7 Ways To Minister In Times Of Social Distancing

woman thinks about ministry in times of social distancing.

You are in social distancing, so should ministry stop? Absolutely not! Here are 7 ways to minister in times of social distancing.

 

Share Joy

 

The air is heavy, and people are feeling many emotions. Share joy with them during this time!

 

Find videos, photos, memes, or other things that can bring laughter, joy, and smiles into the lives of those in your sphere of influence. Share these via text messages, social media, or emails.

 

Please do not share memes, videos, or jokes about Covid-19. You do not know the many ways this situation is impacting their family. Instead, use things from your ministry, cute puppies, or The Office. Help them focus on other things and do not make jokes about the current situation.

 

Comedic relief can bring great joy in even the darkest moments. Use this as a way to minister to students, parents, and your leaders.

 

Host an Online Leader Gathering

 

Many of your leaders may be off work or bored at home. Host an online leader gathering for your people.

 

During your time together, talk about personal things, share about how they can minister during this time, or play a game with them. Give your leaders a sense of community when everything else around them is taking their community away.

 

Hangout With Students But Not In Person

 

Why not hang out with students but not in person? There are many ways that you can connect with students today.

 

Send students personalized text messages. Let them know that you have not forgotten them and that even when they feel alone, they are never alone.

 

Call your students! Yes, call them. It seems weird, and it may be awkward, but give them a good old fashioned phone call.

 

Use Google Hangouts, Skype, or Zoom to video call several students at once. Most of these services are free and can 10+ people on the call. Why not play a game with them? Pull out the classic games and conversation starters like Two Truths and A Lie, Never Have I Ever, or Good Thing, Bad Thing.

 

Reach Out To Parents

 

Reach out to parents through phone calls, text messages, or emails. Parents are wrestling with their emotions in the midst of what feels like chaos.

 

Set up a video conference for the parents in your ministry. Share ideas of activities the family can do to bond during this time. Share with them questions you hear students asking right now. Just provide a space for them to hear from you as a leader and to air out their concerns.

 

You can be a support for parents, and in return, you will gain allies.

 

Inspire Your Sphere of Influence

 

Use this time to inspire your sphere of influence. Share daily devotions through text messages or social media.

 

Film or live stream yourself giving a message that you planned to share at your next group meeting. Instagram Live is a great way to do this because it is free, and many students will receive a notification that you are live. You may even be able to host an answer and question time this way.

 

Whatever you do, try to give space for interaction. Encourage students to share video responses to your devotions or messages. Ask them to answer your questions in the comments section.

 

Technology has given us many ways to engage our sphere, so use it to inspire them.

 

Invest in the Ministry

 

Social isolation can be an opportunity for you to invest in the ministry.

 

Spend time preparing lessons in advance. Work on your fall retreat ideas. Plan out your games or leader schedules.

 

Take time to evaluate the past year of ministry. Are you working towards your mission? Are there areas that are not moving towards your purpose? What adjustments should you consider next year?

 

Alone time is an excellent opportunity to look at the big picture of your ministry. Use this extra time wisely and strategically by planning and evaluating your past.

 

Invest in Your Spiritual Growth

 

We, as leaders, often fail at investing in ourselves. Use this time to invest in your spiritual growth.

 

Read a book that challenges you. Study an entire book in the Bible. Spend extra time in prayer. Participate in an activity that refuels you. Exercise.

 

You are being forced to pull away from others socially, so why not spend extra time with Jesus. Your growth during this time will help you better minister through the chaos and after the storm.

 

Ministry doesn’t have to stop because of social distancing. We need to consider doing things differently than usual. Who knows, maybe you will discover these new ways can be used even during regular times of ministry!

 

Stay well, friends!


Brian is the Director of Student Development for YMI and has served in youth ministry since 2004. Brian holds a Master of Ministry with a focus in organizational culture, team-based leadership, change, conflict, and peacemaking from Warner University. In addition to his degrees from Warner, he studied Christian Education at Asbury Theological Seminary. Click the social links below to engage with Brian.


5 Ways to Hurt Your Ministry In Times of Social Distancing

image of man looking outside during social distancing

It feels that the Covid-19 situation has rapidly escalated, leaving us in ministry unsure about our roles. To help you figure out what you should do, let’s look at what not to do. Here are 5 ways to hurt your ministry in times of social distancing.

 

Pretend Nothing is Happening

 

The worst mistake we could make as ministry leaders is to pretend nothing is happening. We must acknowledge the realities of the situation we face. As a leader, you will need to consider everything you had planned.

