rated movies. No, there’s still another line that they get across, because they got to turn 18. And then they can you know, register for Selective Service, they probably are gonna graduate high school start to get their first jobs. But do we really look at 18 they can vote, you know, they can do all those things. Do they? Do we really see them as members, adult members of the community? Probably not.

Brian Lawson : 28:25

You can’t even rent a car yet. So

Chris : 28:27

right? You gotta wait till you’re 21 if you’re gonna drink, I won’t tell if you’re gonna you know, but legally at 21 you can start drinking. And then 25 right, that’s the car rental one. And you know, we haven’t even talked about some of the soft targets of being financially independent or you know, the expectations of graduating from college or university or getting your first job or you know, getting married, getting a house, those kinds of things. So that line for for a young person to be able to figure out when they’re an adult member is so tough and that’s what I think makes rights Pass in such a big deal for me, within a church setting, I think some of the rites of passage and the ways that you can celebrate young people, as they kind of move up or move into things is to recognize that they have had some growth and some change, and then invite them into kind of that next level of responsibility or leadership or presence, where their feedback is really welcomed and honored. And they get to be kind of CO leaders or co conspirators of the ministry that you’re creating. Okay. At one point, you know it when you’re in children’s ministry, and honestly, in some adult ministries as well, you have to be able to move beyond attendance and checking the box that you’re present in some way. So for me, the rites of passage pieces that I would really look at are how could you celebrate the growth and change of a young person so like we talked about that fifth grade and sixth grade one, this would be a tremendous opportunity because if you’re at a medium to large sized church, you probably have like a children’s staff person and a youth staff person. If you’re at a smaller church that might be the same people or it might be a group of volunteers. But since digital cameras have been around for so long, how cool would it be to have a project where the children’s ministry staff and volunteers and maybe some of the youth ministry staff or volunteers, create a shared photo file Do because they may be looking for things to do, or their parents may be looking for things for them to do. Because they can’t get summer jobs and those kind of things. So yeah, I mean, do it do like a photo and video review sort of a thing could be very, very interesting as a way to welcome. Figuring out ways to do virtual introductions, not only for yourself, but also for your volunteer team could be really interesting and really different as you’re trying to welcome somebody into sixth grade seventh grade whenever your ministry is starting, right? And maybe that could be something as as simple as online introductions and you know, trying to set up a one on one to say, hey, maybe it’s something as complicated as you know, doing almost like the parades and those sorts of things where you drive by somebody’s house and try to drop off some cookies or plastic flamingos or, you know, something just ridiculous. didn’t make it kind of memorable and make sure people know that they’re being thought about

Brian Lawson : 31:58

I wonder if you’ve seen any ministries doing anything that you really just thought they were hitting it out of the park, whether it was about rites of passages, or is about spiritual growth with their families right now. Is there any, any churches or anything you’ve seen done that you’re like, wow, that’s just really good. And I wish more churches did that or could do that.

Chris : 32:25

I think that the most effective churches are the most effective youth and children’s ministries have realized when they’re at capacity of their time and their effort and their energy that they can give. And I say that because you know, in that initial response, and that initial wave, there’s almost like that adrenaline rush of, oh my gosh, we still got to be able to do this. And I can, you know, I can go way above and way beyond for a week or for two weeks, but eventually that’s going to catch up to me right that that sense of discouragement that we talked about earlier. You know, part of that is because the the feeling of burnout and extra work really is real. When all of a ministry has been sort of forced to be virtual and online, it dropped some of the really natural boundaries that youth ministers or children’s ministers and church leaders might have been able to put up around their own time. So self care for those in ministry has has really suffered during the course of the quarantine or the social distancing piece. And then there’s really been this effect of COVID response almost serving like an accelerant for the trends that a church was experiencing. Right. So if a church was doing something really, really well before COVID, they were able to continue doing that thing really well but in a new way. So some of the most effective churches and some of the best church leaders that I’ve talked to, and have, you know, reached a point where they’re able to say, you know, what, we need to be able to dial it back a little bit, where if there’s things that we do well, let’s focus on those things. So if that’s relationship, if that is community building, if that’s doing a shared movie night if that is you know, being able to participate in food ministries in some way where we’re stable, still able to, like collect food from our local churches, and we’ve got one driver who’s willing to go out and then make the delivery to our mission partner, our food pantry partner, so that people can still continue to get fed. Those are the places that really I think are doing well. They look at the things that are important to who they are as a community, and continue to build relationship. And at the same time, have been able to say, you know what, we need to not do this piece right now. Because it’s just taking more time and energy and it is sucking the life out of the other things that really are more meaningful for those things that we do as a body, if that makes some sense.

Brian Lawson : 35:46

Yeah, that makes complete sense. I think that’s a great answer, because I think it would be a huge mistake for a congregation to try to just be what it was before. Whenever we write can come back together. I think that it would be a huge loss. Because this is such a difficult time, but also a time for learning. And and to come out of it and not learn anything would be I think a tragedy to be honest.

Chris : 36:11

There’s I’m not gonna remember the source of it, but there was a for a while a movement called stump ministry. And it was based on the, you know, the Scripture, they’re talking about the branch that was come gonna come from the stump of Jesse, where there was sort of this like family that had been so important but chopped down, and yet there was the opportunity for new life. And it really is going to be a new life moment, you know, we’re going to feel used up and ready for transformation. So it’s a tremendous opportunity to let the old things fall away and embrace something new. And I’m agreeing with you 100% it would just be a genuinely missed opportunity to go back and just try to do things like you did before because it’s got to be new. It’s got to be different.

Brian Lawson : 37:00

Yeah, yeah, so constantly asking yourself, what is it we’re learning in the season? Right? What are the things that I’m personally learning? In my own faith? What am I learning about students and families and children in their faith in this season? What am I learning about how we communicate? And as you talked about earlier, what are the essentials of what we need to do? Right, what things can fall away and what is it we really need to stick with? are all good things to be asking ourselves and trying to learn right now? I think that it would be wise of us to survey the people within our ministries, to some extent. don’t promise anything in your surveys. But at least get some feedback to understand how they’re feeling and what they feel about your plan as of now, knowing is probably going to change anyways.

Chris : 37:53

Yeah. And and how they felt about what you’ve offered so far. Right? Like, you know, how are you feeling? With this online Bible study that we’ve been able to, you know, kind of scramble together, is it doing what you want it to do? And if not, okay, I know, I know it took some energy to make it happen. But if it’s not meeting a need, then it’s okay. Move on do something different. Yeah. And don’t get stuck in that, particularly for the timing of things. I know, we haven’t talked about that a lot. But like, you know, I work with a lot of churches that sort of have a really set schedule, right. Like Sunday school is Sunday morning and youth group is Sunday evening, and then there’s the Wednesday night thing and when you’re not gathering in person, do it at the time that works for people, you know, I mean, it could be Tuesday morning at 11 o clock. Let let everybody sleep in like they need to and then zoom in while they’re still in their pajamas. It’s okay. So you know, even being as creative as you can be with those simple things about when this stuff logistically happened. When are people the most available, and the most excited to be engaged in a process or in a class or in a conversation. Those are the times that you lock into. You don’t just have to do it on Wednesday night. You don’t have to do it on Sunday morning. It can be any other time. So, so be creative and things that might have been previous limitations as real fixed boundaries now.

Brian Lawson : 39:19

Chris, you’ve given us so much to think about and so much good information. What final encouragements or insights Would you like to share with our listeners? Okay.

