A practice I have recently begun is writing letters to Jesus. If you’re anything like me, taking a time of silent prayer can be tough. It’s quite strange because, well, I like to talk. I think the trouble comes because sometimes prayer feels like I’m talking to myself. I’m probably doing that most of the time anyway, so it should feel normal. For some reason it can be hard to articulate thoughts and prayers to God. Though He already knows what I want to say, what I am going to say, and what I truly mean with what I’m saying. He knows more about what I am going to say than I could ever imagine. Therein lies the problem: all these thoughts run through my head and distract me from the purpose behind what I am doing.

This is where the letters come in. I write letters to Jesus to keep me focused in my time of prayer. I thank Him for things He has done in my life. I ask Him for things I want, or write questions I have for Him. I not only get to think about what I am writing, but the process of writing itself is enough to quiet my mind and allow for open communication with my creator. The purpose behind the writing is to be able to spend a significant amount of time with Jesus. Whatever it is that gets written down doesn’t really matter. It’s about spending time with Jesus in a way that allows for intimacy with Him.

There are a few huge benefits from writing a letter to God. First, it allows for reflection. You can look back on the letters of prayer that have been written and see to which ones God replied with a yes, and which ones He replied with a no. You can see how certain prayers affected your everyday living, or how the effect of a certain situation turned out. You can look back and see growth through the letters you’ve written. Another great benefit is that there is no grade. You can write whatever style, grammatical structure (or lack thereof) that you see fit. If you want to write 1000 words in one sentence or paragraph, do it! If you’re more comfortable writing in a specific style such as MLA, APA or Turabian it is entirely up to you. This is helpful because it takes away the need for perfectionism. It’s a letter to a God who created all styles, fonts, colors, types, words or anything else you could come up with; He gets it.

I chose letter format to help personalize my interaction with God. This is an excerpt from a letter I wrote, “Search my heart Lord and bring out Yourself in me. I am not, but I know I AM. Words that until recently never really sunk in. I know that I have issues with pride… This is my biggest downfall. Fortunately, you redeem, restore and renew. This means that I still must work at it, but ultimately your strength is what changes those things in me.” Being raw and genuine with the Lord has made me feel completely new, but that’s not to say writing a letter to God doesn’t come with a few challenges also.

The one challenge in my letters so far has been, “How does God respond?” Where is there room for Him to speak into it? I haven’t found the answer to that yet but, it is entirely up to Jesus. Whether He chooses to inspire you to write a specific prayer down, give you an audible answer, or miraculously type something out for you, I can’t say for sure. I can say, however, that God is in the business of answering prayers. If this can be a way for you to connect with Jesus in an intimate way as it has been for me, then that in itself is a reward worth having.

Travis Lodes is the Student Ministries Intern at Cherry Creek Presbyterian Church in Englewood, CO. Feel free to leave comments or email him at tlodes@gmail.com.

Was digging through some old files on our student ministry archives, and found this simple gem on how to pray for your small group leaders. Not sure who to credit (probably Matt McGill or Doug Fields). Good stuff here:

  • Put a couple calendar reminders for each day of your week as a reminder to pray for your small group leaders. (i.e. I pray for Bob and Jim on Tuesdays, Sue and Sammy on Wednesdays, etc,)
  • Look up the list of students in their small group and pray for each of them by name.
  • Pray for something very specific to happen with their small group. Send them an email letting them know about your prayer.
  • Put a post-it on your dashboard with one leader’s name and every time you get in your car to drive to work or small group…pray for that leader. Change it each week.
  • Write a letter to God on a postcard that is a prayer for that small group leader and send it to them in the mail.

JG



Our first annual Student Leadership Christmas party is just around the corner and I can’t be more excited! Because they work so hard and give so much to our church, we want to go all out with this party to show them how much our ministry appreciates them!

Now it wouldn’t be a true Christmas party if we didn’t have gifts! We wanted to make sure that each student walked away from the party with an awesome gift (and I’m not talking about the 1993 VHS Workout tapes they are going to get at the “white elephant” gift exchange). We wanted them to get something that was well thoughtful and picked out just for them. So this Christmas we decided to write each student leader an individual challenge that would grow them not only as a Christian leader, but as a Christ follower as well.

If this sounds like something you would want to do for your Student Leadership team, here are some tips to get started:

-Pray! Pray that God speaks through you as you write to your students. Pray that the Lord give you wisdom, discernment, and insight as you speak into their lives and continue to shape them into godly leaders.

