i-struggleI had a lot of great conversations around my last post. If you didn’t get to read it, here it is. I had a few conversations about the fact that a lot of the struggle is at the one-on-one level. And the question “What should I do if a student comes and says they are struggling with same sex attraction?” So I thought I’d share a few thoughts in this area. Definitely can’t share everything in one post, but here are some of the main points.

There is no quick fix to their struggle and so we need to be ready to walk with them for the long haul–especially in this area. Secondly, I believe lasting change is from the inside out and not the other way around. I believe God wants us concerned with the condition of the heart. So no matter what they struggle with Proverbs 4:23 gives me a good reason to start with the condition of the heart.

I will also say no matter what the struggle is, this is my approach. So here are a few things I do intentionally in a one-on-one situation:

  1. I listen – I’ve learned meeting with hundreds of students that when I shut up and genuinely listen they speak from the heart. Meaning, you do not need to impress them with your words or what you know, the only thing I want them to know in that instant is that they are being genuinely heard. I need to set my mind to absorb and not fix. The fixer will draw conclusions with bits and pieces of information with the intent to fix. The absorber is just taking in the information. Drawing a conclusion based on part of the story is dangerous, because you could be completely wrong on the cause and the solution. So listen and absorb. You need to hear their story completely, and they need to share it with you.
  2. I ask questions – You can’t rely on the students to have all of their thoughts together and share everything in one sitting. They will share with you, but it may not all connect or make sense. Ask questions on incomplete thoughts or to go deeper on a subject or area they have opened up about. Don’t just let it slide. Ask the tough questions. Example: if a student opens up about their relationship with their parents, go deeper in that area by asking more questions.
  3. I’m careful with my language – If the student comes in saying they have been struggling, you can assume that they already beat themselves down and thought of every negative thing you can think of. So I want to be careful that my words are seasoned with grace and love. The last thing I want is for them to leave feeling worse then when they showed up. Sometimes we justify our negativity with not watering down the truth. Well, take a beat from the Bible, because it guides us in how we should deliver the truth. (Proverbs 25:11, Proverbs 15:23, Ephesians 4:15)
  4. Focus on their relationship with Christ - A lot times we think that we need to focus on the problem or the struggle, and that’s just not true. The only cure to our brokenness in any way is through an authentic relationship with Christ. Asking the question “How is your relationship with Christ?” is where we find the problem and the solution. Not the solution to how we stop them from doing what they are doing, but the solution to an even bigger problem that plagues all of us. That is not growing in the knowledge of Jesus Christ, nor allowing the power of what He did on the cross to overtake our lives. Again, our job isn’t to change people…because we can’t. Our job is to point them to the one who can. Our job is not to focus on the problem or struggle, but to focus on the one and only solution Jesus Christ.

I’ve learned that at times, when I’m walking with a student through a struggle, I find myself thinking about how I can get this student out of the mess and hurt they find themselves in. Sometimes I wish I could just snap my finger and everything becomes all better. And I often hear God reminding me that He loves them more then I will ever be able to. There is not a solution that I have that will come close to what He’s able to do for them. So point them to Him.

Hope it helps,

ac

 

lunch

Thousands of youth let out a collective sigh this Monday as schools all over this nation unlocked their doors. Within the next couple of weeks all students will have left summer behind for desks and a pack of freshly sharpened pencils. Memories of camps, missions trips and life altering encounters with Christ are still freshly etched in the forefront of their mind. Unfortunately, it will only take a mild amount of life pressure, real or perceived for many to trade in all their enthusiasm for Jesus. The youth leader in all of us will be discouraged when those  who were “on fire for the Lord” seem to become apathetic.

How then do we help our youth to remember the Jesus of the “summer”  wants every part of their lives?