Chris : 39:34

So final insight. Thank you back back to what really is the primary task of your church or of the church? And how does that apply in your ministry if you’re a children’s minister, if you’re a youth minister, the primary task I think, of a church is to make disciples okay. And so just remember what that primary task is. All the things that you are doing are for a young person and their family, to be transformed into a world changing disciple of Jesus Christ. So as you reflect, as you get discouraged as you get encouraged as you have the ups and downs in ministry, during the COVID response, or really any other time, remember what you’re doing it for you are doing it because you were transformed. At one point, there was something in your own faith life in your own discipleship that clicked and that made sense. And you’ve had a lifetime of moments that have put you in charge of a ministry where you get the incredible opportunity to help a church make disciples. So my word of encouragement, boiling down everything else that we’ve talked about for the last hour would just be to say, look at those things that you do that are meaningful, that are easy that are great for you and great for your church and Ask how it helps make a disciple while you do it. And if you do that, the rest will really start to fall into place because disciples make more disciples. disciples are in relationship with other people. disciples, see the needs of their communities and then want to engage because God is giving God who wants to connect with the community and move among the people in the streets. So dial it back to that primary task. Think about making disciples in every decision that you make. The rest will start to flow and be great no matter what shape it takes.

Brian Lawson : 41:35

What a great interview, Chris was an amazing guest and you can just sense he has a deep passion and heart for discipleship. I loved when he said you get the incredible opportunity to help a church make disciples. Wow, friends. That’s it. Don’t overcomplicate things, keep it simple. You have been given the gift to serve Jesus through the church. You been given the gift to impact the lives of students, children and families. Be encouraged and keep up the good work. If you enjoyed this episode, please consider leaving us a review, share this episode with your friends and join the conversation over at our Facebook group. And until next time, I hope we help you make sense of this thing we call ministry.

Ashley : 42:23

For more information regarding coaching, consulting, job placement and online courses, join us at YMinstitute.com.

Schools Are Out: Protecting The Most Vulnerable

Schools are out: protecting the most vulnerable children

Whether schools are out for summer break, or as we are experiencing in this current situation where a pandemic has caused the untimely closure of schools, the consequences experienced by kids may be more than you would expect. The educational, health, and safety impact of school dismissal can be especially significant in some of the most vulnerable of our children.

While the academic component may seem fairly obvious, the health and safety aspect may not be. When kids are not in school, they not only miss critical structured learning opportunities, but they also miss out on having basic needs met like having a guaranteed breakfast and lunch. These meals may be the only food that a child sees in a day. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) indicates that almost half a million households in Georgia experience food insecurity, leaving schools as a mainstay in nutrition delivery for so many of our kids. 

Maltreatment & Abuse

While schools are out, kids are also missing out on important connections with trusted adults, which poses a real opportunity for cases of suspected maltreatment and abuse to go unrecognized, and thus unreported. Georgia law [OCGA 19-7-5(c)(1)] deems certain people as mandatory reporters. The law requires that these individuals, based on their job description, training, and their role in interacting with children and families, report suspected cases of child abuse or maltreatment. For a school-aged student this may be a teacher, counselor, school nurse, and even a member of the cafeteria staff, a security officer, or a school volunteer. [1] 

Recently, the Georgia Department of Family and Children Services (DFCS), the agency responsible for receiving and following up on suspected child abuse reports, indicated that reports of child maltreatment from school-related mandatory reporters comprised roughly half of all reports during the first two weeks of March 2020 (prior to the closure of schools due to COVID-19). The statistics from the last half of March 2020 (after schools were closed statewide) indicated that reports from school-related mandatory reporters declined 90%.

I would love to think this correlated with a decline in cases of child maltreatment. My nursing background, and honestly common sense, tells me that this just is not the case. We know that an increase in stress, such as the stress of economic uncertainty and serious health threats that are being universally felt, increases the cases of abuse and maltreatment. So, what can we do to support the most vulnerable kids?

Supporting The Most Vulnerable

Stay Connected

Keeping in touch with children and families from your community and faith groups is important. Your connection is a way to know what is going on with them and gives you the chance to respond when needed. In our current reality of social distancing, get creative on how to connect when we cannot be together physically. Use Zoom, Skype, social media platforms, and even the old-fashioned phone and mail system to stay connected.

Seek Training

It is imperative to be able to recognize signs of suspected child abuse and maltreatment- know the signs, know the stressors that may exacerbate unsafe situations at home, and know who to reach out to when you recognize these. Prevent Child Abuse Georgia (PCA) offers free online training opportunities and resources to community members and families and can be accessed on their website: http://preventchildabusega.org/.

Know Where To Find Resources

Finally, be aware of where to find resources for families when needs are identified. Public Health departments (located in every state), the United Way 2-1-1 community referral line, the PCA Georgia caregivers support helpline (1-800-CHILDREN), and https://www.childwelfare.gov/organizations/ has a list of other national and state child welfare organizations and a list of each state’s child abuse/neglect hotlines. These are only examples of the many community resources that can help children and families meet basic needs. 

Schools being out can be a time of uncertainty and instability for many kids. Community and faith leaders can help ensure that these children and families remain connected, cared for, and protected against threats to their health and safety. 

References

USDA Food Security In the United States (Federal Site)
Child Welfare Information Gateway (Federal Site)
State of Georgia – Family & Children Services (Georgia Site)
Prevent Child Abuse (National Site)
Prevent Childre Abuse (Georgia State University)
Georgia Department of Health (Each State Has a Department of Health)
United Way (National Site)


Sara Kroening
RN, MSN, FNP-BC, AE-C

Sara received both a bachelor’s and Master of Science degree in Nursing from Clemson University and has also earned a post-master’s certificate from the University of South Carolina. She is certified by the American Nurses Credentialing Center as a Family Nurse Practitioner and is a certified Asthma Educator. Sara has been a nurse for over 19 years and has practiced in the areas of acute pediatrics, endocrine and diabetes, and public health among others. She resides in Peachtree Corners, GA with her husband and two daughters.

Summer Of Opportunity

A summer image for an article about a summer of opportunity

“Losing what we thought our summer would be, just sucks!” I said that to a student a few days ago and almost immediately regretted it. It’s true, the next few months are not going to look anything like we anticipated. No camps, no mission trips, and no fun with our students. With our world in the state that it’s in, we may not get to do some things, but does the summer have to suck? Nope! Not for us, or our students. It may just be a summer of opportunity.

We are all heading into territory that we have never before confronted. A summer during a pandemic. Many of us will either be planning a phase by phase summer or one that is completely virtual. Some of us may even be where I was for a bit and considering a “dark” summer and waiting this thing out until we can get back to whatever is “normal.”

A lot of us have, in the last few months, experienced screen fatigue, the roller coaster of student engagement on our Zoom calls, and maybe even some creative blockage when it comes to our TikTok video content. I have been working so hard against all this and as I look to what the next few months could look like, I realized something.

It’s not about opposition, it’s about the opportunity. This season is filled with the opportunity to completely reimagine our ministries and what we can do this summer for our students. Here are several ideas for each phase of this summer of opportunity.

Phase 1 Summer Opportunity

Continue To Gather Online

What has your online presence been like recently? Why not continue it and make it fun? Play some games once a week and send prizes like gift cards for Uber Eats and Door Dash. My students love food! Gather on Zoom for check-in time, then use the “Breakouts” feature for various things. I am looking forward to some virtual escape rooms like those that are popping up all over the place. Place groups or grade levels into breakout rooms with a couple of adult leaders in each. Give them all the same scenario (or make it a harder one for those high schoolers) and the first group out and back into the main session wins. I thought of rigging it to have my incoming sixth-graders win as a cool way to welcome them into youth ministry!

