talking

I once remember a friend of mine asking, “If you set up your youth group that way, what will make students have a desire to invite their friends?”  He was speaking of the fact that the focus on our ministry was to be “relationally driven.”  Sure we all talk about “discipleship” and “relationships,” however,  I started to see I did just that.  I talked about them, but I didn’t really have them. I played games for the sake of fun.  I sang worship songs because that’s  “what you do.”  The trouble was I’m not musical, and I didn’t have any students or volunteers who were either. I followed all the unwritten rules of the youth group formula.  They weren’t working for me or my students.

I stepped back and looked at Christ’s model.  He preached to the crowds, touched and healed a few, but the majority of His time was spent pouring into 12 guys, with 3 getting special attention.  If Jesus was focused on eating, sleeping and teaching mainly 12 with a focus on 3,  then that was the model I would follow.

Here’s what I did:

1.  Listened

I started with brainstorming with my students about what they were looking for in “youth group.”  Some of them liked to sing, others hated it.  What they wanted was a place to seek truth, with authentic people who would become a second family to them.

2.  Restructured

Before I programmed ANYTHING I asked,  “How will this build relationships?”  So just to move to a small group model for the sake of having them wasn’t going to work. Instead of getting through a series of questions or pushing through a curriculum, the goal was to include every student in every conversation.  What were the students able to take away with them? Could they apply at least one point the moment they walked out the door? Our opening time became much shorter.  If we did play a game, or have an object lesson, it was all about building relationships with each other or for the purpose of making a point that would be discussed in small groups.

3.  Training

Many volunteers would ask me, “What do I have in common with this age?”  So I started training my team in first steps to conversations,  how to engage, how to not talk “at students” but with them, and how to deal with disruptions. These trainings are ongoing. I gave clear expectations of where we were headed, and what they needed to do to keep up with students. There were checklists for calling, texting and spending time with students not just during “youth group.”

4. Included

One of the key elements was including volunteers and teens in our new model.  We decided that an opening time of welcoming was needed. We allowed teens (with guidance) to plan and execute this time. In a practical sense this means that this time changes year to year as we have different students and adults in the mix.  There have been dramas, worship, and video clips in that time to bring the message. The students are allowed to make this time theirs.

So I lied we do play games, but not every week. Students always shock me when they do use the word “fun” to describe our time together.  I guess it’s because we laugh, and talk and go deep, but it’s not usually silly programming.  Our method draws out the introverts and lets everyone engage.  Yes, we even eat pizza together, take trips, and have outreach events however, all of this is done with that simple question, “If we do this , how will it build relationships?” AND THEY DO INVITE THEIR FRIENDS,,,

What about you?  What are YOU doing to build relationships with your students?

 

 

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The Youth Cartel’s Middle School Ministry Campference has become one of my favorite events of the year! If you work with young teens in a paid, part-time or volunteer basis we would love to have you join us for three days of learning, laughing and encouragement with others in our “tribe”. The campference is just that: A camp combined with a conference, which is what makes it so unique. If you want to join us, it’s almost too late…but not quite! You can get details and register right here.



270208_2181937635525_2980948_nBeing a small group leader is great and scary at the same time. I took a group of guys from freshmen year to senior year.  It was great, but there were some things I had to learn to be ok with throughout the four years that I wish i knew at the beginning. It would’ve helped me shape the group better. Some of the things I had to learn to be ok with were great and others kind of came with the territory. Knowing these ten things now will definitely benefit my next group. So I thought I’d share my learnings.

