The other week we had a senior girl share her testimony at our high school program.  It was powerful.  Afterwards her peers came up and showed her love.  What made the testimony even better was the fact that we recorded and placed the video on our student ministry Facebook page (With parent permission).  In return she received several compliments and words of love from peers, parents and adults in our church.  The next time I saw her you could tell there was an extra bounce in her step.

You are called to walk with students in their faith journey.  During that journey they will face hopeless moments where they will need encouragement to survive.  One of your roles as their youth minister is to cheer them on, affirm their choices and make sure they are being loved.  While there are many ways of doing this five that I would recommend are:

  • Bragging About Them Publicly: At first a teen might be slightly embarrassed but giving them praise in front of a crowd is huge.  It lets them know that they are so great that you don’t want to hide it.  By telling your audience why this person is awesome you affirm them as a role model (especially to their younger peers). 
  • Touch Base Before Something Big: Text them, write on their wall, send them a tweet or take them out for a bite to eat right before something big.  As a kid my mom used to write notes on my lunch bag before a big test.  It was a little embarrassing; however, it was reassuring to know someone was thinking of me.  The beauty of social media is you can let your teens know that you are thinking about them moments before they embark in the battles of teenage life.
  • Call Up Their Parents: One way to motivate teens is to do it through their parents.  When a parent feels supported in the job that they are doing they’ll pass along the extra encouragement to their teens.  And there is nothing better than boosting a teen’s morale through their family.
  • Thank Them For Being Them: They don’t have to do something impressive, unexpected or selfless, just let them know their appreciated.  It will especially means something if you can send a hand written note.  Many times teens are working to be someone they are not.  When you thank them for being simply themselves you show them God’s authentic love.
  • Utilize Physical Affirmation: Next time you see a student give them a hug, shake their hand and let them know you are proud of them.  This is intimidating because of the scandals and controversy out there.  If you are unsure just make sure you aren’t alone (Especially with the opposite sex).  Be consistent; but, don’t be afraid to give them positive contact.  It’s the intimacy they might be missing in their lives.

You can assume that your student’s know how you feel; however, with all the voices they face on a daily basis you need to make your’s louder.  When teens know they are loved, they will feel like they belong.  When they feel like they belong they’ll be more open to hearing the Good News.  Let them know how much they are truly loved.

How do you boost teen morale in your youth ministry?

Chris Wesley (@chrisrwesley)

Today the HSM Team and I are away at a fun day as we get near the holidays. We do it every year – I call it the State of HSM, but it is really a time of fun, stories and affirmations. I wanted to show you a fun affirmation we’re doing today that I think is easily transferable to your ministry and something you might consider doing in your group.

  • We collected 10 words people used to describe the selected person – you could do this in a variety of ways – slips of paper, email, whiteboard, sign in sheets, etc.
  • Collect and compile them into a document
  • Drop them into Wordle.net, words are sized according to the number of times they were repeated
  • Print the final rendering on photo paper, then frame and reveal

Jessica had this great idea and the final product is nothing short of fantastic. I posted one here as an example. So easy and so powerful!

JG



I have to admit, I am what you would call an affectionate person and if you know me, you have probably have received a solid hug or two or ten. I am sure that many of you have heard of the five love languages, which are Acts of Service, Quality Time, Words of Affirmation, Physical Touch, and Receiving Gifts, and if you haven’t you should check them out but if you, its eye opening stuff. When the dust settles, I am a Words of Affirmation & Acts of Service type guy and this has implications on ministry and how we engage our students.

Last week one of our students came up to me while my colleague Emily and I were visiting her school and she ran up and gave us both big hugs and said to me “Geoff, I want you to know that I love you, thanks for caring so much about my life.”  I was taken aback by what she said, I mean having someone come up and say that they love you for the first time is a big deal. I was surprised, not by what she said, but why she and many other students before her said it.

This student said it because the finally GOT IT! For years now we have placed a high value on living out the example of 1 Thessalonians 2:8 which is the verse that we base our Ministry around.

“We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us”

This verse is a core value of our ministry and we remind students often that they are loved. Loved by our leaders, by our church and by my wife and I. We care so deeply about them and try and reflect the Agape love that God shows us to our students.  So hearing a student say that they “I love you” or “I love you too” is not something strange, in fact each time it happens its for us a validation that our students are getting what we are about and that Loving God and Loving our students is more than an attitude, it’s the words that we say and they are sincere. The guys in my small group, the worship team, the rowdy eighth grade small groups they all know that we Love them!