 

Should you host that gathering? Should you risk exposure of your adult leaders, especially your more at risk leaders?

 

How about the parents and grandparents – does hosting a gathering of students put them at risk?

 

In times of difficulties, it is crucial that your sphere of influence trust your judgment. Failure to acknowledge and consider the full weight of the situation will quickly diminish the trust people have in you.

 

Avoid Parents

 

For a variety of reasons, we can struggle to connect with parents. At all times, but especially now, do not avoid parents.

 

Parents are carrying their own worries and concerns. Some of them are losing paychecks, wondering if they can provide for their children, and concerned about their individual parent’s health. Use this time to reach out to them – providing pastoral care and support.

 

Many parents will appreciate you for reaching out, but may not show it. After the dust has settled, though, they will see you in a new way. By reaching out to parents now, they will come to respect and appreciate you. They may even see you as one of their leaders, not just the leader of their children.

 

Assume Students Don’t Understand

 

Too often, the world assumes that students do not understand what is happening. Those of us who work with students or children know that they hear everything.

 

Your students are experiencing anxieties right now. They need adults who will sit (via phone call or video call) and listen to how they are feeling about what is happening. They may also have questions and need adults who will attempt to answer those questions. Even if you do not have answers, take the time to research the answer with them.

 

Give students respect. Show them that you see their anxieties and hear their questions. They will be moved by your willingness to sit with them when so many other adults are not.

 

Waste the Extra Time 

 

Don’t waste the extra time. Unfortunately, many of us are being moved into social isolation. Introverts may appreciate the spare alone time while extroverts may hate the alone time. Either way, we have extra time on our hands.

 

Use this time to do extra preparation you need to do. Plan your lessons farther out or spend time thinking about the big picture of your ministry.

 

Or better yet, spend this time focusing on your spiritual growth. Read a book that will challenge you. Spend extra time in Scriptures. Do what you can so that you are ready to go. The world will return to normal eventually, will you be ready?

 

Avoid Using Technology

 

Do not avoid using technology. Technology has given us many opportunities today in ministry that we did not have even ten years ago.

 

We use Zoom for video coaching, consulting, and team meetings. Consider using Zoom, Skype, Google Hangouts, or some other form of video calling to create a sense of community.

 

For more ideas, read our article, 7 Ways to Minister in Time of Social Isolation.

What we are experiencing as a society is challenging many of us. We can choose to waste the time that we have and hurt our ministry, or we can use this social distancing as a chance to grow, do ministry in unique ways, and gain trust with our parents. 

Stay well, friends!


Brian is the Director of Student Development for YMI and has served in youth ministry since 2004. Brian holds a Master of Ministry with a focus in organizational culture, team-based leadership, change, conflict, and peacemaking from Warner University. In addition to his degrees from Warner, he studied Christian Education at Asbury Theological Seminary. Click the social links below to engage with Brian.


Why You Can’t Reach Parents

Picture of a family and parents that we want to reach

What would our ministry look like if we could truly partner with parents in the way that we would like? What would it look like to truly reach parents?

There are a lot of different pieces to the puzzle that is youth ministry, but the parent piece is one that is both confusing and frustrating to a lot of us. How do we get parents to fit into our ministry like we want them to? 

Some of us might settle for figuring out how to get parents to open our emails. While that would be a good start, we can do better. We have to change how we think about and view parents. 

Here are a few reasons why you may not be able to reach parents through your ministry right now. 

You only want parents to serve your ministry 

Youth pastors love the phrase “partnering with parents.” But what do we mean when we say that? If we were to really get into specifics, it would mostly include things like getting parents to chaperone events, financially support the youth ministry or just bring their kids to youth group more than once a month. 

And, I get it. You need parents to support your ministry. But parents are never going to have sustained enthusiasm about your ministry if you are only concerned with ways that they can help you pull off your next event. Giving parents opportunities to serve your ministry is not going to be enough to reach them. 

You’ve only built half of a bridge 

When you started serving in youth ministry, your thought may have been that if you build a bridge half-way to the parents, they would build the other half. Then you would have this beautiful, thriving ministry relationship, and all your problems would be solved. That is reasonable, right? Halfway is pretty good. 

Parents are generally drowning in student homework, soccer practice, errands, their careers, birthday parties, and laundry. They honestly do not have time or the emotional energy to build the other half of your bridge. It’s not because they are not interested in supporting your ministry. Most of them are just too busy and tired. 