-Think about what they’ve done and what they’re doing to discover what they can do. What could your students be doing to take their ministries or projects to the next level? Challenge them to think big and “outside the box.” Also reflect on how you’ve seen them lead in the past. Is there a leadership characteristic that they can grow in?

-Think about who they are. Get inspired by a student’s talents, gifts, passions, and even their experiences. Think of ways that they can be using their shape for ministry. Is one of your students really passionate about prayer? Challenge them to think of more ways to integrate prayer into your ministry. Was a student in and out of the hospital as a kid? Ask them how God wants to use their experience for His kingdom.

-It’s okay to use similar challenges for multiple students! Don’t focus finding a completely different challenge for every student. Focus on finding ways to grow each student as a Christian leader. Most of the time, there will be more than a couple students who would benefit from the same task. For example, many of our seniors are being challenged to mentor a younger student. We believe that it would be a great next move for each of them

-Try to get specific. As I said, it is okay to use the same challenge for many students but, when you can, try to get specific. For example, we have a senior named Cassie that would be a great mentor for a younger girl. Another student leader, McKenna, recently told me that she really looks up to Cassie and wishes that they were closer. So I challenged Cassie to have an intentional relationship with McKenna. If you see an opportunity like that, take it!

-If you can’t think of one, find someone that can. If you come across a student and have no idea how to challenge them, ask someone that would. Find an adult that knows the student personally or has seen their leadership in action.

Have you done something similar in the past? What tips would you give?

Colton Harker is the Student Leadership Coordinator at Saddleback HSM.  If you have any questions or comments, feel free to contact him at coltonharker@gmail.com or on twitter at @ColtonHarker.

Doesn’t matter if my small group is 6 in the morning or 6 at night, when I’m leaving I’m feeling empowered and refreshed.  Doesn’t matter if a meeting is 6 in the morning or 6 at night, when I’m leaving I can feel drained and stressed.  When you think about it, small groups are a lot like a meeting in the sense that:

  • It’s A Group Of People 
  • There Is A Leader 
  • There Is A Subject Driving The Conversation

So, why is one resented and the other embraced?

The intention of going into a small group is to build one another up.  In a meeting while there are goals to accomplish, they can easily become battlefields that tear one another down.  While confrontation and tension can be healthy, if your meetings took a page out of the small group handbook, people could leave a little more refreshed than defeated.

To make your meeting like a small group, make sure you:

  • PRAY TOGETHER: You probably start a meeting out with prayer; however, do not rush through it.  Feel free to sit in the silence, to ask God to send down the Spirit through the conversations.  Ask God to open hearts and minds to new ideas.  Just hand it over to Him, let God lead your meetings.
  • SHARE LIFE TOGETHER:  Just as you use the scripture, questions and teaching to drive your groups conversation, develop an agenda that does the same.  When you put together the small group curriculum it’s important to consider the flow of questions and scripture.  It will create a mood and bring people to certain conclusions.  The topics on your meeting’s agenda will do the same.  There will be times when you will have to hold off on a topic because of the tension in the room.  There will be other times when another item will need more attention because of the weight it holds.  Don’t just throw the agenda together, pray over it and allow it to move the conversation.
  • CHALLENGE EACH OTHER:A healthy small group not only has time for information and discussion; but, time for application and challenge.  In a meeting the application to the information you discussed is called an action step.  When you leave a small group you should feel commissioned to resolve and test the conversation you shared.  In a meeting it’s pointless to just discuss items and not walk away with a plan.
  • PRAY FOR ONE ANOTHER: Whether the conversation is positive or negative you’ve just endured spiritual battle in your small group.  Before you head off in the world it’s important for a small group to pray for one another.  In a meeting the action steps that have been delegated are going to face adversity and obstacles.  If you can pray for the people in your meeting, then you are giving them the comfort that they are not facing their responsibilities alone.

Granted not all meetings are as thorough as a small group.  Sometimes you just need to check-in and move out.  Next time you are planning that big meeting and preparing the agenda, take the time to discern the emotional and spiritual journey it will take the group on.  If you approach that meeting like a small group, you’ll help your team leave empowered to take on the obstacles outside the organization instead of defeated to take on the obstacles within the team.

How do you ensure people leave meetings feeling motivated?

Chris Wesley (@chrisrwesley)

 



I just got back from the a youth ministry conference and as always I had an amazing time.  I was encouraged, convicted, inspired, met new people and reconnected to old friends.  One of the things I have learned at most events is that if I don’t quickly narrow down my trip to be about a few things I will become overwhelmed and not really gain anything from it.  I have described it to others like drinking from a fire hose.

