Developing a spiritual growth plan for students sounds like a great idea, but its execution can be difficult. I’ve talked to some youth workers whose experience actually rivaled an execution. But don’t give up–it is possible. Part 1 in this series emphasized creating a healthy ministry environment parents can support, and part 2 offered strategies on how to overcome the challenges in doing so. This post features many of the additional questions that arise from the process:

How do I generate an interest in discipleship?
You don’t. Only God’s Spirit can truly cause people to desire to grow in their faith. You can, however, whet their appetite. Cast vision constantly for what a faith-filled life looks like. The ideal examples should come from your team and others in your church. Tell stories of what God is doing in your life, but be sure to include plenty of failure stories. You want to give students a picture of what to strive for, but we all know you’re not a super hero. So let someone else massage your ego and help students know how a Spirit-filled believer responds to failure. Everyone identifies with failure. You want students saying, “God can even use him? There’s hope for me after all!”

What do I do when my pastor doesn’t like my spiritual growth plan?
Be careful on this one, from two perspectives. First, are you sure your pastor doesn’t like it, or are you disappointed because he/she challenged a few areas? There’s a difference. Second, use this as an opportunity to discuss spiritual growth with your pastor. Is there already a plan in place for the church? How can you support that? If not, ask your pastor if you can run a pilot program with the students.

What do I do when parents ignore my efforts to disciple their kids?
Parents want the best for their kids. That’s why they yell and scream and argue with referees at games. (Also likely why they may have yelled and screamed at you.) Don’t assume their disinterest in your program means they don’t care. It’s possible they just don’t understand what you want from them or their student. They might also be intimidated. While you’d expect parents to be excited to see their kids grow spiritually, it might also threaten them, as that’s one area for which they have no control. The best response is dialogue with the family. Find out what they think of the spiritual growth plan and whether or not they have feedback.

What is spiritual maturity?
Ah, an excellent question! Always good to define terms; otherwise, we’re aiming at a moving target. I’m a big fan of a book called Personal Disciplemaking by Chris Adsit. He offers the following definition for a Christian disciple:

“A disciple is a person-in-process who is eager to learn and apply the truths that Jesus Christ teaches him, which will result in ever-deepening commitments to a Christ-like lifestyle.”

I like it. Short and sweet. You’ll find a variety of definitions but for me two key phrases are “person-in-process” and “eager to learn.” We’ll never be done. We’ll always be growing, or have areas in which we can grow. But take time to identify the one or two or nine key areas you want to develop in the lives of students.

I’m the only youth worker. How can I disciple all the students by myself?
You can’t. Don’t even try. Love and encourage all the students, but focus on 1 or 2. Talk to people in your church. They may not be ready to commitment to being part of the youth team, but they might agree to invest in the lives of one or two students. Pray for additional teammates, and don’t be afraid to invite people you work with or live near to be part of your team. It’s not easy being the only person, but you’ve got a vital ministry.

There are many more questions to be asked. Is there a youth worker network in your area? Take advantage of the opportunity to spend time with like-minded people. There are more questions about ministry than there are answers, so don’t be afraid to ask them. And there’s never a perfect answer, so learn all you can, pray like crazy, and do you best. Thank you for your investment in the lives of students and their families!

Gregg Farah is the Student Ministry Pastor at Shelter Rock Church on Long Island, NY. He’s excited to be back in student ministry after his 7-year journey as a church planter in New York City. Prior to his church planting days, Gregg served as youth pastor for 9 years in the suburbs of Seattle, WA and Orange County, CA. Be sure to visit his blog for much more, including a way to help finance his new line of books he is writing!

Really enjoyed reading this post over on the Generation to Generation blog. They hit on two critical youth ministry concepts that you have to grasp early and often: follow up and follow though! Here’s a clip, head there for the whole article:

Sometimes one of my faults is not following up on things. I really need to write things down, keep things in my Outlook calendar to remind me to do something or to re-visit something I’ve started but not finished. Sometimes I get so busy with a new project that I forget to go back and make sure the old project I was working on is complete or if it needs some further attention. I need to do this with with my high school small group as well. Sometimes I get so wrapped up in presenting a new lesson or new scripture or a new life application that I forget to go back and see how my guys are doing with things we’ve already talked about.