If you want your ministry to reach parents, you are going to have to build the entire bridge. I know that sounds difficult and maybe even a bit unfair, but doing everything you can on your end is going to free parents up to devote themselves to be the parent. 

Parents don’t know they need you yet 

Parents may not always see the value in what you do in your ministry. But, if their teen is going through something really tough and will not talk to them about it, they will be very grateful that you are in their teenager’s life. In a time of crisis, parents tend to naturally move toward other adults who love their children. 

If you have been consistently making the effort to invest in their family, not just their teen, then it is going to be a lot easier for parents to trust you. And since you have built the whole bridge between your ministry and their family, not just half of it, they can get to you quickly and easily. You may not feel like the things you are doing right now are having an impact. But, you are building a relationship that parents will need when the time comes. 

So how do reach parents? 

Here are a few practical ways to reach out to parents: 

Moments

When a student does something her parent would be proud of, send a short text or email to the parent and let them know. Or, here’s another one:  The next time you think to yourself, “____________ is amazing. I love the way she ____________”, ask yourself if you have ever told her parents. Parents are constantly struggling with their teenagers at home. It goes a long way when another adult lets them know they have a great kid and they are a good parent. 

Milestones

Any time there is something significant going on in the life of a student, it is probably impacting the parents. So reach out to parents in times like the beginning of the school year, during testing, enrolling in a new school, during a big sports tournament, after a big performance in some extra-curricular activity, etc. Just a short email or text to let them know you saw that awesome performance or are praying for their new season can go a long way. 

Be a matchmaker

You cannot give parents all the answers to their teens’ problems. But there is probably another parent in your church who has previously dealt with the situation. Do what you can to connect them to each other. They will minister to one another and it will require very little time from you. 

Resources

Spend some time finding good resources to help parents raise a middle or high school student. Whenever you find articles, books, speakers, share them with parents. 

Service Opportunities

Create ways for students and parents to serve together inside and outside of your church. This gives them opportunities to have conversations about spiritual things. They also observe active faith in one another. 

Scheduling

Before you do your schedule of events, think through how it would impact the typical family in your church. Bring to mind things like frequency, length, cost, time of day/week, etc. All of these things will impact the schedules of families in your church. 

As you move forward in ministry, keep in mind: parents are not your enemy. They are by far the biggest influencer in the lives of the students that you nurture and about whom you care. Love parents well. Because when parents win, everyone wins.


Skylar Jones serves as Youth and Family Minister at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church in DeLand, FL. He has worked in many different capacities since he began serving the church nearly 20 years ago. Skylar is married and has a son. He met his wife at Berry College, in Rome, GA, where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English. He enjoys sports, music, long walks on the beach, and anything made by Reese’s. Click the social links below to engage with Skylar.


Stop Doing That

man thinks about what he needs to stop doing that in ministry.

Sometimes it is good to stop doing that – by that, I mean what you have always done or what you know needs to go away. But first, I think you should ask an all-important question, “Why am I doing this?”

After almost 19 years of youth ministry, I find myself asking this question more and more, “Why am I doing this?” I do not mean the job of youth ministry – I love my job, my students, their families, and the community where I work. I ask myself about the tasks and questioning why this event is on the calendar, or that activity is taking place. You should ask that question of yourself.

Knowing why you are doing what you are doing is key. Often we do things because other people did them. Or we thought it might be fun, or cool, or we do something but haven’t really thought about the “why?”

As a former high school coach, I learned that if it didn’t translate to the game, then why would I waste time in practice on that specific skill or particular activity? 

To stop doing that, you must ask yourself the hard questions. 

How do I want my students to leave this ministry? 

What do I want to teach them? 

How should I teach them?

Where should I start and end with expectations, goals, programs, and you get the idea.

Planning is key. 

Start planning. To stop doing what you have always done, you must start planning time to plan. Give yourself and your team a solid weekend or week together to plan your calendar, and how you hope to implement it. 

A planning retreat requires a lot of work, but it is necessary- even if you do most of the work and meet with your team for just a day. 

Planning how you will do what you want to do will help you to stop doing that.

So here are three things I think you should do. 

Gather, Games, and Grow. 

Everybody does this in their way and in their parameters, but I really believe these three elements should be in every youth ministry at some level or another.

Gathering is what we are called to do as Christians. It can be as simple as having a hang time before youth or having snacks as people show up. It could be more formal with set leaders gathering and having intentional fellowship with a few students. However you want to frame it out, I believe a gathering time is key to all ministries but especially vital to youth ministry. Gathering is where students start to feel known and accepted.