Creative Competition

Get creative with a weekly competition. This could be done a number of ways on different platforms. Here’s an idea: Ever watch the show “Chopped”? Gather some random food items and put them in boxes. Deliver them to your students with a note not to open until instructed. Set a date and have them watch a video or jump on a Zoom call with you and your guest judges (adult volunteers, pastors, etc.) to give them instructions and a certain amount of time to make a dish using only the items in the box and a shortlist of other optional ingredients that they may have at home. Have them send a photo of their creation (or disaster) to be judged on creativity. Maybe even bonus points if they can get a parent to taste test. It should make for a fun time or even a mess!

Phase 2

Maybe your church, like mine, is working on ways to phase back into things during the summer months. Gathering in small groups in the latter half of the summer may be an option. Consider grade-level groups or what some churches might call cluster groups.

Grade Level Groups are pretty self-explanatory. Plan some fun events that can be fun and done in large or open-aired spaces. Invite one group in the morning and another in the afternoon, giving time between for coming and going. It can even be the same event for a week allowing for your entire group to have the same experience (and less planning for you). You could even have a trusted leader or student per group take pictures from each gathering to send to you, ultimately resulting in an awesome slide show to post at the end of the week, so everyone feels much more connected.

Youth Ministry Institute Online on engaging more students in your ministry.

Struggling to get students to
show up to youth group?

When you think of Cluster Groups, think of social common interest groups. These groups could be anything from gamers, to TikTok’ers, to coffee snobs, like me, that get together (in small groups of course) (along with a couple adult leaders) and create an accepting, Christ-like community where everyone is Like-minded, cared for, and connected. A lot of our students just want the opportunity to be together, and we can provide that space for them with purpose. A great thing about cluster groups is that they can also happen virtually over a Zoom call or Google Hangouts.

Now, these are just a few ideas that I have. I know that you might have other plans and creative ideas, but our challenge is to take this time as an opportunity and not opposition. There is so much that we are all grieving right now. I am right there with you. Despairing over a lost summer and personal time with our students is valid and affirmed. However, let’s look at what we can still gain. Let’s be hope for each other and our students in this crazy time. I’m rooting for you and in continuous prayer for you, your ministries, and your churches. Let’s band together, share resources, and make our Summer 2020 a summer of opportunity!


Author Brandon Sangster Headshot

Brandon Sangster is a 2013 YMI Graduate with a decade of youth ministry experience in small and large church settings. With a heart for Christ and connection with students, he forges a culture of belonging, acceptance, and affirmation among the students in his ministry past and present. Brandon is married to wife Gianna, dad to 10-year old son Tyson, and serves as the Director of Youth Ministries at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Orlando, FL. 


What About VBS?

What About VBS

VBS is a time-honored tradition in churches, and for many, is their single largest event of the year. VBS helps to bring unchurched families into our buildings and allows us to bring Jesus to children during their important formative years. So, what about VBS this year? What are we to do when we cannot bring them into our buildings? 

Some churches are postponing VBS for a later date, in hopes the restrictions will be lifted in time for them to still hold a “somewhat traditional” VBS. 

So what about VBS? Here are some challenges we may encounter in our churches with potential solutions.

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Does your volunteer base rely heavily on retirees who may not yet feel comfortable in a group setting? Consider hosting extra meetings so that each one is a small number of people.

Is your community discussing decreased group sizes? You may need to look at reducing the number of children enrolled in your VBS.

How will you address social distancing? Masks may need to be part of your conversation as well as using tape to mark off areas.

If these considerations leave you thinking that VBS may need a different look this year, you are not alone.  So where does that leave you?

Virtual VBS

A popular option many churches are considering is a virtual option. Consider uploading videos, music, and lessons to a website or social media, and encouraging families to participate at home. This approach, while likely being the simplest, is not without its drawbacks. Many churches are finding that families are not engaging with our digital content at the level we hoped for and may feel overwhelmed with responsibilities in this time. Will virtual VBS be just another bit of digital noise in our family’s lives? Or will it be a welcome reprieve from their day-to-day? Perhaps consider polling some of your regular families in your ministry and see how they feel about it.

VBS in-a-bag

If your church has already purchased your supplies, this may be your best bet. Providing paper copies of lessons, craft instructions along with supplies, and maybe even snacks is another great option to provide the material to families. This option allows for a bit more flexibility for families to complete at times convenient to them and allows for families who may not have a large stash of crafting items to participate fully. You may consider pairing this with some digital content and creating a hybrid model. Uploading lesson videos and music may make more parents feel comfortable sharing the lesson if teaching is not their gift.

Backyard VBS

This is a VBS format I considered years ago to create a more intimate approach. In this format, ask a few key families in your congregation to host a one-day VBS-style event at their homes. Provide each host family with a craft and supplies, game and supplies, lesson (either the lesson components or a pre-recorded lesson to watch dependent on the comfort level of the volunteer), music, and lunch or snack if your budget allows (maybe have pizzas delivered?). 

You can provide the family with a list of children you would like them to invite, as well as encourage them to invite friends who may not be a part of your church. Please adhere to group size restrictions in your area. The host family then chooses a date and time that works for them (or uses a date predetermined by the church) and hosts something like a child’s birthday party. Pre-print church materials to send home with attendees with current worship information, as well as future church programming or calendar. For this option, you can either choose one day of VBS from the curriculum you planned to use or come up with another simple lesson with accompanying craft and games for families to use. 

No matter what we choose to do this year, VBS is certainly going to look different! Remember my friends, do not grow weary of doing good-and you ARE doing good! Our families need the hope and joy that can only be found in Jesus more than ever before. What a unique opportunity we have before us this year, perhaps to minister to new families who never would have come to a traditional VBS.  Sit back and watch the amazing way that God is going to work!


A photo of Annette Johnson, Children's Ministry Coaching Coordinator for the Youth Ministry Institute.

Annette Johnson is the Children’s Ministry Coaching Coordinator for YMI and has served in full-time ministry for over 12 years. She is a graduate of Florida Southern College in Lakeland. After several years of teaching elementary school, Annette entered into children’s ministry.  Now she is a full-time coach, speaker, and teacher. She is married to Kevin, who is the pastor at HHUMC. Annette and Kevin have been married for 17 years and have 5 children.  She loves singing, cooking, playing with her family, and binge-watching shows on Netflix.


06: Kelly Minter on Trauma and Grief That We Are All Experiencing, and How To Help Students, Children and Families

Making Sense of Ministry episode 06 on trauma and grief

In this episode, Kelly Minter, a therapist, 20-year youth ministry veteran, and author of our popular articles on grief joins us for a conversation around trauma and grief that Covid19 has caused everyone to experience. Your youth ministry, children’s ministry, and family ministry are impacted by grief, and this episode will help you navigate ministry during this season.