I don’t forget about one of my guys who has been going through a tough time or dealing with a specific issue, I’m great at follow up with that, but sometimes I forget about the general topics we talk about. For instance a few weeks ago my guys asked if we could do a lesson on girls and dating and sex and what the Bible says about these things. We had a great lesson that night and I know I made them really think about how a relationship would look like and how to make sure that they put God in the center of all of their relationships. This past week I got a text from one of my guys asking some very specific questions about what the Bible says about an issue. That should have been my reminder that I need to follow up with all of them and see how they are doing with that topic. I need to build a reminder into each small group time to begin and ask questions about past topics and make sure everyone is still on task with prior topics.

Head over there for the rest of the thought!

•Small groups are messy. Really messy.
•Small groups are a logistical hassle. Meeting in homes only adds to the chaos.
•Small groups require lots of leaders.
•Small groups need constant attention and maintenance.
•In short…small groups can feel like a BIG pain.

But … small groups are totally worth it.

Here are 4 reasons why we think small groups are a big deal. Feel free to add your own (or a dissenting opinion) in the comments section:

Small groups help make invisible students visible
I (Josh) have 4 kids of my own – a couple of them are going to spend their lives being the center of attention and the other 2 are probably going to enjoy contributing on occasion but usually just fading into the background and allowing someone else to take center stage. Small groups put every student in a position to contribute and be challenged. A church that only gathers in the large group setting is encouraging only the faithful, vocal few to truly participate…others may attend, but very few participate. Small groups help make the typically invisible student a little more visible.

Small groups make any size church feel like home
It really doesn’t matter how big your youth ministry is – it is going to feel unwelcoming or even cold to some degree to an outsider. But when a student is invited into a small group… with only a handful of others it begins to feel warmer and more inviting. Personally, we love small groups in homes because this helps them feel even warmer.

Small groups create a youth pastor minor league
Looking to turn regular men and women into great youth workers? Give them a few seasons in small groups and you’ll be amazed at how their heart and their skills grow, and so will they! Small groups give plenty of opportunities for young leaders to shine. Instead of a personality-driven ministry , a strong small group strategy provides opportunities for lots and lots of youth pastors within one ministry.

Small groups produce Godly students
OK, this one isn’t guaranteed, but a small group environment does allow a great leader to be placed over, care for and disciple a handful of students. You can rest a little easier when a student gets connected in a small group – because you know they have a much better chance of their faith sticking because of the relationships that have been set in motion.

Do you think small groups are worth it? Why or why not?

This post was written by Josh Griffin and Kurt Johnston and originally appeared as part of Simply Youth Ministry Today free newsletter. Subscribe to SYM Today right here.

In the past five years I have had the privilege to see a lot of different student ministries and work along side of many different student pastors. In each ministry I have seen different approaches to student ministry, but in every student ministry I have seen three things that I believe are a must for every student pastor. Whatever your doing in student ministry, I believe you MUST be doing these three things:

1. Teach students the Bible. The most important thing student pastors must do is teach students the Bible. The Word of God is the only thing that can truly change their life and help them follow God for the rest of their life. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say this: I believe students need to hear good, solid expository preaching and teaching whenever they come to a youth group meeting. I’m all for small groups, which I believe are vital in student ministry (click here to see my thoughts on this), but student pastors need to teach the Bible in an expository manner to their students. Not only in large youth group gathers, students need to be taught the Bible within small groups that I believe should be a vital part of student ministry. Whatever way your ministry is set up, students have to be taught the Bible. I’m all for relationships and creative styles of discipleship, but I believe solid, Bible teaching is a must for all student pastors.