Feelings Come And Go

I think it’s fair to say we all agree it’s “easy” to know Christ when the only expectation is to focus on HIM.  Camp and mission trips schedule devotional times, and often service.  Whether it’s lack of sleep or time to stop, many of our youth had deep emotional reactions to their times in these places. The Lord changed them deeply and they could FEEL Him at work.  Teach your students the “high” they experienced may dull, or it may return with the next retreat, conference or mission they attend.  In contrast if we are always seeking a “feeling” of elation we just might miss the depth of who Jesus is, and how He is ALWAYS at work in us and around us.  The truth is not contingent on whether or not we are “moved.”

 

Christ Still Wants Our Time

Schedules begin to creep in.  It starts with the necessities of life and moves to sports, drama, and for some jobs.  They can think there isn’t another minute in their day for th

e Lord.  However, that deep conviction they had while away propelled them forward and closer to Him.  Help them come up with ways they can practically succeed at both getting closer to Christ and showing the world who He is in their life. Could they get up just 5 minutes earlier everyday and read their Bible?  What about writing a verse on a sticky note and placing it somewhere they look all day? How about praying as they ride to school?  Encourage them to simply tell THEIR story of God’s work in their lives with friends.

Service Is A Lifestyle

They might be looking for the next time you “set- up” a service opportunity.  While projects and trips are great opportunities these should only ever be catalysts to a lifestyle of helping. Help them find ways to give both Big and Small on a regular basis. What about sitting next to som

eone whose alone at lunch? What about noticing when someone needs an extra hand in the grocery store?  Yes, visit the sick in the hospitals, the aging in the nursing homes, the shut-ins connected with your church, and give food out at the food bank. Let them know service is not an event, then find ways to get them out of their comfort zone and give some more.

Jesus Is In the Lunch Hall

And the gym, English class, at home, on the bus…  Part of the reason entering the routine of school is so hard for so many is,  it hurts there.  They might be dealing with bullies, failing classes or just the regular peer pressure that comes with JH/HS, on top of anything difficult NOT in school. They pray for complicated situations to dissipate and instead things get worse.  I have heard more than once that the Lord has forgotten them because things “aren’t working out.”  Christ hasn’t left them.  Instead in those moments He

cries with us, and loves us as deeply as ever.  Keep reminding them HE NEVER LEAVES, while talking with them as they wrestle with all that is “unfair.”

As our youth enter routine, and their school days the most vital offering we can give is the reminder God and HIS LOVE is the only unwavering constant in our world. How would next summer be transformed if they were growing in the Lord all year long?

What are you doing to actively aid students in their daily relationship with the Lord as they go back to school?

 



question markCompanies and organizations often do “exit interviews” and they do so for many different reasons.  But the biggest one is that they get really honest answers.  They do this so they can learn, become better at what they do and more faithfully care for their employees.

I think student ministry pastors need to do this too.  Asking graduated seniors the following questions can help you become better at what you do, be more in tune with the actual needs of your students and provide a natural way for you to give a few things for them to think about as they move onto the next stage of education.  But mostly it’s about asking them questions and keeping your ears open.

Here are 10 questions to ask graduated seniors:

  1. What is one thing you would NOT want to see changed in our ministry?
  2. If you were me, what two things would you do differently in our ministry?
  3. What questions are you thinking through right now? (note: this is a good one to ask because it can clue you into which questions you should answer for the next years seniors!)
  4. What do you think the biggest need is of the students in our ministry?
  5. What aspect of our ministry do you think is the most effective in helping students grow in their faith?  Why that one?  Anything we can do better?
  6. What do you think the students at (name school here) want the most out of life?  What is a way that our ministry can meet/address that desire?
  7. What was it that helped you best connect in our ministry?
  8. Do you feel like you were invested in the way you expect churches to invest in people?  What could we do better?
  9. Was there anything in our ministry that made you feel uncomfortable or discouraged?
  10. Do you feel like you were encouraged in our ministry?  If so, what did you find to be most encouraging?

High Schools Need You

Geoff Stewart —  August 28, 2012 — 7 Comments

A few months back I wrote a post about the need for us to be in schools and the reality that we have a tonne to offer schools. With the knowledge that schools are becoming increasingly cautious and sometimes hostile towards the Church and the optics of having us visit the school, we have built a solid case for how we can benefit the life of the school while honoring and respecting their rules and apprehensions. This is a great week to send an email to the administration at your local school(s) and see if you can’t be a part of what is happening there.