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Speaker 1: 0:01

Welcome to the making sense of ministry podcast presented to you by the youth ministry Institute, a podcast designed to help you lead well in your ministry, transform lives and impact generations. Here’s your host, Brian LawsonSpeaker 2: 0:14

friends. A welcome to the making sense administry podcast, episode number six in case you weren’t with us in the last episode I announced that we were launching, why am I online and we launched last week and it’s been received so well. We’re so excited about it. Why am I online is an online learning platform fill with courses designed to help you grow as a leader. Friends, it’s such a great opportunity for you to learn a home. It’s affordable and these are practical courses and to celebrate a launch for very limited time as in maybe just a few days left after we launched this episode, we are offering a free course so I encourage you to follow the link below in the show notes or head over to our website and sign up for your free youth ministry Institute online course. I really think that you’ll be glad you did and I think that the people around you as you start to take these courses will see you grow as a leader.Speaker 2: 1:12

The guest on today’s podcast is Kelly mentor. Kelly is therapist here in Florida, the state of Florida. But more than that, she also has over 20 years of youth ministry experience. Uh, she was involved in getting student leadership voice heard on the conference level in the United Methodist church. Uh, so she is bringing both a youth ministry perspective as well as a counseling perspective to this conversation and to the time that we’re all facing right now. In case you’re curious, Kelly uh, works through elbow tree counseling here in Florida and she is taking new clients and she does take clients virtually. So whether it be yourself or if you know somebody that you would like to recommend or to after you’ve heard this episode, um, I’ll put her contact information in the show notes. Hey Kelly, welcome to the podcast. Appreciate you being here. Thank you for having me. So you’ve recently written several blogs for us about grief. I think we’ve released two up to this point. Uh, we have another one coming and then you also have been working on a video series that is on YouTube, which we’ll put it in the show notes, uh, called ASCA therapist. I’m just curious, what was your inspiration for particularly those videos and when you started releasing them?Speaker 3: 2:31

Yeah, so I, I get a lot of questions specifically from teenagers or families that know me about therapy and what does that look like and what’s the purpose of it. And I was sort of noticing that people have a lot of misconceptions about what therapy is and what the point of it is. Things like, Oh, we’re not going to go to couples counseling because that’s what people with real problems or that’s right before your divorce. That’s when you go, um, my family doesn’t have issues, we don’t need to talk about this thing because my kid will just grow out of it. Those types of things. And it just became clear that one of the things that I could do with my particular skillset is communicate and everyday terms what therapy really is and what would happen. I just kind of had this thought in my head, what would happen if you could ask a therapist anything and they would be honest about their answer. And so I don’t answer anything that I can’t be honest about, but my first one was, what do you really think about your clients? Because I think that’s, uh, something that people think about a lot. What does my therapist think about me? Do they think I’m making a mistake? Are they judging me? That sort of thing. And that’s just not something that you do, but I can absolutely understand why somebody would think you would. So just demystifying therapy and making it an everyday option for people was sort of my goal.Speaker 2: 3:53

In your first video regarding grief, you talked about memes a little bit, which I thought was, I thought was interesting because I’m somebody who really enjoys memes, but I’m horrible at like trying to put them together. So I just don’t. Um, but there’s been so many since, um, we started with the Covidien crisis and the pandemic that have released, one particular comes to mind is the, the one from back to the future where Marty or doc tells Marty not to go to 2020, which I felt less so accurate. Um, but, uh, I was just wondering if you could explain, I think you mentioned that memes are sort of a coping mechanism. Um, I wonder if you could explain that a little bit for us. Um, and maybe also if you have an example of one you’ve seen recently and how that might be sort of a coping mechanism.Speaker 3: 4:42

Yeah. So coping mechanism wise I don’t think means are necessarily a harmful one. There’s, there’s harmful, and there’s not harmful coping mechanisms, but we all need ways to cope with things. Right? And so part of the issue that means address is that we feel really isolated from each other, not just during Kobe, but across the board. And people feel like their thoughts are unique, but not in a good way. You know, my feelings, nobody else feels this way about their life, about their job, about their kids, about their spouse. And then you look out there and someone has actually gone through the trouble to make something that mimics what you feel and you feel, you feel seen, you feel like you’re part of a community, you’re together with someone else that also has those feelings. You don’t feel so alone. So that coping, coping mechanism wise is super important.Speaker 3: 5:37

I think at this time. Um, where means get difficult. I think I addressed this in one of the videos at least where it means get really difficult is when it puts another group down in order to make the particular group you’re targeting with the meme feel better about themselves. And that is, it’s just destructive, you know? So, um, but for me, I mean I’ve got a group of friends that I just send means to their, in their memes group in my, in my text messages cause I love them. I think they’re hysterical. I think right now seeing someone else publish something and you’re like, I resonate with that. I feel, I feel like you know me and we’re in the same boat right now is especially important. So I think they’re, I think they’re really good. One of my favorites isn’t necessarily, um, I can clean it up probably, but it’s, it’s essentially that the devil whispered in my ear, you’re not enough to make it through this trial.Speaker 3: 6:30

And I whispered back six feet back, insert preferred expletive here. Um, you know, and I just think that’s so funny because I think that’s, I think that’s one of those things that anybody can sort of relate to right now, whether you’re a believer or not, you know, the idea that you’re not enough and the idea that you can’t do this is just really prevalent in all of our lives right now. And that’s, that’s to do with our levels of expectation of ourselves. But I just think that the idea of empowerment that says, I have a rule that you can not come near me now. And even the government says, so it was just really, I just think it’s really funny. Um, but honestly some of my favorites are the ones where parents are being really real about what homeschooling looks like while they’re trying to work from home. Because I just, man, I’m having trouble. I’ve got two dogs, I’ve got no kids, I’ve got two dogs. And it is sometimes a nightmare. I can’t even imagine how y’all do with kids. Oh my goodness.Speaker 2: 7:24

You said something interesting about expectations. And one of the things that we’ve noticed talking to youth and children and family ministers is there’s a huge amount of discouragement out there. And the first it was they, they were going to try everything and it was going to be, um, fantastic and kind of fun. But then as this has carried on longer, longer attendance has dropped a little bit and what they’re doing now, they’re concerned about how do they reenter that with their programs. So there’s a huge amount of discouragement really floating around. And I wonder, how do we, how would you think that we manage that discouragement and how do we set reasonable expectations for ourselves?Speaker 3: 8:15

Yeah. So I think that one of the biggest things that people need to understand right now is that their expectations for themselves, the reason they’re unreasonable right now is because they’re based on a productivity and a functioning that does not exist. And so I quote Maslow’s hierarchy of needs a lot. He has some really great things to say about what you need and when in your life. And the first two levels are physiological and security and that’s physiological things like your food, your shelter, your water, um, those kinds of things and things. Your body needs, clothing, things, your body needs to survive. And then second rung is safety needs, which is security of your person, security of your stuff, security of your employment and security of your resources, which is really where at this point it hits most people. If you’re not somebody who’s in an at risk category, you’re, we are being told by those in charge that you don’t have to be as afraid of, you know, the potential air around you.Speaker 3: 9:21

Um, but even so, you don’t know where, how much longer is your company going to be able to pay you? How much longer are you going to be able to get the resources that you need? You know, everybody likes to make a big joke about the toilet paper hoarding in the beginning, but stepping back and looking at the understanding of what we were going into, of course people, people were starting to panic for their resources. And so that, that’s what happened. Like that’s just what happened. The expectations we have for ourselves happen on Maslow’s hierarchy, which is love and belonging and esteem and self actualization where we find, um, we, we find ourselves in our work and we find that people telling us we’re doing a good job means something to us and helps to build us up. Right now somebody is saying, you’re doing good job.Speaker 3: 10:09

A lot of us, our first thought is, well you don’t see me every day. You don’t see the mess that I actually am. You know? And we’ve all sort of slipped down these rungs to our processing in level one and level two. And in those areas you don’t have things like fulfillment from your job. You don’t have things like creativity, you don’t have things like problem solving and acceptance of facts. Those are all higher rung processes that are not applicable when you’re very safety of resources or safety of the job or safety of body are at risk.Speaker 2: 10:41

Do you think this calls into question any unhealthy sense of identity we had before this? Like is this exposing any of that do you think?Speaker 3: 10:50