Games is not something every youth group does anymore – (I KNOW RIGHT? LIKE WHAT IN THE WORLD?) But seriously, if your group is not the game-playing type, here are three reasons to think about starting. 

Number one, games break down walls that other activities cannot. Number two, games cause conflict and help in teaching and modeling conflict resolution. And Number three, games build bonds and memories that help us love people that may be different than us.

Grow is a word I hesitate to use, but it is what we will do when we connect to Christ. Jesus says there will be fruit when we connect to him. So we should grow spiritually, sometimes that means numbers and sometimes not so much. But we should always plan to grow numerically and spiritually. 

So every time your youth group meets, you should share God’s word and the Good News of Jesus because this is the food and water we need to grow. Jesus himself said he is the Living Water and the Bread of Life, that those who are hungry should come to him, and those that are thirsty should come and drink.

Gather, games, and grow are three elements that will help you get to know, love, and serve students. They will help students get to know, love, and serve each other. They are also useful for all of us to know, love, and serve God.

Stop Doing That

What is your “that” that you need to stop doing? Once you identify it, ask the hard questions, make time to plan, and consider using gather, games, and grow in your future ministry plans.


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.


3 Ways To Grow Your Children’s Ministry In 2020

A fresh new year. Blank pages on a calendar. This year, it’s even a fresh new decade! What better time is there for dreaming and visioning, both in our personal life and our ministry life? So for 2020, let’s dream about a few things to grow your children’s ministry!

3 Ways To Grow Your Children’s Ministry In 2020

Host a “no-strings-attached” community event.

In ministry, we try to make every single event about preaching and teaching. But, we cannot forget good old-fashioned fellowship!

Look around your community and ask yourself what local events are well-attended by community families. Does your neighborhood love live music? Are the people outdoorsy or adventure types? Would a chess tournament would speak to your community?

Whatever it is, find a way to host an event that will speak to the folks who live in your context. Host a free or low-cost event at or near your church. Outside of your church is even better! Allow people to see what you are doing.

Now here’s the hard part – resist every urge to preach at this event.

There should be no stories, no devotions, JUST FUN.

Have pamphlets of information about your church and some posters with service times. If someone has questions about their faith, answer them. However, for a vast majority attending, this is just an opportunity for them to see your church as a “safe place,” a place they can step into without fear.

I learned years ago that it takes approximately seven pleasant encounters with a church (that are NOT worship related) for a person who is “church-hesitant” to be willing to attend a worship-based event.

If we are not getting out into the community, showing them who we are, inviting them into a relationship with us, then how can we ever expect them to be brave enough to step into our sanctuaries?

Get into your local school.

If you do not already know which school is your local school, then go on your school district’s website. Then you will plug your church address into the “school locator” tool. The locator tool will tell you what schools a family would attend if they lived at your church.

You have just taken the first step to finding your people! These are the children who bike, walk, or ride past your campus every day. These are the families who see your church as a part of their neighborhood. 

After you have determined the school to focus on, contact the principal. Making contact may take a few days-school principals are busy people! After you get in touch with them, here’s what you to say.

 “Hi! I’m the children’s director at Faith Church just down the street, and we want to know how our church can better support your school? What are your biggest needs?”

After you speak, I want you to listen. Do not make suggestions, just listen. 

Maybe they need tutors? 

Maybe they need underwear for the clinic? 

Maybe they need buddies helping in the car line in the morning? 

Whatever their need is, try to imagine how your church can step into that need.

I guarantee that as your church begins to live into that school’s community, those families will start talking! Your efforts will cause you to become more than the church they pass on the corner.

In other words, you will be part of their lives, and before you know it, they will trust you enough to bring you their children for VBS, camp, and maybe even worship!

Stop worrying about the numbers.

Now, I know this article said it would be about growing your ministry. Maybe growing your ministry doesn’t mean increasing the number of bodies in your classrooms. 

Growing your ministry means increasing the reach your ministry has in your community.

Growth means reducing the number of children who are freezing during the winter by supplying your local school with coats.

Maybe it means increasing the number of people in your area who hear the name of your church and say, “oh, Faith Church? They’re amazing!”

Maybe it means being the hands and feet of Jesus to a world that needs us more than ever – even when they are more likely than ever not to attend church.

It might mean re-thinking just what your ministry is and what it does.

Growth could even mean taking a deep breath and jumping into something completely unknown.

You can grow your children’s ministry.