  1. Be OK with it being more than bible study. – I thought I would be just doing a study and hanging out with some dudes. Little did I know, doing life together bonds you together like family. Even though they are all at different colleges, some local and some out of state, they know that I’m here for them if they ever need me. Love my boys.
  2. Be OK with just planting seeds. - I had guys in my group that came and left and I felt like they never fully got what I was trying to teach them. It would get me down at times. I had to remember that I’m called to plant the seeds of God’s word and God changes the heart. I must be ok with just planting seeds and trusting that God will produce the harvest.
  3. Be OK with students joining and leaving. - Whether it be because of a friend who’s joining another group or the season of the student’s life is super busy and they have to take a season off of small group, there is a chance students will leave. Tip: Celebrate the students who join and don’t take it personal when someone leaves. Make sure the door is always open for them to return.
  4. Be OK with your life changing. - My guys pushed me to be the example they needed me to be. I can’t tell you how much my life has changed because of my small group guys. They pushed me to really study God’s word, be a man of prayer and be a better husband/father. Tip: expect God to change your life for the better.
  5. Be OK with being interrupted. – There will be times that your small group will need you to be there during a time of crisis. From death in the family, to them making some huge mistakes and needing advice, know that they will need you at times unplanned.
  6. Be OK with not knowing what to say or do. – You will feel this way at times, but it’s ok.  It’s actually the best place to be, when it pushes you to lean on God and seek His wisdom. I lived in this area my first year leading a small group.
  7. Be OK with students being there for different reasons. - Some are there to be challenged in their faith and others are there just to hang with friends. I’ve had several of those types of students and all I can say is be patient and trust God.  I’ve seen students who were all about just hanging out one year and helping start a christian club at their school the next year. So be confident in God’s ability to change their direction.
  8. Be OK with having your faith stretched and strengthened. - Nothing stretches and strengthens your faith like a bunch of students trying to learn and grow in their walk with Christ.  I’ve seen God show up so many times in my guy’s life that it has strengthened my faith. I would study and teach things I thought I knew very well, until one of the guys would ask a great question that would challenge my thinking on the subject. Little did I know, God was using my group to stretch and grow my faith in Him. He will definitely do the same for you.
  9. Be OK with keeping parents on task. – Communicate to the parents what you expect of them in a loving and supportive way and address issues quickly as they arise.  TIP: If you want parents there on time, be there to greet them when they pull up every time. If you want them to pickup on time, end on time and greet them for pickup.
  10. Be OK with knowing you will make mistakes and/or fail. - You are not perfect and no one is expecting you to be. There will be things you will try to do that will not work out.  You will make mistakes and/or fail at times. It’s ok and we’ve all been there.  The goal is to learn from your mistakes and failures and minimize the return of the two in the same area.

What are some other things small group leaders have to be ok with leading a group?

hope it helps

ac

Closer, Farther OR Bubblegum…

 

In light of the recent VMA awards, I wanted to share with you a favorite “goto” lesson I do often with my students. This works as either part of a series or as a “Quick” in between curriculum. 

Lesson Overview:

Purity goes way beyond the body and should be brought up often.  Purity is about the mind, the heart, AND the body.  One of the most difficult parts of navigating life as a teen is trying to figure out practically what living for the Lord means.  Our tendency as those in ministry can be to give our students a list of “do’s and don’ts”  that are really our opinions. You know: DON”T wear that outfit, listen to that music or watch that television show or movie. DO only wear this thing, watch G movies, and listen to worship music.  The problem with that approach is that it can encourage a student to modify their behavior without ever looking at what is going on in their heart. Instead, when we help them look at what they are they putting into their minds through their eyes and ears we can help them navigate if they are filtering it through a Christ centric world view,or if they even want to.

In this lesson you are going to be taking the lyrics of a popular song and go line by line through it asking if students know the reference or what it is about.  If they don’t understand something, you are going to explain it.  The point is to not be judgmental but instead to help them really learn what they are listening to and what it means.  We want them to be honest if the song is bringing them closer to the Lord, away from HIm in what they are thinking on or is it “bubblegum”  (just fluff),

 

Bible Passages:

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Phil 4:8

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Matthew 5:8

Prep:

The WEEK before you plan to do this lesson ask students to brainstorm their favorite songs on the radio.  (Blurred Lines, especially the rap version would be perfect for this right now.)  Tell them next week you have a surprise lesson planned.  (You can also pick a song off the radio but it works best if you use current songs students are listening to.  You can pick two or three.  It is up to you if you want to add that you don’t want to work with songs with explicit lyrics. Try to get them to be honest beyond what they think you want to hear.)

Find the lyrics online and print a copy for everyone in small groups the following week.

*Note: It doesn’t hurt to have 2 or 3 songs ready to go just in case they are “quick”  You may need to send a note home to parents letting them know what you are going to do this week.  In addition if a small group leader hasn’t heard the song you pick that is fine.  You might want to encourage them to listen to a snippet so they know the sound.  However,  what’s more important is the prep in making sure they have each read the lyrics and know what it is saying.