I think a lot of that is yes. Um, I also think a lot of that is shining a light on the actual human need that we do have for acceptance and for love and for approval. But any of our, any of our less than productive self images or processes that we work with in our own understanding of ourselves or understanding of the world has been magnified now. Because when you’re relying on other people to reflect back to you what your worth is and the other people go away. You’re living in a house with no mirrors now and you’re wondering what you look like because you don’t know.Speaker 2: 11:31

Yeah. Wow.Speaker 4: 11:33

SoSpeaker 2: 11:35

you have tied, I think in in part two of our series on grief, I think you tied trauma and grief together.Speaker 4: 11:42

[inaudible]Speaker 2: 11:44

so those who may not fully know, could you maybe give a, a general understanding of what trauma is and what grief is and then how they might be related particularly in this situation?Speaker 3: 11:54

Yeah, definitely. A lot of people will hear trauma and think, well I’m not in a trauma because I have a roof over my head or I have a bed, you know, and, and I have healthcare or I have this, I have that. It doesn’t matter because we’re in a collective trauma at this point. And so one person not having it makes us all fear what we also may not have. And trauma doesn’t have to be a specifically experienced thing by you. It’s something that calls into question your ability to survive something. And so, um, a trauma potentially is defined by anything that causes a deficit or a disturbance in your everyday processing. And the way that it affects you will determine the level of trauma. And that’s something important for you to understand because if they haven’t, if they, we live in a world that understands things incorrectly about, I’d say 85% of the time because it does not you admitting you are in a traumatic experience that when a collective trauma does not take away the pain of people who are being taken advantage of in a, in a much deeper way, you know, it doesn’t, the amount of grief and pain that are out there are not finite.Speaker 3: 13:12

And so you don’t take some from someone else when you admit your own. Right. Um, but there are people who feel, feel guilty and feel bad about the idea of naming this as trauma or naming this as grief because they feel like, well, I’m really lost anything. I haven’t really, you know, I still have what counts like fuck up Buckaroo kind of thing. And that, that, uh, had a conversation with a friend the other day who was like, well, isn’t that just a saying life’s not fair? And I was like, yeah, yeah, that is saying life’s not fair. And so what’s your point? And they were like, well, well, yeah, life’s not fair, so just suck it up. I’m like, right. The implied suck it up is the problem with the statement. Life’s not fair. You can make the statement, life’s not fair and understand that life’s not fair and then feel that pain, feel that unfairness.Speaker 3: 13:56

Or you can say life’s not fair and so suck it up and move on. And that’s where you stop someone’s process, right? So when grief comes in, we’ve lost so much. The understanding of what we’ve lost as a collective, as a society, and the understanding of what we’ve lost personally will continue for months, if not years after this. And that’s not to make people feel discouraged. That’s just to be realistic about our expectations. It will be things that continue for years that we don’t realize it’s connected to this until it becomes obvious. And at that point then we’ll deal with it. Cause people’s processes are different. But the grief, the trauma that we’re experiencing, the trauma that we are currently in as a collective, we are grieving the loss of security. We’re grieving the loss of safety. We’re grieving the loss of safety of the very air we breathe.Speaker 3: 14:51

You know, and you can’t put a timeline on that, but the idea of, so everybody’s heard of the stages of grief, right? Talk about that all the time. And it’s generally understood to be a linear thing. And unfortunately it’s just not, there’s a lot of different models out there. But for me, I subscribe mostly to the seven stages, which is a modified Kubler Ross model for you psych people out there. And it starts with shock because there’s a period of, wait, what? It, it doesn’t matter if it’s conscious, it doesn’t matter if it’s subconscious, there’s always a period of wait, what just happened? What’s going on? And then there’s denial, which denial is active, it’s active clinging to the understandings you had before the grief hit, right? So if it’s someone who passes away, you’re actively clinging to the idea that maybe they’re not gone.Speaker 3: 15:49

Um, if the situation that we’re in right now, people actively clinging to the idea that it didn’t hit teenagers or I’m not as Matic or immunocompromised, so I’ll be fine. So would a desire to jump back into normal if you will be. You think a form of denial? I think it’s a form of denial or of bargaining. Um, I think that cause anger comes right after denial in the, in the linear equation of it. Anger will come right after because that’s a floodgates opening of all your emotions. Cause denial is denial of your emotions. Denial is denial of your fear of your frustration of your, I don’t know, joy at the fact. You don’t have to go into your office every day, whatever that is, whatever that emotion is, um, you’re, you’re holding it back because to accept the emotions and to express the emotions mean means you’re starting to move towards believing this is a thing, you know?Speaker 3: 16:39

So then you got anger, which is where everything comes flooding out and anger is a protective emotion. And so, um, anger is not, not actually a primary emotion. It’s a protective emotion. It’s a very, very important one that we all need to be in tune to you because it protects you. It’s protecting another emotion. And so when you feel anger at something, if you have a ability to take a step back and what is the anger protecting me from, you know, what, what am I not feeling in order to feel the anger. But then you get into your bargaining, which is the best description for bargaining over her bargaining that I’ve ever heard is seeking in vain for a way out. And I think that in vain part is so, so important. And I think that’s that order or the denial is where the, the idea of rushing back to things of getting back to normal and getting back to where we were before because it’s not, it’s not, that’s not a thing. That’s not an option. We will never not know what we now know. We will never not watch governments around the world and depending on where you stand, maybe our own fail there. People in the way we’ve watched it, you know? Yeah. And going to be a collectiveSpeaker 2: 17:50

change in how we even approach contact with others. I think some people will be very upfront and obvious and they know what they’re doing. I think though, there’ll be subconscious changes that some people don’t even realize, especially in the United States. I don’t think we’ll ever look at mask wearing the same again because I think we used to always think of as for other countries, um, and now and which has probably a prejudice in its own self. But um, but now it’s suddenly here, right? And it’s this thing that is a new realitySpeaker 3: 18:22

and that’s one of those things that I think people who are super angry about wearing masks are super angry about the restrictions that are still out there. Um, or people who aren’t angry about it. It’s so easy to get angry at people who don’t deal with this. The way that we deal with it, you know, because we see that whatever it is, people who are dealing with the situation differently than us, the different is a threat because we’re processing in level one and level two and everything that does not look the same as threatening. And we don’t respond to threats the same way. Right now we can’t because the threats are more real than they’ve been, are real on a very different level than really they’ve ever been before in almost any of our lives.Speaker 2: 19:06

So to understand grief a little better, to help us make sure we, we know how to recognize it, um, probably within ourselves and also the people that we’re leading and serving. Does grief have sort of an age range or do you think that are, you know, children that are four or five, six, seven years old experience it. Um, and, and if so, what would that look like? Do you think of a child?Speaker 3: 19:32

Yeah, so I think it doesn’t matter how old you are. Um, I, I tend to view grief similarly to how I view love. Um, you can grieve to the level of your own life experience. You know, um, you can love the level of your own life experience. Why do we look at love differently as we get older? And it doesn’t mean that love before that wasn’t real. It means it was different cause our life experience and life understanding was different. And I think the same is true for grief. A child, a, any child who’s able to feel emotion, is able to feel loss and is able to feel grief, they will exhibit it very differently than even a teenager would. Um, or even an elementary school age child would. But our understandings at that age, as, as babies, as toddlers, as elementary school folks, even middle school people, you’re really looking at an understanding of the world through the lens of your parents or your caregivers.Speaker 3: 20:32