Try these 3 ways to grow your children’s ministry in 2020 and you will see some positive impact on your ministry this year! There is a new year ahead of you, and with the new year comes new opportunities!


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.


3 Ways To Grow Your Youth Ministry in 2020

Growing plant gives the image of a growing youth ministry.

It is probably safe to assume that you would like to see your youth ministry grow. No matter who you are, I believe these 3 ways to grow your youth ministry will help.

If you are new to youth ministry, you may not know where to begin. Do you buy the massive unicorn float at the pool store, act crazy, and give away iPads to get students to attend? While these ideas could serve a substantial purpose, I believe there are better places for you to focus.

For ministry veterans, the need looks different. You hit your top number every fall or every spring. You know why you got to that number – a sermon series that draws students in or a season of momentum driven by events or activities. So how do you stay or even pass your top attendance number?

While not an exhaustive list, here are three ways you may go about growing your ministry in 2020.

3 Ways To Grow Your Youth Ministry In 2020

Accurate And Complete Attendance.

The first of 3 ways to grow your youth ministry in 2020 is with accurate and complete attendance.

At first glance, this may seem like a simple concept. I bet you do this, right? You take perfect attendance all of the time.

It amazes me the number of leaders who fail to take accurate attendance. To those of us in youth ministry, we often see taking attendance as a negative or uncomfortable administrative task.

Often we believe taking attendance is only about giving numbers to those in charge or worse; we see attendance numbers as threatening to our value as a youth pastor.

When you take count of the people who are at all of your activities, you develop a complete record of where you currently stand as a ministry.

Accurate numbers help you see the areas of your program that are trending upwards, the areas of your ministry that you may need to remove, and the seasons of ministry that provide you with the best opportunities for new ideas.

Numbers are also about something else. Numbers are about people.

When you take attendance, you quickly see when someone has stopped attending. You can love people and care for them better when you notice they have not been to your ministry in a few weeks.

By following up with a person who has not attended, you may learn of a new activity they are involved in, health issues in their family, or drama they’ve experienced. Regardless of why they have stopped attending, you will be in a place to gain knowledge and will be able to asses how best to care for them as a person.

Accurate attendance records open the door to explore new ideas, eliminate failing programs, and, most importantly, to care in meaningful ways for the people in your ministry.

Consider Your Ratio.

Look at the size and depth of your adult leaders. What is your ratio of adults to students?

If you have too many students and not enough leaders, students will not feel known by an adult. Students who do not feel known in your ministry will leave or never connect in the first place.

Teens need your adult leaders to know their joys, pains, fears, and dreams.

If you structure your adult to student ratio low enough for your students to be fully known, then you will grow. At the Youth Ministry Institute, we recommend nothing more than a 1 to 5 ratio of adults to students.

If you currently have enough adults for the students that you have, then you need to add one or two adults. Ministries that grow are ministries that prepare for growth. Do you currently have five adults, then recruit two more. (See my article on 5 Types Of Leaders You Need On Your Team.)

Your adult leaders can make a significant impact on your growth in 2020. Recruit adults so that students can be known and loved this year! 

Increase Student Pride.

People want to participate in things that excite them. I wonder how excited your students are about the youth ministry? Do they feel pride in their group, in their adults, in themselves, in Jesus?

If your students feel pride in anything about your ministry, they will share this with others, and it will influence how they act in the world. A student’s felt pride for your group will often translate into excitement, and excitement can be the doorway to connection.

Your ministry is worthy of feeling pride. You have a message of hope, joy, peace, and Jesus! What are you doing to help foster excitement and pride in the ministry that you lead?

Celebrate students who represent the group. Take pictures of your students wearing your ministry shirt at their school events and post them on your social media. Ask students to share stories with the entire group of how they lived out the teachings or values of your group. If they are nervous about telling the story to their peers, ask them if you can share their story with the group.

Talk and teach about how amazing your group is and what Jesus is doing in your group. Always tell people in your church about the positives outcomes of the youth ministry.

Often the pride students need in their group is modeled first by you, the leader. If you model pride in the group for your adult leaders and students, eventually, they will grab hold of this, and good things will begin to happen.

I believe that you can grow your ministry in 2020. Taking these three steps can help put you and your ministry on a positive trajectory towards that growth. 


Brian is the Director of Student Development for YMI and has served in youth ministry since 2004. Brian holds a Master of Ministry with a focus in organizational culture, team-based leadership, change, conflict, and peacemaking from Warner University. In addition to his degrees from Warner, he studied Christian Education at Asbury Theological Seminary. Click the social links below to engage with Brian.