2. Train and build adult leaders. If you want a growing and healthy student ministry, you must have a team of well-trained adults to do ministry along side of you. Students pastors must spend much of their time recruiting adult leaders, training and equipping them, and giving them opportunities to serve students. In the book The Greenhouse Project, Ric Garland points out that one person can only disciple 5 to 6 students effectively. That means if your ministry has six or more students in it, you have to have adult leaders helping you. Student pastors need to spend the same amount of time building and training leaders as they do spending time with the students.

3. Minister to the parents. I believe a student pastor is not just called to serve the students, they are called to serve the parents as well. The parents are responsible for the spiritual growth of their own students so student pastors must never take that place. We must partner with the parents as we point their students to Christ. Many student pastors spend little time with parents outside just giving them information on events and activities. We as student pastors need to spend time building relationships with the parents, teaching the about the culture of their students, and equipping them with resources to train their students.

These are three things you must be doing as a student pastor. Other things are great and have their place, but we cannot allow these three things to be put on the back burner. Student pastor, teaching your students the Bible, build a healthy leadership team of adults, and always serve the parents.

Austin is currently a pastoral intern at Weymouth Community Church in Medina, OH. He just finished his Bachelors degree from Piedmont International University in Christian Ministries with a student ministries and pastoral studies minors. He is now working on his Master’s degree, got engaged, and is looking for his first-full time ministry position in the area of student ministry. You can find his blog online at

In my first few years as a youth pastor I keenly remember a faithful student named Scott. He was the child of a single parent, and like many students he struggled as a result of not having a father figure at home. I was like a father to Scott, and he looked at me the same. I was a voice of encouragement that took pride in his efforts and successes. He required extra care and time and in many cases grace as they things you would expect that he know were not fair to assume.

So many students are fatherless, motherless, spiritually orphaned or from a home that claims to be rich in their spiritual lives but in actuality is bankrupt. Your encouragement to them, your willingness to pray for them, to value their opinion and to be a good role model to them can make a world of difference. Don’t take lightly the fact that you are the best example of a man or a woman in their lives and that can have lasting implications on who they become and eventually marry.

It is for these students that we need to remind them often that in the midst of a void in the area of an earthly father that there is a heavenly father and He is the father to fatherless. While pointing our students to Him, you need to know that these are the students that need more of your time; they crave it to know that they are acceptable and loved. This is an incredible opportunity to show these students who Jesus is and what He is about and I challenged to seek out these students and make time for them.

4 quick takeaway points to think about today as you youth pastor-parent:

  • Think like a parent — What are the needs of that student? If they were my son or daughter, what would I say or do. Be that spiritual voice of truth like they were your own kid.
  • Share your pride of your students — Tell them you are proud of them and why. Notice the little things they say and do. Balance correction and hard truth with lavish and genuine praise.
  • Remind them that they are loved — By God, by your leaders, by you.
  • Be a solid role model — You might be the best image of what a man or a woman is to them.

A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. -Psalm 68:5


You may have seen a youth group that has just settled. The students know what is coming next in program, you have not done anything new in five years, there is a lot of insider talk going on and any new people that want to come to youth group find themselves left out. You have probably played the same games every four months, the lessons seem to be oddly similar week to week, and praise and worship has become stale. I have been to a couple of them and I find my heart breaking for what more their could be.

I have worked in some very different places as I have served as a paid youth worker. Sometimes the community of youth workers did amazing ministry that inspired me to go far and above what I thought was good enough for youth ministry. Other times, I have served in an area where the youth workers did just enough to look good and get their pay check. The organization I am working with now, Club Beyond, does not settle for good enough.

We do youth ministry in chapels on military bases which means we have high expectations for being great in ministry. Traditions can be a great thing, but if not navigated well, you can fall into a youth ministry rut.

So is your youth ministry settling for good enough? Take this quick survey:

  1. What is the state of the spiritual formation of your students?
  2. Has your youth group format changed at all in three months?
  3. Do your students ask the tough questions and do you address those questions at some point?
  4. Are you excited the day of your meeting or think more about what is going to happen afterwards?
  5. Have your teenagers, volunteers, parents, and yourself been challenged at all in the last four meetings?