And so anything that is exhibiting itself in the parents is going to be seen as scary, um, and as a threat until they understand it, until they can, can give it a shape, you know? And so for a lot of kids that looks like, um, I have a lot of friends who have toddlers who stopped taking naps all of a sudden stop taking naps. They’re like, I don’t understand why. I’m like, it’s, I can explain why for me to explain why to you. And I actually had this happen the other day. I tried to explain it to a friend of mine. They’re like, Oh, I think they’re just growing out of it. I’m like, okay, that’s, and that’s fine. But also that’s probably not actually what’s happening. Um, they’re reacting to what’s happening around them because they are also in tune with it. And while it hits on a different level, because as you know, a picture of five-year-old has only had five years of experience on this earth, but something that is impacting four months of a five-year-old’s life, that is a higher percentage of that child’s life than a 40 year old.Speaker 3: 21:37

Right. So it feels longer to them because that’s all they know, you know? And so in some ways, some of them are processing this as more extended than older people are, you know, because that’s the lens they have to see it through. But for a lot of them it looks, it looks like more clinginess for some kids. Um, it looks like tantrums. It looks like arguments. It looks like, um, confusion and sensitivity and sleep disturbance. That’s what it looks like in a lot of kids. Yeah. Um, and then we get into teens. You’re really looking at things like lack of interest in things around them. It looks very similar to depression, which is hard. I think for a lot of people right now is you know, where’s the line? When do I know if my child needs serious help or if this is something that’s going to go away. You know, once things get back to normal at phrase that is so elusive because it doesn’t exist, but that’s fine. You know, it’s different. Yeah. Which is everyone’s favorite phrase right now, right? Yep.Speaker 2: 22:49

To the leader or that has kids at home or to the leader talking to parents.Speaker 3: 22:54

How much ofSpeaker 2: 22:57

their own grief should they allow their kids to see do you think? Because if it’s feeding, if it’s feeding from the parents into the kids,Speaker 3: 23:07

what’s the balance there for the parent?Speaker 2: 23:12

I have to imagine the parents probably carrying it around with them all the time anyways. So what would you suggest for them on, do they allow their kids to see that? Do they try to manage how much they see of it? What would you suggest to either the leader who has kids at home or they’re working with parents who have,Speaker 3: 23:30

yeah, I think it’s, I think it’s really important. This is a really interesting time. Um, a really opportune time to start talking to kids about feelings and the way that kids understand their feelings, the way kids understand their emotions is through the lens of those in charge of them. And so it’s, it’s not, it’s mostly parents, most significantly parents over anybody else in their lives, but teachers, um, leaders on TV, their youth leaders, any of that, they understand it through seeing someone older than them deal with similar emotions and what they do with that, you know? So I think it is important to have some sort of check in time with their, with their child. It’s a touchy kind of a thing because it depends on what your relationship was with emotions before this started because you have to address that. If you didn’t really talk about emotions, you didn’t really show a lot of your emotions or a lot of your troubles to your children before this. And now it’s on, you want to sit down and have, you know, heart to heart conversations with about it. They’re unlikely to be really open to that idea initially. Um, but consistency is really important. If you decide if as a, as a parenting team or a leadership team, you decide that you are going to have regular check-ins. Having the regular check ins, whether it’s responded to or not is what’s going to make those safe places for people to check in. So for instance, parents, um, you could do aSpeaker 3: 24:54

daily, might feel like a lot daily, might be a lot to start out with, but every other day, you know, at this time we all just kind of sit around and have a safe space to talk where it’s not going to have repercussions for later. You know, um, where, you know, the kid’s not going to say something like, well, I just kinda phone did it on my test the other day. And then the next day when you’re talking about their homework, you bring that up. You know, what’s brought up during that time. Can’t be used later as ammo to get people to motivate. Right. That’s just not ever do that. No, not at all.Speaker 3: 25:28

I just don’t, and that’s the thing, that’s something that I see on a regular basis in, in, you know, family who, families who try to have shared times and stuff and kids who are like, I’m not going to do that because I’m not going to give them ammunition for later, you know? So during this time they’re going to be super heightened to that. But going first in sharing times, you know, I just want to talk about what you’re feeling. Um, I talk a lot about the feelings wheel and that is such a good tool for all of us because some people are raised without knowing what their emotions are, you know?Speaker 2: 25:57

Yes. And you know, I actually had never heard of that prior to you mentioning it. One of your videos. So I looked it up and you know, I’ve, I don’t think I’ve been the worst person at identifying emotions, but I definitely had room to grow. And I think if anything that will show that to me.Speaker 4: 26:16

Hmm.Speaker 3: 26:17

It’s, it’s really helpful now to start now to recognize that our emotions have purpose and our emotions have names, you know, and, and giving them a name, it, it essentially. Okay. So you’ve heard that the story of Rumpelstiltskin is common and true to the psyche on so many levels. I can’t even explain. You’re stuck in a situation. You’re looking for something to get you out. You have, you know, a magical that you can’t name and you do what they want you to do and then you get out of it. Right? But you’re stuck. That is the cycle of all of us in our emotions. That’s how that works. And so giving Rumpelstiltskin his name, you know, and identify takes his power over you out, but still recognizes that that is a significant part of your life, you know? And so it’s the same with emotions.Speaker 3: 27:05

That’s how emotions work. So the emotions wheel. My favorite one, I think we’re going to link in the description, right? Um, this one I’ve printed out and I have copies of it in my office and a copy of it on my wall because, so the center section has very common names for emotions. And what you do is you look at those and you pick one and then the, the pie shapes and the circle are color coded. So then you go to the second rung of that color and you pick one of those words in the second rung and then you go to the third wrong and pick any of those words in the third wrong. And it’s almost like a like a three layer to your emotion. It’s getting through your first, second and then to your third year core layer of where something came from. So you might be angry about something, but in reality you’re embarrassed. But you needed that thing laid out in front of you to say, Oh, I’m actually embarrassed about this and I feel I feel not good enough in this area. And so it came out as anger. I get that. NowSpeaker 2: 28:02

one of the things that we teach leaders is self awareness is really important. And I think this is even during normal times, right? So not during what’s going on right now. When you walk into a situation and you feel something inside of you, um, you need to know what that is and you need to know where that comes from so that you manage it so that it doesn’t control your response to whatever the situation is it’s going on. It’s, it’s like a self check before you go into the situ. Um, and so when I saw that wheel, I was like, wow, this is really great to kind of help leaders, uh, with, with their own development to pinpoint where those things are coming from. Um, and potentially an event that, that I would imagine has, they’ve experienced that maybe contributing to her.Speaker 3: 28:49

Yeah. And that’s, and that’s the thing, people don’t always know where their triggers come from and you don’t always need to, but there’s reasons why people are just doing something that seems super mundane and then they’re covered in a wave of embarrassment or sadness or whatever it is. You know, that the feeling is connected to something in their past. But once they know what the feeling is, they’re able to address it better and they’re able to handle it better. And when you can handle your emotions and face the reality of the fact that you have an emotion and it’s okay to have an emotion. Oh my gosh, is it okay? We all do, right? Like we all have emotions. So it’s fine. It’s what we do with it that makes it good or bad.Speaker 2: 29:30

Okay.Speaker 3: 29:30

And what we do with it that makes a difference to those we leadSpeaker 2: 29:36

knowing that, um, it’s a traumatic experience for everyone knowing that it’s very likely that every single one of us are experiencing a level of grief. Um, how, how best would it be for them to go about serving those that they serve?Speaker 3: 29:51

So I think one of the things that is most important right now for us to understand is the, it goes back to the discouragement portion that you were talking about earlier. We feel discouraged because of people’s lack of engagement, but people’s lack of engagement is simply assigned to us about what is going on in their lives. And so if people aren’t engaged, man, is it hard to keep this in the front of our heads and ministry? But it’s not about us. It has nothing. It’s just not, it’s not about us. It’s about what’s going on in their lives and what do they need right now. And remembering that it’s not a personal attack on us if people are not engaging in our programming right now. Um, and remember that people are very confused at what they need. And so you are not, I say this to some of my better friends that aren’t going to take offense to the statements.Speaker 3: 30:53