This year I decided to gravitate towards two things.  One was student leadership.  Too much of my ministry is about myself, my efforts, and my personality.  The second, and truthfully how I am going to get to the first, is on prayer.  If there is ever a subject that most believers can resonate with is that their prayer life is going poorly.  Or at the very least it could get better.

With that conviction, I attended a seminar on both student leadership and implementing prayer within your ministry.  Timothy Eldred, the seminar speaker and author of Pray21 pushed his audience to hand off ministry but do it by starting with a 21-day challenge.  Partner up every willing student with a willing (and screened) adult.  Then have them pray together for 21 days through a simple (his words, not mine) daily, devotional.

Call it coincidence or God’s timing, but we were already teaching on prayer the next three weeks.  So we decided to toss it out there as an offer.  At the end of the first week we asked if any one would be willing to take the challenge to join us in prayer for 21 days with a partner. We got thirty students and thirty adults to jump into this together.  We challenged them to pray for a few reasons:

  • Prayer works
  • It is a time to realign our heart to God’s
  • Through prayer, God will reveal things about ourselves that we would have never seen without that time and sacrifice.

We made it as simple as possible for a few reasons.  I don’t need one more thing to micromanage, and if you make it too complicated people won’t do it.  So we said that if you sign up you are:

  • Agreeing to pray for 21 days with an assigned partner.  You are praying WITH that person, not for them.
  • You will contact your partner through phone calls, email, Facebook, text, face-to-face interaction.
  • If you miss a few days keep praying.  You are better off doing Pray17  than Pray0.

We email out daily reminders that have been written by an intern and myself .  It has been so fun to hear the stories and we are only one week in!  I can’t believe it took a book to partner up every willing student with every willing adult.

I encourage you to check out Timothy Eldred’s web site and get some details.  (www.pray21.com)  He is a wise man, good teacher, and generous with resources and suggestions.  For us and our ministry, I am optimistically hopeful for what God is doing in the lives of 60 people individually and collectively.

Jeff Bachman is the High School Pastor at Rock Harbor Church just up the road in Irvine, CA. Feel free to leave comments or email him at jbachman@rockharbor.org and of course subscribe to his blog The Until Matters.

You already know that your volunteers are a crucial piece of your healthy ministry. That’s why you spend so much time identifying, training, and developing awesome volunteer leaders.

But what are you doing to make sure your volunteers are really cared for?

Remember, your volunteers are susceptible to stress and burnout, just like you are. They also have important relationships with students, just like you do. That means that if a volunteer leaves your ministry, they’ll leave behind some saddened kids, and now you’ll have to start finding and developing a new person to fill that spot.

But, if you exercise good care over your volunteers, there’s an excellent chance they’ll be there for the long haul. That’s what you want.

Here are four (fairly) easy ways to make sure you take better care of your awesome volunteers:

1. Regularly send notes of encouragement.
Did a volunteer do something exceptional? Tell him. Is it her birthday or anniversary? Celebrate with her. Did you spontaneously remember the Cheez Whiz incident from last fall’s retreat? Send a note to your volunteer so you can laugh about it together.

It’s not exactly groundbreaking, but sometimes the easiest way to tell someone you appreciate them is to actually tell them.

2. Create volunteer teams that are larger than they need to be.
Your leaders shouldn’t feel anxiety if they have to miss youth group because they’re going to an out-of-town wedding. But if you are always tight on volunteers, then that’s exactly what will happen.

You want your leaders to be missed when they’re gone, but they also need the freedom to take a session off without guilt.

3. Pray for and with your volunteers.
This seems like a no-brainer, but when a volunteer reveals a problem, stressor, or struggle, they are asking you for your prayers. Yes, add them to your prayer list.

But as a leader (administratively and spiritually), be willing to place your hands on another person and to lift them up in prayer. It won’t take long until you become comfortable with this, and you won’t believe the impact your prayers and presence can have on your volunteers.

4. Say ‘no’ for your volunteers.
There are always a few volunteers who will say ‘yes’ to everything. I love those volunteers. So do you.

But be careful about overdoing it. Your volunteers need to have healthy home lives and careers in addition to helping with ministry. Don’t impose your own program so much that it starts to affect everything else.

Just because someone has the inability to say no doesn’t make it right for us to take advantage of that.

What else do you do to make sure that your volunteers are well-cared for? I’d love for you to share your input.