YOU MAY BE YOUR MINISTRY’S WORST ENEMY – PART 2

You may be your ministry’s worst enemy. 

A few weeks ago, in part one, we discussed one way you may be hurting your ministry. Today we are going to explore another way that you may cause harm.

You may be your ministry’s own worst enemy by failing to invest in your personal development.

I think we, as leaders have several reasons why we fail to work on our development. 

Maybe you are too busy. 

You have one event, after another. You have a youth ministry activity quickly followed by a church-wide event. There doesn’t seem to be enough time! So what gets ignored? Your development.

You spend all your time pouring into others, and now you lack the energy for yourself.

You lead volunteer training, student leadership meetings, and are the chaplain for the local high school team. After pouring out so much to other people, you may want to do nothing. 

You may lack the resources. 

If you are at a smaller church, you may have no budget. You may be the entirety of your youth ministry’s budget. For you, I would say, there are ways.

You do not feel the need for self-development. 

Sometimes people think they have arrived. When others look to you for advice or guidance, it can be easy for you to begin to believe that you have all the answers.

This thinking is far from the truth. I see it the other way. The more people lean on you, the more you must seek your personal development.

When you fail to seek development, you are not only failing yourself. You are letting the ministry and others around you down.

5 WAYS YOU CAN BEGIN SELF-DEVELOPMENT

Seek out a network. 

Ministry can be done alone, for a short time.

Yes, you can run a year or two of ministry by yourself. But doing youth ministry alone, without a sense of genuine community around you, will lead to an unhealthy ministry and steer you towards burnout. 

You need others to support you. You need others to remind you that you matter. A network can play this role. The other youth pastors in your network can serve to refresh your spirits and give you a sense of community.

Each member of a youth pastor network brings a variety of backgrounds and ideas. Collectively, there is a gold mine of experience in your group. And what better place to look for advice than in a trusted group of your peers?

In a network, you find refreshment, community, and ideas. For those of you from small churches with a minimal budget, networks are cheap or free!

Read. 

Books, blogs, magazines, and devotionals.

There are many excellent reading materials out there. Find a book or blog that speaks to the area or areas that you need the most significant development. 

When reading a blog, be sure to sign-up for their emails. And remember, do your research. Does this person seem to know what they are talking about? Does this writer have credible experience?

New to youth ministry, I recommend Your First Two Years In Youth Ministry by Doug Fields.

Looking for personal development, check out The Self-Aware Leader by Terry Linhart.

Need some help refining how you can measure success in ministry, read Deep & Wide by Andy Stanley

Find a mentor. 

One thing that I know for sure, there is someone else out there that has more experience than you. 

There are always people out there who have more or different experiences than you. They can be a valuable resource.

Maybe the mentor challenges you or gives you a different perspective you have never considered. Regardless, they add value to you. Find a mentor.

Listen to podcasts. 

Podcasts are like blogs, free and come in a wide variety.

There are many great podcasts out there. Listen to a few of them when you are driving, mowing, doing laundry, or cleaning the youth room. 

The fact that they are free makes podcasts an excellent resource for those who have little to no budget.

Youth Ministry Institute is currently developing a podcast. We believe it will be a great, free resource for you.

Sign-up for coaching and training

Sometimes we need more focused attention.

Whether you are just beginning in ministry, or are feeling stuck, coaching is a great option. With coaching, you get the focused attention of someone with great insight. 

Coaches challenge thinking, question decisions, and force you to consider all the options. They do these things in an attempt to help you develop and to define what you are attempting to accomplish more clearly.

A coach will bring fresh eyes, perspective, and experience to your situations. 

Youth Ministry Institute offers customizable and proven coaching with some of the best coaches out there. Contact us if you need more info.

For small churches, with little budget, do not be afraid to reach out to us. We have options for you as well.

Your development as a leader, matters. Focusing on your learning does not make you selfish. Instead, it makes you wise. It makes you humble. It makes you the kind of leader that we all want to follow.


Brian is the Director of Student Development for YMI and has served in youth ministry since 2004. Brian holds a Master of Ministry with a focus in organizational culture, team-based leadership, change, conflict, and peacemaking from Warner University. In addition to his degrees from Warner, he studied Christian Education at Asbury Theological Seminary. Click the social links below to engage with Brian.


GET READY FOR TOUGH QUESTIONS

“Can God create a rock so heavy that He can’t move it?”