Opening Activity (Optional):

Name that song:

Play one or two lines from about 5 to 10 Different Songs.(Depending on the time you want to take.)  You will want them to be a mix of Christian Music, Worship Music, Oldies,  And Even Current Popular Songs (That you know and would consider “positive.”) Do NOT play the whole song!

The person who can name the most songs gets a pack of Bubblegum.

Say Something Like:

Tonight in our small group time we are going to see if you know what you are listening to.  We are going to go line by line through a song that is played often on the radio right now. (Tell them the song)  We are going to decide together if this song helps us learn about God, brings us away from him or is what I call “bubble gum.”  Those are songs that are full of “sugar” they aren’t overtly “bad” but they don’t necessarily help us get closer to the Lord.  Our goal for the evening would be that you can begin to truly pay attention to what you listen to

Move to Small Groups

Open:

We are talking tonight about (insert song) Why do you like the song?

Answers will vary.

Then:

Take the time to walk through the song line by line, explaining the song as you go.

Stop often and make sure they are understanding “hidden” references.  Pull it apart.  However, avoid judging whether or not they “should” be listening to it.  If they ask if you like it, give your opinion. Tell them why you do or don’t like it.  Sometimes you might even say,  “I understand why it’s so catchy and you like it, but it doesn’t mean it’s a song that is bringing you closer to the Lord.”

Ask:

 

  • What is each line about?
  • Is it obvious or is it an underlying reference to something else?

Don’t judge the song or the thoughts just go through and help students understand it.

Now have them look at the song as a whole and ask:

  • If you are honest does this song help you think about the Lord and grow in your relationship with HIm?

Answers will vary based on the song.

Say Something Like:

I am not attacking your music selection.  I am also not saying you ONLY have to listen to Christian music or worship music. What we are talking about tonight is that what we listen to matters.  Those words, even if we think we are only listening to the “sound” are coming into our heads.  Have you ever realized you know the lyrics to a song from the radio you don’t even like?  There are times when music from the radio that isn’t written FOR Jesus makes us think about Him. There are times love songs are like that. We have to decide beyond Sunday morning what in the world around us helps us to not only focus on the Lord, but learn to live for HIM.  Let’s take a minute and just look at two really short verses.

Read Mark 5:8 & Philippians  4:8

Ask:

  • What do you think it means to be pure in heart?
  • Why will they see the kingdom of God?
  • Why do you think we are supposed to think on things that are true, pure, lovely, etc.?
  • What does that mean?

Finish by saying something like:

Being pure in heart is not about being perfect.  It is about making choices that help us grow closer to the Lord. Seeing His kingdom is about knowing HIm.  Everyday we can make small choices in what we listen to, watch or absorb that either bring us closer or farther away from God.

Take some time to talk about other ways they can focus on the “pure” from Phil 4:8 in a practical way.  Challenge students to pay attention to the lyrics of the music they listen to in the coming week.  Follow up the next week by just asking them about pure, noble, etc.

*Note: You can also do this lesson focusing on movies, television, youtube, or any media.  It’s great to come back to it several times over the year as a reminder of what purity is, and that it isn’t just about our “bodies.”

Let me know if you have questions,  Feel free to pass this on.

 

 



Lazy
If you, like me, have the privilege of actually getting paid a full-time salary to work with teenagers, you are in a rare category…and you are probably lazy, like me.

Full-timers: Because you work lots and lots of hours every week, you are probably really struggling with my accusation.
Part-timers and volunteers: Because you work lots and lots of hours every week ON TOP of your youth ministry role, you probably have a smug, “it’s about time…” look on your face right now.

Full-timers, indulge me for a minute.

- Do you regularly take 2 full days off each week? Volunteers and Part-timers usually don’t…they are doing youth ministry on their day off.

- Do you get paid for the week you are at Summer camp? Volunteers and Part-timers usually don’t…in fact they often have to use one of their hard-earned vacation weeks to attend camp.

- Did you take an extra day off the week following Camp? Volunteers and Part-timers probably didn’t. They were right back to grind.

- Do you ever roll into work a couple hours late the morning after a big event, or after mid-week because you “worked late”? Volunteers and Part-timers probably aren’t allowed to do that by their other boss.

- Do you ever hang out on facebook, update your fantasty football team or pin something on Pinterest on “church time?”. volunteers and Part-timers could get fired from their jobs for doing the same thing.