I’ll just say it to everyone. Listen to the podcast, right? It makes sense. You’re not actually God and you’re not actually Jesus. And that reminder is important right now because there is not a way to solve what is happening with people. And we want to, we want to solve it and want to fix it because number one, it makes everything back to normal and we feel more comfortable. And number two, it gives us a sense of purpose that we are missing right now because nobody’s really sure what their purpose is at this current moment. And to do that is to put our needs in front of theirs. Right? So keeping what you do in check is really important. And by that I mean check your motivation before you do something. If you are doing a senior celebration, are you trying to keep it as close to what you normally do? Because that feels comfortable for you? Are you trying to do it because that’s what makes you feel like you can still recognize this milestone, these kids’ lives? Are you doing it because they need that? And you’re helping them to get that? Like what are you doing and why are you doing it? And if it’s, if it’s a satisfying needs in our own lives, that’s not necessarily wrong, but you need to be realistic about what you’re trying to accomplish.Speaker 2: 32:07

Wow, that’s such a great question to be asking because you’re right, I think that there is a level of people doing things to make it feel normal. Um, and, and at times that might be what people need, but not always. And often I think right now it’s not what they need. Um, it’s, we need it more than they need it. And, and I think that that’s an important question to ask ourselves. So we need to ask ourselves the motivation, right? What’s the motivation behind this? Um, would you say we need to,Speaker 3: 32:40

the things going on within ourselves for sure. When we think about the motivation, that’s where things start to come up for ourselves. Motivation is, you know, um, I want to stay important in these kids’ lives. If we’re that real with ourselves, Oh, that’s going to bring some stuff up. You know, what’s going on in me that I, I want to be significant in these, in these kids’ lives. And am I not getting fulfillment other places because I, and so I need this fulfillment here, or is that an okay feeling? Those kinds of questions come up. And the problem is there’s not a lot of forums to have those conversations right now. And so that’s kind of, that’s kind of where we get ourselves stuck, right? Is we don’t have the time. Even for some reason in this current situation, our pace is still less than manageable.Speaker 3: 33:26

And so we don’t take the time to really process those things and see what it is we’re trying to gain versus what is it we’re trying to give. And you need to gain some things and you need to give some things that’s balanced and um, but, but identifying what those are and who you’re trying to get a gain for and whether or not you’ve heard the needs from that person is really important. And I mean, I will admit that this is something that’s gonna be a little bit easier to do. The smaller your group is honestly, because if you’ve got 40 seniors, you’re not really able to sit down and talk to each of them individually. Or maybe you are. That would be fantastic if you could, but it’s less than realistic to assume that you’re going to sit down with each of them personally and have that conversation about what do you need to celebrate this milestone so that you can move on to your next one. Because that’s part of the thing right there. They need in the things that we’re doing right now, we need to be able to normalize our emotions and normalize our current functioning in order to move on to whatever is next.Speaker 3: 34:27

But the idea in the beginning I think from a lot of people were let’s keep things as normal as possible. Let’s keep doing what we were doing before, keep things, you know, keep things structured and that sort of thing. And that made sense to everybody in the beginning and now we find ourselves at a place where you know, that might not apply because what does school look like in the fall for college students? What does it look like for high school students? What, what happens in the fall, you know? Or what happens the summer when the normal things we Mark our summers with aren’t going to be there. And what do we do with that? Because you can’t keep making things normal in a world that is no longer normal.Speaker 4: 35:04

Right?Speaker 3: 35:05

Like at that point, you’re cleaning to the past and you’re encouraging other people to clean to the past and not proceed into the future. So that’s not helpful anymore, you know? And so the best answer, the absolute best answer would be to sit down with each of those students and ask, you know, help them to figure out what it, where it is they’re at and what their processing is. And, but those conversations, making spaces where you can just kind of talk about feelings and you name feelings and you encourage other people to name feelings is a great step towards helping to understand what is next. Somewhere along the line, youth ministry got um, a reputation reasons. Ministers and youth ministry got a reputation for not being structured and that reputation could maybe help us at this point. It’s interesting to me to see people who really, really, um, bucked structure cling to structure.Speaker 3: 35:59

Now like it’s a life raft. You know, like you didn’t want anything to do with structure before, but now you’re like, I have to have structure. Like, no, you have to have structure. That doesn’t mean it’s what your kids need, you know, um, and paying attention to both is important, but really giving space for things to happen is important right now. Um, because it’s not just about programs and it’s not just about getting kids from point a to point B anymore. The discipleship paths and stuff that we have laid out that those can’t apply right now. And that’s not to say don’t use them, not say they’re not important. But right now the more important thing is how are people internalizing and processing what’s going on so that wherever we’re going next, they are healthier. They are prepared, they are maybe more in touch with themselves. You know, that they are able to see the creation that God has made in them and that they are able to, they know they’re able to stand things cause they stood through a storm.Speaker 2: 37:07

I love that you say to give them space and that programs aren’t the answer right now because I think that that is so important for people to hear right now. So often the people who get discouraged is because their students aren’t attending their zoom meetings or their, their live program that they put on Instagram or something of that nature, which can be fun. I think for my girls it’s been important for them to go to zoom meetings where they could talk to friends and have some sense of community and laughter and joy and that’s great and has its place. But the answer is not that you know the, the answer like you have said is, is the listening and is that the help them process what is happening around them and within them. And I think in the church we make the mistake of thinking discipleship has only education.Speaker 5: 38:03

Mmm, okay.Speaker 2: 38:04

Because this, this is discipleship. This is teaching them about the ways that they’ve been made and understanding themselves. And by understanding that, I think that they’re also understanding more about faith and about Jesus. And in reality, how you help them through this and guide them through this is going to make it easier for you to talk to them at greater depth about Jesus later. Right. Because they’re now going to have this positive association with you that they want to hear more about what you have to share with them. Right. So, so I personally, I think it is discipleship, but we get stuck in this loop of feeling like we have to have a program and we have to have a lesson and it has to be a certain way.Speaker 3: 38:48

Yeah. That plan that, that like 52 week plan that we are all encouraged to put in place, which is not bad. That’s not a bad thing, but that didn’t leave room for a pandemic that destroyed everything that we assumed was Holy about youth ministry. Right, right. Absolutely. Absolutely.Speaker 2: 39:06

The idea behind this podcast is that sometimes ministry doesn’t make sense that things are overwhelming or we’re confused or maybe we just started and we’re trying to figure things out or we’ve been doing it a really long time and this pandemic has sort of just made nothing makes sense anymore. Um, so what, what kind of encouragement would you leave for our listeners?Speaker 3: 39:26

Yeah. I think the biggest encouragement I have is that you are the expert on you and that’s the only expert you have to be. You’ve lived with you your whole life and you’re the only one who has. Um, and so if you’ve got a gut instinct about something, your, your insides are telling you to take a break on something or to push forward on something. Listen to yourself, trust yourselves as much as you can. Continue to trust yourselves more because wherever we’re going, we’re going with who we have with us right now, which is us, right, which is yourself and there’s not running that. Um, which sounds a little scary, I think maybe less than encouraging sometimes, but honestly that’s a beautiful thing because you are, you are able to do what you’re able to do at any more than that you’re not responsible for. So trusting yourself and letting yourself off the hook a little bit. Maybe a lot of it depending on who you are would be my biggest, um, statement for people right now.Speaker 2: 40:29

