Screen shot 2013-12-16 at 6.57.56 AMWorking in a church where most of your students go away to college can be bring some unique aspects to ministry – especially over the holidays. And even if “most” don’t move away, those that leave will likely be coming home over winter break.

So, what do we do to connect with them while they’re in town? Do we put an event together for everyone all at once or do we just try to connect with a few? Well, I’m not sure there’s a correct answer to that because I don’t think it’s an either-or issue. But, I’m assuming that you would at least be connecting with a few one-on-one. So, I want to walk through a few things we should keep in mind as we reconnect with students while they’re home for the holidays.

The biggest thing to keep in mind is the awkwardness they may be feeling in some of their relationships. Some kept their dating relationship going even though they were long distance because they were living in different cities or states. They may be excited to see each other, but it doesn’t mean the relationship isn’t a bit awkward. There is a lot that happened in their lives apart from each other that, well, is simply impossible to share.

And this awkwardness doesn’t stop with dating relationships either. It’s often with best friends, parents, and maybe even you. The fact is the last few months were packed with new experiences, new feelings, confusion, and clarity. To try to articulate everything they went through emotionally, physically and psychologically is daunting, to say the least. I would recommend seeking out some time with those coming home for coffee or lunch, but I would also recommend at least four things to keep in mind as you reconnect with students while they’re back home:

Ask direct/specific questions. Asking an open ended question like, “So, how was your semester?” can be overwhelming and lead to them feeling like they can’t connect with you. To think through and articulate everything in that short of time is too much, and your students can leave feeling like their life is too separated from you. I’ve found it’s much better to ask specifically about their roommate, favorite class, closest friend at school, involvement on campus ministry (or lack of), favorite or most frustrating class, or even if it’s a bit awkward for them to come back home…things like that.  These types of direct and specific questions allows you to really connect, on at least some levels.

Next post will list 3 more ideas…


An older picture of our family, but still a favorite.


We were both in “ministry” when we got married, and well, God decided to give us a family right away. Within 3 years of saying “I DO,” we were caring for 3 kiddos. So here we were, staying in ministry outside the home, while at the same time attempting to be a good steward of what God had blessed us with.

From the start our intentions were always to have family practices that were “ours” but, it was easy to allow those to be pushed aside when “life” took over.

  Instead of  “investing” in  our kids, we were dragging them with us.

As a couple we had to sit down and come up with a plan so that our children would always know that no other youth were ever more important. There are everyday practices and traditions that needed to be put into place (and quickly) for our kids.

What did we do?

Learned our kids:

 Purposeful time set aside for each child is important. How this looks is also unique for each child. We need to begin by learning who our kids are, what they enjoy and how they like to be with us. One of mine wants to sit and talk about life, while another wants to be “doing” something. Take the time to meet them for who they are.

 “Sacred” Family Time Once A Week:

This is an evening or a day when phones are off, and put away. One weekend evening is pizza and a movie night. Once a month, on Saturday, we do a “paid” outing.  This is the zoo or a museum or something fun (that costs money). Every year we go apple picking. The point is that the “rest of the world” is shut out and your purpose is just to spend time together.

At least ONE meal a day together.

Honestly, this can be the hardest one to stick to.  However, the importance of a time where you are all sitting together as a family once a day is vital. It might need to be breakfast, it could be an afternoon snack. We have a “no electronics” and no answering the ringing phone rule during this time.

Open lines of communication:

Deuteronomy 6 tells us to be talking about the Lord and his Word to our kids all the time. Have deep conversations every moment they present themselves: in the car, as they get ready for school, making dinner… you get the point. Start this young, and when adolescence hits, talking as a family is already a habit.

Start young and keep it up.

I used to think that there “would come a day when my kids would be too old for…”  Now that my children are either in or on the cusp of the teen years, we see they need and want us more than ever. They still want John and I individually to “put them to bed.” It no longer entails rocking them to sleep,  or a night time story. However, they treasure that few moments each day they get us to themselves. We pray and chat. Often this is the time we get the most information from them about their true feelings in life.

Vacations and Holidays:

This has been said by everyone, but I just have to. Taking an extended time with my family once a year is essential. It’s when we remember we like each other.  It doesn’t have to be something huge or expensive. Just take time. During holidays when ministry seems to want all of our time, we find something that is “ours.” We have a red-velvet cake on Christmas day for Jesus.