Over the past few years one of the things I have noticed is that there are certain students who can get a little uncomfortable with this, but often times its because they come from families where expressing love is not common or doesn’t happen at all. For these students it’s even more important because for them to be able to understand and embrace the love of the Father, it needs to start with us. Sooner or later most of them warm up to it and start to understand why we do it.

We accept that there are risks of making people uncomfortable or weirded out by having leaders living this out but the pros far out weigh the cons for us and we are committed to fostering a community that reflects Gods love through action and words.

We love our students and for us part of that is telling them that. Is this a value for your group too? How do you show your students that they are loved?

-GS -  Twitter

I had such an incredible time at SYMC connecting with so many youth workers passionate about sharing Christ with the next generation. Of the countless people I connected with in Louisville there was one that stood out. He was a young ministry volunteer who was really excited about exploring the idea of going into vocational ministry one day and he was lucky enough to be brought to SYMC by the Pastor of the youth ministry he volunteered in. He was full of energy and a sense of calling to minister to High Schoolers and his gifting was obvious. I loved hearing his heart for students .

His Pastor on the other hand was another story… I asked if he was enjoying the conference and the he began to share is displeasure with many aspects of the conference especially how tired he was of some of the people teaching at it. He seemed so jaded and bitter toward many of aspects of Youth Ministry and the conference he had spent a lot of money to attend.

I had to ask myself, how does someone get to this place? Could my love and sense of calling turn into bitter resentment, could my desire to learn from educated experts turn into resentment by not being asked be one of them? Or worse, would my hard heart and frustrations become engrained in my ministry colleagues, volunteers and students and potentially taint their ministry experience?

It’s a really scary thought, so it begs the question. Where is your heart at this week?

Can I ask that together we guard are hearts from being hardened towards one another, to value the input that each of us can bring to the table from the unique contexts each of us are called to.  We need to encourage one another and affirm what we see God doing through one another but also to honor those that have given their lives to equipping us as youth leaders. To honor those leaders who care deeply to equip leaders, not to make much of themselves but to make much of the Christ.

Take time this week to encourage someone on your team, a few of your students, your pastor, your mentor or maybe someone who has no idea the impact they have had on your life or ministry. We are all working to build the same Kingdom.

GS



Loved Doug Fields’ blog post the other day about valuing people. Here’s a little clip of his complete thought – this is something that every youth worker has to work to master when working with a team of volunteers. Good stuff:

2. Give feedback
As a leader, your constructive feedback is vital to an individual feeling valued. Most followers are desperate for validation and they want to be recognized for their contribution. They’ll follow, work and give their heart if they feel like they’re following someone who cares enough about them to give them feedback about their contribution. When you take the time to give specific feedback (even if it’s occasional negative/constructive), you are adding to their personal sense of value. It’s not unusual for a person to work for, serve, volunteer years of service and not get any specific and personal feedback from their “boss”…it’s not unusual, but it’s definitely tragic.

3. Affirm, affirm, affirm
This should go without saying, and unfortunately, many times it does. I know leaders will say, “He knows he’s important to me.” Really? When was the last time you told him? It ought to be often! This is such a basic principle that it’s almost embarrassing to write, but I find it so rare in leaders that it’s worth mentioning and repeating.

JG

If you give students responsibilities within your youth ministry, sooner or later they will mess up. Not because they’re incompetent or irresponsible, but because they’re students and therefore only human. How you handle their mistakes can have an enormous impact on them. Here’s seven golden rules to keep in mind when your students mess up:

1. Confront them right away
If they have made a mistake, don’t delay in telling them. Pull them aside and confront them as soon as possible. Usually, they’ll know they have messed up and the agonizing wait for you (or any leader) to say something can be a huge stress factor for them.

2. Be specific
Be sure to tell them what they did wrong and be specific. Don’t leave it at vague stuff like ‘you should have organized the service better’, but name the facts: ‘you forgot to inform the worship leader of the changes in the service’. Check if they have understood what they did wrong.

This may seem like a total superfluous thing to you, but often people ‘close off’ once they know they’re going to get ‘reprimanded’ and they can remember completely different things from a conversation than what you were trying to get across. Add in the factor of students reacting emotionally to emotional stress and you can have a drama on your hands (‘he said I was a total failure and I completely suck at organizing’). So do make sure they understood you correctly.