- Do you ever go to the dentist, go to your child’s football or soccer practice or take an extended lunch with your spouse on church time without reporting it to HR? Volunteers and Part-timers don’t have that luxury.

I could keep going. But I’ll spare the full-time youth worker community any more embarrassment! I’d be willing to bet that nobody in the full-time youth worker kingdom is “busier” than I am: I lead a team of 20 full-time staff and hundreds of volunteers that minister to thousands of teenagers each week. I serve on our executive team and my boss is Rick Warren. I am expected to give oversight and direction to the youth groups of six regional campuses and prepare for the launch of youth groups in TWELVE international campuses; each in a different country. I blog a little, create a few resources and speak here and there, too.

AND…I get paid for the week of summer camp, take an extra day off (or two) after each camp, roll into work a couple hours late after events that keep me out at night, I update my fantasy team from my office and go to the dentist and attend my son’s sporting events on company time. Benefits that my busy volunteer and part-time friends probably don’t enjoy.

Maybe I’m not “lazy”…and you probably aren’t, either. But I am fortunate, blessed, honored, privileged and overjoyed that God tapped me as one of the lucky ones. Typically I encourage youth workers to avoid the temptation to compare their lives to those around them. But today…and maybe every time you feel a little overwhelmed by your role…take a second to shift your focus from the junk of full-time youth work to the joys; from the pressures to the perks; from the busyness to the blessings.

When I focus on the junk, pressures and busyness of my ministry life I get overwhelmed and whiny.
When I focus on the joys, perks and blessings of my ministry life I want to work even harder at it.

Thoughts? Bring it on!

FiveI’ve learned that relating to students is more about what you do than who you are. I wrote a post a while ago called “The B’s to being a great youth leader” and it was about clearing up the misconceptions of what a youth leader has to be in order to relate to students. I believe that the misconceptions of who a youth leader has to be cheapens youth ministry in general. I believe the focus of a youth minister should be on what they do and not on who they are. Because I believe youth ministry is mostly about relationships, the fact that God created us to be in relationship with Him plays a huge part in that idea. Jesus was a walking relational powerhouse. In the three years He spent in ministry everything He did pointed to the fact that it’s all about relationships. A lot of what I do I’ve learned from Jesus’s time here on earth doing ministry. So here are 5 things I’ve learned from Jesus concerning viewing and relating to students.

  1. View students in light of their potential. – Jesus always looked passed people’s present circumstances and looked at who they had the potential to become.  Jesus looked pass the fact that Matthew was a tax collector and saw his potential. Jesus looked passed the lifestyle of the women at the well and saw her potential. We should do the same. Who they are today doesn’t have to be who they are tomorrow.
  2. Make time to talk. – Jesus was never too busy for a conversation. I like the fact that Jesus didn’t come to earth doing ministry from a fire breathing chariot because I can’t do that. Instead, He came doing ministry through relationships one conversation at a time. I’ve gotta make time to talk to students. Allow the programs and events to be the vessel to great life changing, life healing conversations.
  3. Focus on who they have the potential to be and not on who they use to be. – Jesus never dwelled on the past. Jesus paints a great picture of this with the disciples. He was always moving people to the life they had the potential to live. Students need someone speaking into their life words that moves them toward their potential. The more they dwell on the past, the more they will live in the past. Students need to know that there is a better life then the one that they are living, and that they can have this better life.
  4. Challenge their faith. – Jesus was always challenging the disciples to do what they thought was impossible. He was building their faith in Him. Challenging students to do things they think are impossible without God, increases their faith in God. Growth comes when we are stretched in our thinking and in our view of who God is.So stretch them by challenging them in their walk with God.
  5. Pray for them. – I love how Jesus never said “I’ll be praying for you”. He just prayed right there on the spot for those in need. This is something I’ve definitely tried to model. I’ve learned that when it comes to praying, students will totally follow your lead. So don’t wait, pray with them right there. I had a student who was having surgery. I randomly ran into her and her mother and some friends two days earlier. Once she told me about the surgery I asked if I could pray for her.  She said “of course” and so I pulled everyone together to pray. It almost brought her mom to tears that we were all praying for her daughter. It also felt good to just be bold and pray. We don’t have to confine God’s power to just move in the four walls of the church. He’s everywhere. So let’s minister like He’s everywhere.