If you’ve ever had a student ask you this question or a question like it, you might have dismissed it. It’s a bit of a silly question, and I’m betting it was probably a silly student who asked it.

But, if you were to linger on the questions for a bit, you might have had a harder time than you thought to formulate an answer that makes sense. 

Paradoxical questions are worth thinking about, but could you answer some serious, difficult questions? “If God created everything, who created God?” “How was the Bible made?” “Does God know everything we’re going to do?” Do any of these sound familiar? 

Those questions aren’t just for senior pastors. There are some significant implications for you as a youth pastor in wrestling with them.

WHY YOU NEED TO TRY AND ANSWER TOUGH QUESTIONS

IT’S GOOD FOR YOUR FAITH.

Odds are, you know WHAT you believe. But do you know WHY you believe it? I know it’s not always easy or pleasant, but wrestling with why you believe what you believe will significantly enrich your faith. 

You’ll also find your relationship with God to be more vibrant when you start to see and believe that He’s not afraid of your questions and won’t send you away because you ask them.

Our God is a God who draws near to His people, even in their confusion or doubt. 

If you want to make it very far in ministry of any kind, you need an active, growing faith of your own. Over time, you’ll find that the muscles of our faith tend to atrophy if we don’t ever wrestle with tough questions. 

STUDENTS ARE GOING TO ASK THEM

If you haven’t had a student ask you a really tough question yet, I promise you it’s coming! These questions are sometimes theoretical and unemotional.

“How was Jesus God AND man?” “How was the Bible made?”

But they can also be deeply personal to students.

“If God is good AND all-powerful, why does He allow school shootings,” “Why would a loving God send anyone to Hell?” 


Students may only be aware of the question they’re asking but, there’s something else happening at the same time. They’re allowing you to earn their trust and respect.

When a student asks you a difficult question, and you have an answer for them, even if it’s only a partial answer, they learn that you have asked yourself these questions before. That means you can relate to them! 

They’re also going to feel like they can trust you. You just showed them you’re not scared of their questions, and you’re a safe person for them to ask.

If they asked you their question in front of all the other students, you’ve just become more relatable and trustworthy to everyone, not just the student asking the question.

That’s a win! 

BUT DON’T ANSWER ALL OF THEM

It is such a beautiful thing that God has communicated so many things about Himself to His people. And, you should give a lot of time and energy to knowing what God has said and exploring how you can grow in it, both personally and in your ministry. 

But, you are doing your students a disservice if the God you expose them to is small enough for them to understand completely.

Your students need a God that is bigger than they can imagine. Let their minds be blown, at least from time to time, by how incomprehensible God is. 

Your students will never accurately understand God if they are never challenged to embrace mystery. It’s an essential part of our relationship with Him. 

As a youth pastor, you should want to foster a safe environment where students can wrestle with tough questions. But, you should also try to respond in ways that help build a sense of wonder. It’s in that tension where you’ll start to see faith come alive in your ministry. 


Skylar Jones serves as Youth and Family Minister at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church in DeLand, FL. He has worked in many different capacities since he began serving the church nearly 20 years ago. Skylar is married and has a son. He met his wife at Berry College, in Rome, GA, where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English. He enjoys sports, music, long walks on the beach, and anything made by Reese’s. Click the social links below to engage with Skylar.


ONE WAY TO COUNTER A TOXIC GROUP CULTURE

Toxic people create toxic groups and quickly derail your mission. As leaders, we need to learn how to overcome a toxic group culture.

What do I mean?

A new student shows up to your group but never returns. A longtime student leaves. Both students say your group has too many cliques. 

There may be a lack of participation in games, activities, discussions, or events. 

Or no matter how much promotion you try and the amount of money you spend, you still cannot generate excitement. 

You may have an excellent mission statement, and your church may give you plenty of financial support. Your youth room may be the best in town. None of these things matter if you do not have something to guide the group culture in a positive direction.

At the root of the problem is this, without a mechanism to guide it, your group will become whatever the loudest voice desires.

A student decides they don’t like a game, guess what, no one will like the game.

Someone likes being the center of attention; they will make sure that your group revolves around them.

So how do we counter the loudest voices in the room and overcome a toxic group culture?

CORE VALUES.

Core values are a set of beliefs that define how your group will act. They help you and your leadership team define what a person will experience when they participate with your group.

Your stated core values should be in every gathering of your people. Every core value, every time. No matter what your groups does. No matter where your group goes. Your core values will be present, and your group will stay consistent.

Core values are the number one weapon in combating a toxic culture and toxic people.