This year for our ministry has had a ramped up focus on our local high schools that we feel is the final frontier of the student mission field. We have 3 major schools on the peninsula that our church is on, encompassing 4000+ students, a very daunting figure. But what an opportunity, and lets face it, students are not flocking to the Church with questions and concerns anymore so its all the more important that we be where they are. The problem is that many schools are phasing out or not allowing Youth Pastors or religious groups to be present in the school anymore.

We recently encountered one of these schools and it took 9 months of emails, follow up calls and persistence to get a meeting with the administration. In that meeting we presented what I felt was a well thought out case as to why the school needs us as much as we need them and here is what we brought to the table.

Promise not to Promote: This was the disarming opening to the conversation, as we said in no uncertain terms that we would not advertise, promote or invite any students to our program, nor would be bring in any fliers, candy or any other bribe into the school. This is non-negotiable for both the school and us because we are not the missionaries doing the heavy lifting just the supportive spotters.

Commitment to Connect: The transition into High School for some is easy and for others it can be painful and lonely. For students that have trouble making meaningful connections early in their high school career, they can end up making unhealthy connections with the first people that will talk to them. We committed to being a connector of students, being present in the first weeks of the school year and throughout the year with the intention of helping students make meaningful friendships with other teens involved in the ministry. For the school, the idea of having someone partner with them in helping students make a more successful and less stressful transition into the school was a huge plus.

Heart of Encouragement: There is something about affirming words from someone you respect that speaks to the heart on a different level. As Youth Workers, we are not parents nor are we teachers and because of our unique relationship with students, the words we say speak volumes to students. The look on our students faces when they see us walking down the hall is priceless, unless of course they are avoiding me (which happens too). A youth worker going out of their way to  visit a school tells a student that they matter.

Respect: High School principals in many cases are public enemy number one, and we all know that students love to rally around a cause and in a school that can be despising leadership. Our role needs to be one where we come alongside the administration and our students and in the midst of frustrations that students may have that we will encourage them to submit to the authority that the school has (1 Peter:2:13-14) over them. Modeling respect for the school’s administration is important and the administration will love to know that we are not undermining anything that they are doing.

Relationship: Youth Workers have a relationship with students that the schools just cannot offer and for that reason we can be really helpful. Our voice is unique, and unlike parents or teachers, students choose to spend time with us and for that reason, the respect that they have for us is often earned and not expected. Our opinions, concerns and thoughts are influential in the lives of our students and as often as parents call on us to walk beside their students in times of trial, I suggested schools could do the same. In our meeting with the school we provided a comprehensive list of all the students who were a part of their school and active at our youth group. We proposed that we would be available if they became concerned with any of our students and we could come along side the family and school and working through whatever the issues might be. This was a big seller for the school, as it became very clear that being in the school was about mentoring and investing in our students, not recruiting and proselytizing the lost.

I am so convicted of the value that investment of just one hour per school every two weeks can have in the spiritual life of our students, the perceptions of Christianity and Pastors to their friends, and the opportunities that we will have to live out a relationship with Christ to the teachers and administration of the schools we are serving. This is the case for getting into the schools and if you read my previous article you can read about the benefits to your ministry of being at the school. This is a huge win for both the schools and us as Youth Workers.

-Geoff



Yikes! The summer is nearly over and that means that students are getting ready to go back. They are filling the malls buying skinny jeans,  fresh new Toms, loading up on Axe body spray and Hollister perfume.

For some students, there is the excitement and anticipation of seeing friends and being back at school. But for others, it might be a new school, or their first time in high school and that can be really scary. Students for the most part have a deep desire to be accepted and the first few weeks at a new school are pivotal as kids will often make friends with the first person who is willing to befriend them regardless of who they are. The role that friends play in the life of young person is huge, and falling into the wrong crowd early can have disastrous consequences, so that is where we come in.