Viewing students and relating to them in this light will change the way you view and relate to them. I only listed five. Can you think of more ways Jesus has taught us how to view and relate to students?

hope it helps

ac

 

 



 

You can’t be good at everything. You don’t need to be good at everything. And lots of stuff you are really good at or hoping to become good at don’t really matter too much at the end of the day.  So what if we narrowed it down to only THREE things youth workers do need to be good at; what might be the top three universal skills of a youth worker?  NOTE: I purposely left “spiritual” things such as prayer life, integrity etc. off the list because (whether true or not) I’m gonna assume we’ve got that stuff dialed in.

My List:

* The ability to be a fantastic active listener.  Just being a good listener isn’t enough, but being a fantastic active listener means you are listening, responding with guiding questions, probing here and there and picking up on themes that you might want to dig into deeper at another time.

* Patience. Patience makes almost everything better! Being patient with the annoying students, the struggling students, the cocky students, the “church” students, parents, elders, volunteers, yourself and the whole “process” of youth ministry and discipleship may be the most underrated but important skill/mindset you can have.

* A strong work ethic. This next statement won’t win me many fans, but here it goes: Lots of youth workers are lazy. To be specific, lots of full-time youth workers are lazy. We have somehow confused reading blogs, downloading sweet apps and checking the Instagrams of our students as hard work. Don’t get me wrong, times have changed and how we work is in a state of flux, but (and here’s the money tip…) many of the people we work for such as senior pastors, elders, parents etc. don’t yet “get it” and still expect us to be willing to do the nitty-gritty grunt work every now and again. When we complain that we haven’t had a day off in almost an entire week, or insist on taking an extra day off after the grueling scavenger hunt we led for our small group they have a hard time feeling our pain.  Here’s a tough question: If an elder followed you around for a week, would he feel compelled to recommend you for a raise or that you be replaced with a part-time college student?

What skills would be at the top of your list?

YOU STINK!

 —  August 9, 2013 — 4 Comments

 

I don’t like to admit it but there are a lot of ministry “things” at which I’m not very good….Correction; there are a lot of ministry things at which I just flat out STINK! And sadly, just because I stink at certain aspects of ministry doesn’t mean they somehow go away. Wouldn’t it be cool if God said, “Hey you, since you are horrible at X, I’ll just keep X away from you and the ministry you lead.” I don’t know about you, but if He did that for me there would be more stuff taken away from my ministry than left in it!

Because I stink at lots of ministry stuff, I’ve had to develop a three-pronged approach over the years:

1) Be okay being below average at some things.  I’ve simply had to “settle” on the reality that there are some things I’m never gonna be good at, and lower the expectations I put on myself to perform at a top level in those areas.

2) Selectively learn some new skills.  And while I’m learning to be okay with just being okay at some things, I’ve also picked a few key areas at which I stink that I think are worth learning to be good at. I can’t learn to be good at all the stuff at which I stink, but in my case I was SO BAD in a few key areas that I simply had to learn the skills necessary.

3) Surround myself with smarter, more talented people. I’m completely okay not being the smartest or most talented person in the room in most cases…especially when the topic or task involves an area at which I stink and I’m not willing to learn to get better at it. Giving these areas of ministry away to others frees me up and allows people to use their gifts to make our ministry better; a win-win!

Guess what? You stink, too!  In fact, you stink really bad at some stuff that is vital to the success of your youth ministry. And for some of you, it’s hard to admit.  So I’ll get the ball rolling in the hopes that some of you may be willing to share your “stink” in the comments section. Who knows, somebody who’s really good at it may be able to help you out.

MINISTRY STUFF AT WHICH KURT JOHNSTON STINKS (Note: This is just a partial list; actual list is much longer)

- Remembering names.

- Reading and sticking to a budget.

- Keeping track of registration forms or checks handed to me by a parent.

- Not using sarcasm to make a passive-aggresive point.  But if I may brag for just a moment…. I’m REALLY good at using sarcasm to make a passive-aggresive point.

- “Turning the corner spiritually” with students in one-on-one conversations.

- Returning emails, texts and phone calls in a timely manner.

Let’s get the comments going….share a tip for me….share something you stink at….share a tip for somebody else!