Well, I really enjoyed that time with Kelly. I hope friends that you heard that, um, that first off, why am I, and personally I believe that you are also, all of us are experiencing a level of trauma and a level of grief right now. It might look different for some of us and we might, um, show that differently. But we need to be aware of that and to be a good leader for those around us, we also have to lead ourselves well. And that means that we have to handle this thing that we’re dealing with this trauma and this grief. And I also hope you see that the kids, the students and the families that you serve are also experiencing a trauma and grief right now. And so I hope that as Kelly said, you consider what your motives are as you’re planning in the future, especially in the near future.Speaker 2: 41:19

Thinking about, uh, you know, why am I really doing this? What is my hope and desire for this thing that I’m planning right now? And is it for me or is it for the S for the students and families and children? And I think maybe that’s a question we always need to ask, uh, that we should always ask ourselves what’s the real motivation and driving factor behind every decision that we make? Sometimes I think we’ll find an answer that, um, that we love and that we know we’re genuine. And then other times, if we’re real honest, I may not be an answer we really like. Um, but it’s a good habit and something we should consider. Well, friends, that’s all I have for you today. I hope this show was encouraging for you. I hope it challenged you maybe a little bit and maybe made you think about things slightly differently. If you enjoyed this episode, would you please leave us a rating and I would love it if you actually wrote out a review. I read every single one of those and I would love to see them share this with somebody you think who would benefit. Don’t forget to snag your free youth missions to online class before. Um, the, the offer disappears. Don’t miss out on that. And until next time, friends, uh, hope we helped you make sense of this thing we call ministry.Speaker 1: 42:34

For more information regarding coaching, consulting, job placement, and online courses, join us@yminstitute.com.

What If Students Are Struggling More Than The “Norm?”

What if students are struggling more than the norm blog article.

In youth ministry, your mission is to promote the spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical well-being of all youth under your wing. And now, during a global pandemic, which has forced the world to shut down and become shut-in, and while your job may look 100% different than it did six weeks ago, your mission is still the same. It is understandable that students may be struggling more than the “norm” during this time.

CHALLENGES UNIQUE TO YOUTH DURING THIS TIME

  • Social isolation has dramatically increased over the last six weeks
  • Screen time has dramatically increased (you know the stats on screen time – decreased attention span, increased anxiety and depression, increased chance of obesity)
  • Social Media use has increased (pseudo-connection with an increased chance for bullying)
  • Teens can be reluctant to verbally process, share feelings, and ask for/accept help
  • Home life might be tumultuous at best for some youth, and now they are forced to stay there
  • Big life plans (summer trips, camps, graduation, college, etc.) have been put on hold or cancelled
  • Possible acute or long-term financial instability/ food insecurity
  • This might be the hardest thing they have been through to-date, and no one in their life has ever experienced anything similar

We will all feel the weight and effects of this pandemic for years to come, and we will all process in our own ways. However, teens who are already at-risk for depression or suicidal thoughts/ideation need to be monitored and cared for closely and in unique ways.

How do you know if one of your youth is struggling more than the “norm” right now?

SIGNS OF DEPRESSION / SUICIDAL IDEATION OR THOUGHTS

  • WITHDRAWING
    This may be hard to monitor while not in-person, but if a teen is withdrawing from activities that usually bring them pleasure, this could be a sign of depression.
  • VERBAL SIGNS
    Teens may tell you or a loved one:
    • “I just don’t think I can live like this anymore”
    • “I don’t want to live like this anymore”
    • “My family/this world will be better without me”
    • “Everything would be easier if I were gone/dead”
    • “I just can’t see a future anymore”
  • PHYSICAL SYMPTOMS
    • Bags/dark circles under eyes
    • Lack of sleep // sleeping too much // unusual sleep patterns
    • Cutting marks on arms/wrists
    • Inability to focus
    • Rapid weight loss or gain // Loss of appetite
  • GIVING POSSESSIONS AWAY
    If a teen begins giving away their favorite possessions, they may be looking for ways to have their friends and family be reminded of them after they are gone.

While we all hope to never be in a situation where we are on the front line of helping a teen through the darkest moments of their life, we must be prepared that it is always a possibility – especially now. Here are some ways you can help:

ACUTELY OR ACTIVELY SUICIDAL:

The following information is taken from the community-version of the Columbia Suicide Severity Rating scale (C-SSRS). If a teen says or does anything that makes you think they are actively suicidal, act quickly and calmly:

  • DON’T BE AFRAID to ask the following:
  • Have you wished you were dead or wished you could go to sleep and not wake up?
  • Have you actually had any thoughts about killing yourself? If the loved one answers “yes” to question 2, ask questions 3, 4, 5 and 6. If the person answers “no” to question 2, go directly to question 6.
  • Have you thought about how you might do this?
  • Have you had any intention of acting on these thoughts of killing yourself?, OR, You have the thoughts, but you definitely would not act on them?
  • Have you started to work out or worked out the details of how to kill yourself? Do you intend to carry out this plan?
  • Always ask question 6: In the past three months, have you done anything, started to do anything, or prepared to do anything to end your life?
  • REMEMBER: In these crucial scenarios, SAFETY outweighs CONFIDENTIALITY; depending on the state in which you practice youth ministry, you may be a mandated reporter.
  • ASK the teen to tell their parent/guardian, or state that you would like to tell their parent/guardian – but between the two of you, someone has to tell them.
  • BE PREPARED – Have the home address(es) of each youth easily accessible in case you have to be the one to call 9-1-1.
  • ENCOURAGE them to seek the help and advice of a counselor, therapist, or a supportive stranger by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255). If a traditional talk therapist sounds intimidating to them, try Music Therapy, Art Therapy, or any other Creative Arts Therapy – research has proven these modalities to be effective for teens who are reluctant to attend talk therapy.

OTHER WAYS TO CARE FOR TEENS WHO ARE ANXIOUS, DEPRESSED OR ISOLATED:

CHECK-IN
Weekly or even daily personalized and individualized check-ins with at-risk and/or all youth (phone calls, texts, email, Zoom calls – whatever is THEIR preference is best).

ONLINE OFFERINGS
Offer online get-togethers as often as you can for your youth. If they are struggling, they may not attend each one; but knowing they have the option might help them not to feel alone.

Youth Ministry Online course on how to develop as a leader.

New to ministry?
Don’t let your leadership show it!

CARE PACKAGES
Snail mail, 3rd party delivery (Uber Eats, Door Dash, Amazon etc.), or even front-door drop-off. Leave encouraging messages, a Bible if they don’t have one, snacks, whatever you think would make them feel loved. (For more ideas like this, see our article on Reaching Students Beyond Zoom).

ENCOURAGE COMMUNICATION
Not only with you, but with their friends, family, and others in the youth group. The more that teens can feel connected and not alone, the better!

GO OUTSIDE
Encourage your youth to go outside and get some fresh air and Vitamin D whenever they can! This change of scenery and the physical benefits of being outside and getting exercise can help all of us take a much-needed break and even change our thinking and perspective!

MUSIC & ARTS
Encourage active engagement in music listening and music-making, creating and enjoying art – this can emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and psychologically benefit our brains and bodies!


YMI blog author and music therapist Mallory Even

Mallory Even, LPMT, MT-BC, is a Board-Certified and Licensed Professional Music Therapist. She earned her degree in Music Therapy at The Florida State University, and has owned her private practice, Metro Music Therapy, which is based in Peachtree Corners, GA (NE Atlanta), for over 12 years. Mallory has a heart for using music to serve others, both professionally and personally, and has been a worship leader at various churches in Florida and Georgia throughout the last 20 years.


You can contact Mallory by sending her an email.