The list could go on and on. Pick some things that work for your family and stick to them.  They may need to change from time to time. You will need to readjust as your kids hit different ages and seasons in life. Just remember to not let your ministry outside of the home overtake the one that inside it.

What are your family traditions? Share them in the comments below!

- Leneita


beach paradise

(This is not mine. Ironic that I am reading it while sitting at Gate A12 in Houston. Heading out to teach this weekend in Indy at the end of 3 weeks at home. I need to save this reading for sabbath/vacation times and I’m thinking a few of you do, too. Love, Stephanie)

Grant me grace, O God, to take a risk today, the risk of not being busy. Amen.

During the summer and especially as we have time for some vacation, I think that we should give ourselves permission not to be busy, to rest in the grace of God. It’s an important discipline – one where we remember that it isn’t our productivity which earns us a place in God’s Kingdom. Rather, it is an unmerited gift, offered to us in and through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

I’ll be the first to admit that I struggle with letting go of the “busy” of my life in order to “be”. In many ways, I allow my overflowing calendar to give my life structure and meaning. This week, as I take some days of vacation, my prayer is that I’ll give myself permission just to be – to be a beloved child of God whose been given the opportunity to live and serve in an incredibly beautiful corner of the Kingdom.

(From Rev. Amy Coles, Smoky Mountain District Superintendent of The United Methodist Church.)

female pastorSince my last post was a shot in the arm for youth workers, I thought it only fair to return the favor for senior pastors. Theirs’ is a tough job and made tougher by the challenges of a small church setting. Many joys and plusses, yes – but the trials are escalated in a smaller setting. The voices of church politics or that four-generation family (“We’ve been attending this church since it was built in 1894!”) are louder in a smaller setting and harder to tune out.

So here’s a list to keep in mind, youth worker, to make your pastor’s job easier:

1) Be aware of the politics: I’m not saying you have to kowtow to the situation but don’t make it all harder by stepping on egg shells or toes every where you go.

2) CC your pastor on all youth ministry email: Unless he/she hates this idea, its a good way to keep them in the loop and you accountable for everything you say and plan. All the pastor has to do is drag it to a folder and read when necessary. Even I do this with my Ministry Architects emails: I cc my supervisor and ministry buddy, Jeff Dunn-Rankin, on everything. Gives me pause about what I write since I know he’ll eventually read it. Plus, he gives me great coaching and feedback.

3) Your youth ministry lima beans are not the only yucky vegetable on the pastor’s plate: Remember that a pastor in a small church is juggling several jobs which are often shared by multiple people in a larger church setting. She/he is often the pastor, chaplain, janitor, admin, media tech, etc. So patience on your part is a virtue. (I hate lima beans!)

4) Never let your SP be surprised by a problem: Your first phone call at even a hint of a problem is to the SP. That way, they’ll be there to support and advise. Its when you wait to inform them of an issue that will get you in the most trouble. Don’t ask me how I know this; let’s just leave it at a lesson well-learned!

5) Give them the grace you need: Remember that they’re human, they don’t know it all, some of this youth stuff is new to them also…and they’re still feeling their way along in your working relationship.

6) Oh, and just like you want space after a trip, retreat, or vacay? They need the same space. Let them have their turn basking in the glow. Give them a week or so on non-crazy issues and at least 48 hours for the nutty stuff.

Senior pastors out there: any you would like to add?


Really enjoyed this take on time off, rest and sabbath from Doug Fields’ blog the other day. If you’re struggling with margin, balance and time away from ministry, read on:

Almost daily I get an email from a ministry leader who is tired and on the verge of burn out. There is so much about ministry-world that is exhausting. I understand this reality firsthand. It’s real and ugly!

Too many leaders don’t even slow down enough to be faithful to God’s call for a Sabbath rest.

When I was a young leader I received great advice from a mentor who urged me to faithfully guard and protect a weekly day of rest. I’m so grateful for that advice and encouragement! Without intentional action, it’s simply too easy for a leader to slip into justifying non-Sabbath actions like, I’m just going to pop into the office, or I’m so far behind, I just need to catch up or They need to spend time with me and I don’t think I can say no.

Sound familiar? Me too! Want to see how he approaches his day of rest? Head there for more!