Here is how it plays out at Journey: We have grades 6-12 meeting on the same night but somewhat separately, but the students do mingle and older students often know many of the younger ones. When the school year starts in a few weeks, we know that our students will likely know some people at their new school and that is where we get involved. During the first week of school we will be visiting every high school in the area at lunch time, visiting, encouraging and most importantly connecting our students. We can do so much to help make the transition into a new school, healthy, fun and life giving as we help to connect students in a new environment.

There is obvious value for us, to connect and shepherd our students, but this is one of the biggest reasons that the schools around us let us visit all the time. The administration at the schools see the value in us helping students make a smooth and healthy transition into their new school.

-Geoff (Twitter)

 Over five years ago we started having high school students lead small groups in our 5th and 6th grade program.  Since then we’ve expanded to allow them to lead the rest of the middle school students in our 7th and 8th grade ministry.  This decision for us started out of a need for small group leaders in general; however, has bared much fruit over the years.  What we’ve seen is that the high school students who lead small groups:

Act Like Leaders In Their Own Small Group – They’ll see what their adult leaders go through in leading them; therefore, they’ll make sure to move the conversation along.

Become Role Models For Their Younger Peers – While you want to connect your teens to an adult, sometimes you need a liaison.  That is what a high school student can be for a middle school student.

Develop As Student Leaders In The Church – Just as you pass vision onto your adult leaders, you will pass it on to your teens.  When they capture the vision there is no telling what they will do with it.

But it’s not as simple as putting a high school student in charge of a group.  On top of what you do for your adult leaders, you need to make sure that you are partnering up your high school students with an adult accountability partner.  By doing this the high school student receives support when it comes to:

 Talking With Parents – It can be intimidating for a high school student to approach the parent of a teen in their small group.  An adult will give them affirmation, hold them accountable to acting maturely and back them up if a parent is unsure how to interact with their child’s leader.

Serving Hurting Kids – When teens trust you they open up and sometimes what we hear can be overwhelming.  On top of the emotions that come with serving hurt teens there can be liability issues, if an adult is not informed.

Growth In Their Own Faith Journey – Just as your responsibility is to encourage your adult leaders to grow, this adult mentor can hold the high school students to do the same.  That might mean making sure they are plugged into their own small group, reading scripture and finding quiet time with God.

High school students leading small group for middle school students will raise the bar on their faith journey.  It gives them responsibility and accountability to another person’s faith formation.  High school small group leaders is another example of growing disciples, growing other disciples and isn’t that what we are trying to achieve?

Do you have high school students leading small groups?  Are you for this idea or against it?  Why?

Chris Wesley is the Director of Student Ministry at Church of the Nativity in Timonium, MD. You can read more about his ministry and life on his excellent blog Marathon Youth Ministry.



So, I’ve been hearing about different strategies to help new students get “plugged in” to youth group. I remember talking about that at the last church I worked at. So I anticipated it… worrying about plugging them in. But strangely enough our youth group didn’t have any problems with it. It just sorta happened. I was pleasantly perplexed, but when I thought about it more… it just made a whole lot of sense. The two things I think contributed to the easy transition were these…

Teach the Gospel every week. Being exclusive is a result of your students feeling in their hearts a need to exclude. To make themselves feel more important, to feel safe. Teach them the gospel week in and week out. How through Christ their needs for love and inclusion are completely filled. It takes their focus off themselves and turns them outward towards others. It works… the students around here are not perfect (I tell them almost every week they are a bunch of rag-tag sinners), but they are more outwardly focused. Not because of guilt, but because they know they are loved. If you remember high school at all that should blow your mind. High School is the most self-centered time of your life. Solution… teach them the Gospel over and over again.
Have older students help out in the children’s classrooms. For years we’ve had a program called Kids Helping Kids. I grew up knowing the older students because they were my old sunday school teachers. Relationships were already formed. So a new 6th grader coming into youth group already knows the older students! A few weeks ago a seventh grader expressed this during a sharing time. Basically he said… I was excited and felt comfortable coming to youth group because I already knew people liked me and wanted me there. Do I need to say more? I think not.
Teach students the Gospel and have older students help in the children’s classes. It makes the whole “promotion” thing into something very natural and easy.
David Misson is the Youth Pastor at Peninsula Bible Church in Willow Glen CA. You can follow him on Twitter: @davidmisson
-Geoff