Aaron Helman is on a mission to help end the epidemic of youth worker burnout. He writes Smarter Youth Ministry to help youth workers with their biggest frustrations – like leading volunteers. He is also the youth minister at Firehouse Youth Ministries in South Bend, Indiana.



Several years ago, as my wife and I were stepping into a new season of Ministry, one of my mentors asked me an incredible question. He said, “What are you consistently and deliberately praying for in your ministry?” At the time, I prayed for our ministry regularly, as I am sure you do as well, but I had never considered a consistent and deliberate prayer request.

In that season, I began to ask God to give me a clear prayer focus for the Student Ministry I led. In the first few years my requests were fairly normal… God help our ministry to do this… Help our kids to be that… I would wake up, and begin each day with prayer, making sure to include that request. In time, I watched God multiply the incredible things He was doing in our ministry (or at least increase my ability to see them).

As I sought this consistent and deliberate prayer focus at the beginning of last year God very clearly turned the attention of my prayer to my own heart. John Calvin once said, “The human heart is a factory of idols.” Powerfully true. You and I have the ability to turn basically anything into an idol. Now, we all know that some idols are easier to identify then others. I wasn’t bowing down in front of a golden calf, or anything, but God quickly revealed that I was beginning to make an idol out of my “ministry.”

Here’s the deal… I am a good Youth Pastor. I am not bragging, it’s just true. I am a good Youth Pastor, and I am sure you are too. In fact, you are probably much better at it then I am… But my concern is this: Some of us are probably better “Pastors” then we are followers of Jesus. As my friend Lance Witt accurately explains it; Jesus is the gift and ministry is simply the box by which we deliver the gift, yet some of us have switched the two.

It seems to me that some of us unintentionally slip into viewing what we get to do as our occupation rather than our calling. If I view my role as an occupation than I can do it, I can make it happen, I can figure it out on my own… If it is a calling, however, than I am in desperate need of the Holy Spirit to help me do what God has asked me to do. We forget that.

I had begun to try and “manufacture” ministry from my own spirit, in my own strength, and in my own direction. I was doing what I thought was best for our kids and our ministry… Some of us subtly believe that we can teach, preach, meet with families, recruit Ministry Partners, hang with kids, and host huge killer events with little to no reliance on the Holy Spirit. At least I did.
So my prayer became simply this: God, help me not try and manufacture ministry, but to be deliberately dependent on You. Praying this everyday of the year (sometimes several times a day) gave me life in ministry like I had never experienced before. It took the pressure off, because I was forced to remember that I am not the Holy Spirit (we all need that reminder sometimes). It restored my energy, and renewed my excitement to see what God was going to do next. It is teaching me to be more thankful. It is helping me to remain open and teachable. Most importantly, it is teaching me to stay out of the way of what God wants to do in and through our ministry.
This question has helped me, and maybe God will use it to help you: Am I trying to “manufacture” ministry, or am I being deliberately dependent on the Spirit of God for every step I take?

The reality is that God’s plans for our respective ministries are far greater than we could ever think or accomplish. The more we try to do in our own power the more we rob ourselves and our students of experiencing all that God has in store. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to miss out on anything God wants to do.

Consider seeking a consistent and deliberate prayer request for your ministry this year. You never know what God might want to teach you…

Ryan McDermott is the RP Director of Student Ministries at Christ Fellowship – Royal Palm, FL. Follow him @ryanmcdermott.

Enjoyed reading AC’s blog yesterday about Ministering to Students in Crisis - I get to work with him everyday here at the church and am so thankful for someone who cares so deeply for students! Here’s an excerpt from his post, check out yoacblog.com for the rest:

  • PRAY CONTINUALLY -1Thessalonians 5:17     

Prayer should always be your first response. God has incredible plans for your students, and He wants you to be apart of it.  We must stay in communication with Him.  Connect with Him for the words to say and the steps to take, as you support students.

  • LISTEN WELL AND ASK QUESTIONS – James 1:19

Students that are going through crisis need you to do these two things more than anything else. I know it’s so tempting to give them advice because you’ve been where they are or you know the solution to the problem.  Taking the time to intently listen and ask questions says a lot.  You never know, you could be the only adult in their life who listens to them intentionally.

  • REMEMBER ONLY GOD CAN CHANGE THE HEART – Philippians 1:6

You are here because you like students and want God to do something awesome in their lives. God is going to use you.  We must remember that even though God uses us, He is the only one that can change hearts. So don’t carry the burden of this situation, thinking that you are the one that will change your students’ heart. God is faithful, He will fulfill His promise and complete the work that He has used you to begin.

JG