With summer quickly approaching schedules change, people leave and you are ready for a BREAK. If you’ve been in ministry long enough you know that summer is one of the most important times of year because it enables you to make tweaks and changes without disrupting the momentum. It’s also a time for you to relax, grow and experience new things with your students (i.e. mission trips). The only problem is it’s also a perfect opportunity for:

  • Momentum to Fade
  • Volunteers to Drop Out
  • Teens to Forget About Your Ministry
  • You to Fall Behind in Your Work

To avoid these pitfalls and summertime blues it’s important to treat summer as seriously as you do any other season. To do this you need a strategy. If you want to avoid your summertime mishaps and come out on the other side focused and ready for the fall, be sure to:

  • Keep True To Your Schedule: The tendency is to just shut it all down over the summer. While you do need periods of rest, it’s important not to lose the time frame you work hard to promote. If you aren’t going to meet regularly with your teens still keep your program time as an opportunity to meet with parents, host trainings or check-in meetings for the camps and events. Make sure people are reminded that your designated ministry time is still on their minds.
  • Be Consistent But Keep It Light: While you want to maintain your meeting time, don’t feel like you need to maintain the work load. Look at cutting certain components (i.e. technology or activities) that take a lot of preparation and focus on the relationships, which can happen more organically. By planning light you give yourself the capacity to focus on strengthening your leaders and giving yourself some much needed rest.
  • Switch The Focus: During the year your focus is on growing disciples amongst the teens. In the summer change that focus to your leaders. Find times to meet with them, hang out, invest and grow with them spiritually. It’s a time to be reflective, to cast vision and remind them about the importance of their commitment. Make it social; however, make it educational at the same time.
  • Communicate, Communicate and Communicate: Despite your schedule keep the communication air waves open. Maybe it’s sending your leaders a postcard while on vacation or checking in with teens via Facebook/Twitter. Let parents know some of the tweaks and changes happening over the summer. Give teens a chance to check back in, when they are in town. Let them know that you are still thinking about them.

Summer might be your break and it might be a time for serious planning. Regardless of how you use it, make sure you approach it wisely. Do not forget about your audience while you recover from a full year of ministry. No matter your take on the summer make sure you have a strategy as the weather turns warmer.

How do you avoid summertime blues?

Chris Wesley (@chrisrwesley)

Enjoying Spring Break this week and wanted to throw out a poll question this week to see what you do for Spring Break, too. Vote now!


How many of these statements describe you?
• You pride yourself on working 50+ hours a week at the church.
• You frequently miss personal and family events and cancel plans with friends.
• You say, “Let me just finish this one thing” all the time.
• You check email after midnight and/or the second you wake up.
• Your kids have to holler at you—several times—to get you to look up from your laptop.

Believe me, this is a test you don’t want to ace. You need a break. You need to “go dark” once in a while. It’s not good to be “on” all the time. Two reasons we resist this are:

1. Unhealthy expectations. Often we don’t turn it off because our senior pastor or supervisor doesn’t let us—or at least that’s what we think. We assume overworking is a sign of good job performance, when it really drives us to a dangerous place and perpetuates unreasonable expectations. If you manage others, set an example by going home on time. If you’re job-hunting, inquire about typical work habits. And if you’re in a bad situation, get out or nudge the culture toward health.

2. Brokenness. It’s easy to fall into the trap of self-importance, even outright arrogance. Will the world really fall apart if you miss youth group one week? It feels nice to be noticed when you’re gone, but we take it too far. Pray that God will help you fight against personal insecurities and mold your heart into healthy balance.

There’s hope, but it starts with some tough changes. See below for a few tips for fighting back against unhealthy expectations and brokenness.

Go + Stop + Go = Health!
• First, pray for your heart and health.
• Start every day in time with God.
• Track your hours and see where you can gain back some time.
• Take a day off every week.
• Turn off email alerts on your day off.
• Don’t bring your laptop home.
• Limit the number of nights you’re away from home each week.
• Find a hobby that fills you up.
• Have a frank conversation with your boss about hours and expectations.
• Practice saying no.
• Schedule vacation time right now for the next two years.
• Invite accountability in this area.

Originally appeared in the Sept/Oct 2012 issue of Group Magazine. Don’t get the magazine yet? Hit this link to subscribe and get in on the action today!