3. Show the big picture
It’s important that they know what the consequences of their actions are, so give them the big picture. Hoe has their mistake affected the youth ministry? Not to make them feel guilty, but to make them aware. And there’s a huge difference!

4. Affirm them
After you’ve told them what they did wrong, do not forget to take the time to affirm them. Tell them how much you value their efforts, their time and hard work. Don’t say this because you feel you have to, say it like you mean it.

5. Keep it short
Nobody likes to be on the receiving end of negative feedback, so keep it short. This whole conversation doesn’t need to take more than say a minute or two.

6. Forgive them and trust them again
The most important thing for you after you’ve had this conversation is to forgive them and start trusting them again. This can be hard, especially if they messed up big time. But students need to know and feel that there’s room for mistakes, that they get second, third and even fourth chances.

7. Protect them
If possible, protect your students after they’ve made a mistake. While it’s perfectly okay to make a mistake, don’t underestimate what shame can do to students. Protecting them by not revealing their role can give them the courage to try again without losing face. I’ve more than once taken the blame for something others did and I never regretted it. I could take the criticism, they couldn’t.

A couple of years ago, two of my student leaders messed up big time when organizing an event. They signed a contract with a company without my knowledge or permission and it ended costing us about $1000. But years later, these guys came to me to thank me for how I’d handled this. Nobody ever knew what had happened and they had kept serving in youth ministry, both having learned a lot from their mistakes. My trust in them had meant the world to them and had given them the confidence to keep growing as a leader.

How do you handle it when your students mess up?

Rachel Blom is a Dutch youth ministry veteran, now living in southern Germany, who is focused on training youth leaders worldwide to grow in their roles through www.youthleadersacademy.com. You can also find her on Twitter via @youthleadersac



One of the most profound books that I read over the past five years is The Five Love Languages, by Gary Chapman. This book is not just a book for understanding your spouse (which I didn’t even have at the time of reading) but I believe understanding the love languages will transform how you minister to students, and your whole family. This is a must read for everyone and it has changed how I view my students as a teacher and as a youth director.

The whole premise of the book is the idea that each person has a primary and secondary love language. It is through that type of love that our “love tank” get filled. Each person is different and gives and receives love differently.

There are five love languages that the book talks about. Acts of service, Words of Affirmation, Physical Touch (platonic touching, not necessarily sexual) , Gift Giving, and Quality Time. Often the way that you give love the best is also the way that you recieve love the best, however that is not always the case. There are several online tests that you can take to help you figure out your love language, but I do recommend you read the book because it details each of the love languages, how to best understand them, and how to best incorporate those into your day to day life.

You may be wondering how this goes beyond your spouse – well I believe that the more we understand how our students give and receive love, the better we are able to minister to them in a way that they feel as though they truly are loved. So many of our students come from broken homes or unhealthy relationships when all they have ever learned is put up your walls and protect yourself. We can help break down those walls by learning first how they love, and filling their love tanks. We can then help them learn how to best love others regardless of their love languages.

For me it changed how I taught my students, it changed how I ministered to my students, and it helped me to better individualize my ministry to help connect in a deeper way with my students. To me it was revolutionary!

Jana Snyder is a youth pastor and a good friend who blogs at www.tarajaministries.com.

As I have grown up, I have learned many things about myself, that I love people, love Jesus and that when it comes to being loved, my primary love language is physical touch. I have been in Youth Ministry for 10 years now and as all of us can agree, if there is one thing students love to do it is flirt and hug each other.

Students respond to physical touch, but of course it needs to be done in an appropriate way. I have always been a fan of High Fives, fist pounds, and “Christian Side-Hugs” as a way to make a student feel welcomed and valued. What I didn’t understand was that there was even more value to these gestures than I realized.

Last week, a member of our congregation pulled me aside; she had seen me high-fiving students on Sunday morning and told me about a recent study she read. The study said that the brain receives and processes physical touch affirmation (high fives) faster than a spoken affirmation, which means that a high-five from me is received faster and more positively than a quick verbal affirmation.

As our student ministry starts to pick up momentum this fall: the reality is that there is less of me to go around to each student. It is good to know that I can communicate value to a student through a quick gesture that will mean something to them right away. We all know that a student is likely to make Youth Group a commitment as long as they feel valued and they belong. And for that reason – its High Fives All Around.

Geoff Stewart is the Youth Pastor at Peace Portal Alliance Church.