When someone is attempting to hijack your group, making it all about them, use your core values to steer them in the right direction. When you are training your student leaders about the significance of games, remind them about your core values.

WRITING CORE VALUES.

Core values can be simple. In fact, simple is always better.

I suggest writing single words that are easily understood. Yes, you should define these words, but easily understandable words convey an easily understood message.

A few core values that I have used in the past have been words such as: relational, inclusive, enjoyable, trinity-Centered, and relevant.

When you write these words, think about what you desire for your group to become. 

What do you hope a new person will experience when they participate for the first time? What sort of group culture will attract people?  

Remember, it is important to keep your words simple. It is equally significant to limit your number of words. I would never write more than five values. 

Why no more than five values?

Core values are only as strong as they are known. 

You need your adult leaders, your student leaders, and even your regular attendees to know these words. The more people who know your values, the more likely they are to be emulated.

Your mission is important, and being properly supported matters. But the best mission and the most fully funded ministry can be sabotaged by a toxic culture. 

Don’t wait. Get your team together and develop core values. In the end, your group will be healthier, and your message made stronger.


Brian is the Director of Student Development for YMI and has served in youth ministry since 2004. Brian holds a Master of Ministry with a focus in organizational culture, team-based leadership, change, conflict, and peacemaking from Warner University. In addition to his degrees from Warner, he studied Christian Education at Asbury Theological Seminary. Click the social links below to engage with Brian.


3 WAYS TO INVEST IN THE MOST ANXIOUS GENERATION

No one seems able to agree about the exact dates for Generation Z. The youngest members may have been born in 1995 and the last in 2012. We’ll find out more about them in the next couple of years as additional research explores this group.

As we strive to reach this generation, we must understand its members as well as we can.

Two key markers of Generation Z.

  • Most of Generation Z sees the world as a scary place. They may not have been born when 9/11 took place, but their parents and others have made the event a part of their lives and insecurities. Many have been parented out of fear. (“How to Raise an Adult,” Lythcott-Haims)
  • From this, we can also conclude that Generation Z is the most anxious generation, or “melatonin generation,” since melatonin is its drug of choice. The anxiety of those in this age group makes sleeping difficult. And their lack of sleep affects their emotions and decision-making.

As we seek to invest in the members of Generation Z, we must consider how to create safe spaces for them physically, emotionally, relationally and spiritually. Here are a few tips on how to engage an anxious young person in meaningful conversation.

3 Ways To Invest In Gen Z

Lead with listening.

When someone says they are worried, overwhelmed or afraid, we may feel the desire to fix the perceived problem. With all good intentions, we offer phrases like, “At least …” or “The good thing is …” This minimizes the other person’s feelings and will often shut down the conversation.

Resist the urge to use your words to try to improve their situation. Instead, ask questions and listen. Sitting with them and identifying with their emotions can have a powerful impact. If a young person tells you, “I’m stressed out about getting good grades,” ask clarifying questions: “Do you find studying a challenge?” “What kind of grades do you want to get?”

Once you better understand the situation, ask questions that enable them to explore how they feel. Sample questions include: “When do you find yourself most stressed about your grades?” “Why do you think grades cause you to be so stressed out?” “When it comes to your grades, what do you fear most?” “When you get worried about your grades, what thoughts run through your head?”

Give them permission.

Giving them permission to feel as they do will help them relax and feel understood and validated. You might say, “That is stressful.” “I understand why you feel overwhelmed.” “I imagine that kind of pressure is hard to handle.”

Help them navigate their feelings.

Invite them into a brainstorming journey with the phrase, “I wonder …” When we use this phrase, we invite active participation. “I wonder what would help you feel less stressed.” “I wonder what things you enjoy doing that help you relax or distract you from feeling overwhelmed.” “I wonder if tutoring would help you.” “I wonder if talking with your parents about the pressure you are feeling would help.” “I wonder how your parents would respond.” One of the best gifts we can give Generation Z is not great advice but walking with them through tough situations.

Talk less. Listen more. Journeying alongside them will help them feel valued and loved, and it will increase their skill set for navigating life’s difficulties.


Kirsten Knox, Regional Director for YMI Florida, was part of the second class to complete the YMI two-year coaching and training class in 2009. She has since been a coach on multiple occasions. Kirsten Knox is married and a graduate of Asbury University with a degree in youth ministry.  She began working in youth ministry in 2000, serving Pasadena Community United Methodist Church for a decade. Click the social links below to engage with Kirsten.