Youth workers work hard, and I have so much respect for the ones that run two different nights for Junior Highs and High School students. In many ways its a necessary part of ministry as running a program for sixth grade to twelfth grade is challenging if not impossible to effectively engage students in such a diverse age range. We felt that same challenge in our group but did not have the resources to go to a multi-gather format. So after much thought and prayer we decided to completely overhaul our youth night to help alleviate many of the challenges we had been seeing in years past. So here is what we did, why we did it, what is working and what needs tweaking 8 months in.

Why did we change things?

For the past few years we have been facing real challenge of students making the leap from our kids program to high school. They were going from being the big fish in the pond to feeling like minnows in our student ministry and the intimidation was a big factor. Our youth night has been Thursday nights from 7:30-9:30 for 10 years now and for some parents of younger students this is a deal breaker, it was too late for their kids and up until this point our response was simply sorry.We also recognized like many of you, that resources were finite at the church and running a two night program would be a strain on our volunteers, worship teams, and myself and my family. The group was out-growing our facility and having 25 small groups trying to find a place to connect and focus was getting more and more difficult. Changes needed to happen, we needed to split the groups but going to two nights just wasn’t going to work, so here is what we did:

The Good: We are now 8 months in and things are going really well and here are a few of the highlights:

  • Early start time for Jr’s has meant that there is much less fear of coming to Youth. Young students arrive with their peers and when they join the older students for Worship they come in a wave of junior high energy.
  • Early end time has made grade six and seven parents more willing to send their kids and those students bring friends.
  • Two teaching times means that we can talk about issues differently and at a level that is challenging to both groups and has us no longer teaching to the middle or losing the young students with a high school level sermon
  • Having a game for the junior high students gets their energy out and means that we don’t have to have a game during the main session all the time which the high school students appreciate.
  • Running small groups at two separate times it allows us to effectively double the usable space in the building by using the rooms twice.
  • The High School-only hang out time before has matured that time and our high school students are showing up earlier and earlier each week just to connect.
  • We have added a half time position to cover off the Jr High coordinating but have maintained the same worship teams, volunteers and our costs have not changed either.
  • Grade 6 is a flex year where families can try youth and if it its too much their students can stay in kidsmin for one more year. Its a safety net that was never there before and it works.
  • Students now will attend youth group on the same night for 7 years and it makes it easier to prioritize instead of switching between Jr/Sr High night.

The Challenges: It hasn’t been completely smooth sailing but we have learned a lot this year:

  • Having such a concise and regimented schedule means that anything that runs long, or a technical glitch and keep the train from hitting the stations on time which can be challenging for people like me.
  • Our 30 minute worship set can keep us from being sensitive to the Holy Spirit and while early in the year we were quite rigid about the schedule, we have learned to be attentive and embrace moments that may extend the worship time and cut into small groups.
  • Grade 8′s are funny. The outline has grade 8 being a flex year and this year our grade 8′s are old for their age and dealing with challenging issues so having them with grade 6′s is not something they always want to do. We moved them up after spring break to High School for which they were thankful.
  • Having two leaders meetings has proven challenging and the frequency and quality of the preservice meet ups has diminished throughout the year
  • Writing two versions of the same sermon or two unique talks has been more work than we bargained for, but we have finally found a groove in that department.
  • Parents with students in both groups were vocal about the annoyance of coming to the church twice but with us offering activities before and after those concerns have diminished.

I am so thankful that we chose to do it this way and would make the same choice again to do it.Have you tried something similar? Do you have a question about it? Post a comment and lets chat about it! 

GS – Twitter