These might not be fun questions to answer, but for your students to thrive at youth group, you need to provide a ministry that is thriving too.

Jeremy Smith is a 26-year old youth pastor at the Air Force Academy chapel, working for Club Beyond, and attending Denver Seminary for his Master”s of Arts in Counseling Ministries. He has been involved in Youth for Christ for eight years — check out his blog at Seventy8Productions.

I love it when churches give their staff a spiritual retreat day to focus and center on God. Quite honestly, I like the idea more than I have been able to actually do it! I read this blog post a month ago from NRSM Online that has stuck with me for the past 30 days. So today … (assuming I made it back safely fro Rwanda – doh!) I’m on a spiritual retreat day! Here’s a clip of the blog post I think is worth checking out and implementing soon in your context:

Move slower all day. Seriously, everything you do during the entire day…do it slower. We do everything so freaking fast these days. Take time on this particular day to walk slower, eat slower, talk slower, drive slower (maybe go the speed limit instead of 5 over), read slower, pray slower. Everything.

Location. Your location is key to this whole deal. You need someplace quiet (this is a non-negotiable). You also need an environment that is somewhat new or unknown to you. For me, the more familiar a place is, the more likely I am to fall into whatever routine I’m used to following in that spot. New place…new routine. Finally, you need to be alone. That doesn’t necessarily mean there can’t be other people in the same building or room (although you might need that), but it needs to be a place where no one knows you and no one will be bothering or distracting you.

No retreat agenda. Agendas & task lists are the enemies of your Spiritual Retreat Day.

#1-Agendas prevent you from moving slower. If you have some items to cross off a list, your tendency is to dive in full steam ahead. Unacceptable. What if you get 45 minutes into your time alone and don’t feel like you’ve accomplished anything yet? Oh well!

#2-Agendas lead to a defined “win,” and a defined “win” creates the possibility that you might “lose.” There is no failure on this day. There are no unfulfilled expectations on this day. There are no unfinished tasks on this day. If your Spiritual Retreat Day exists, you win. Besides, you can always go back to being a loser tomorrow.


My kids were watching a show on tv and one of the characters told a joke and since I’m a sucker for a good punch line, I tuned in.

How does a duck learn to fly?…

He just “wings” it!

Get it?

Like many things in my children’s lives, it made me think. How do you teach a duck to fly? How does a mother duck teach her little duckling to fly?

I know what you’re thinking. Ducks Brad? Seriously? Hang with me a moment.

Have you ever thought why a duck has to learn to fly? Other than being something that pretty much all birds do, it is critical part of what a duck is. If you live near any populations of ducks, you know firsthand that ducks are migratory birds, meaning that they move from region to region throughout the year for different phases of their life cycle. If they don’t migrate, which involves flying, they would die, or fail to reproduce. Flying is an essential aspect of ducks continuing to be ducks.

You know the phrase, “If it quacks like a duck and waddles like a duck…(you can finish it).” Well, the same can be said in reverse, if it doesn’t fly, it’s not a duck, or at least it won’t be for long.

Ducks have an interesting approach to teach their young to fly. It’s kind of like a guess and test method. There is some modeling, some pushing them out of a nest, and some debrief. They don’t take flying classes, go through long orientations, and get certified in flight. It’s part of who they are to learn to fly.

How do we teach new believers to fly (and by fly, I mean share the gospel)? What we generally do is load them up with a bunch of information that we think they’ll need to share the gospel and mature in Christ. What we rarely do is model for them a lifestyle of evangelism and discipleship. When we do this, we suppress part of our DNA. An essential, and life-sustaining part of what it means to be a Jesus-follower is making other Jesus followers. When we fail to model and teach discipleship, we keep new believers from ever being ducks…or disciples. I’m confused now.

Brad Gouwens is the Student Pastor at Crossroads Bible Church in San Jose, CA. Check out his blog at Revival Generation.