Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Summer Intern Prep

Last night I had the privilege of spending time with our summer interns. Our purpose in having college students for the summer is pretty simple. Students have more time in the summer to hang out and chill. It's a great time to connect with a lot of students relationally. That's our intern's number one goal.

Although the goal sounds simple enough it takes planning and preparation to have effective results. Yes, even the organic goal of building and deepening relationships takes prep time. So, last night we spent several hours together thinking about the summer. Here are some things we spoke about...

It's all about the heart

Those of us who have been in ministry a long time know this to be true but still struggle. More important than anything we do or relationship we develop is finding time and space for our hearts to connect with Jesus. If we (or our staff / interns) are not connecting with Jesus, we have nothing to offer students.

It's all about relationships

Pretty simple. Go deeper with the students that are easily accessible, but work hard to connect with students who are on the peripheral. The tendency is to spend 90% of our time with kids who are pursuing us. To reach out to students who are aren't always around requires careful intentionality.

It's all about wisdom

For interns (and veteran youth workers) if you have to ask the question, "i wonder if it would be ok if..." is a sign you probably shouldn't. When you're 18 or 19 landing on the conservative side of decision making is important. Here's some other wisdom thoughts.

Don't drive alone with someone of the opposite sex
If a students wants to do something that requires a signing by someone over 18, don't
Be careful not to drive like a maniac with students in the car
Remember to communicate with parents
If there's a discussion about illegal activity / abuse, contact a staff member immediately

There are other topics we discussed like the importance of prayer and how to do fun things with little money etc. I truly believe God is going to work through our interns. Yes, it's only 3 months but God uses people when they're connected to him and willing to simply be there.

My friend Jim Burns says student ministry is the ministry of "being there". That's exactly what I want our summer intern program to be about.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Leading Through The Hectic

We have a ton going on right now in our student ministry. From planning mission trips, to preparing summer camp, to raffling a corvette (you can buy a ticket) to saying good bye to a loved staff member, to prepping summer interns, to interviewing new staff to regular weekly programming there is a lot happening. This doesn't even include parent meetings, church staff meetings and all the other stuff that happens at a large church. As I write this I'm feelling a bit overwhelmed.

Have you ever been there? Maybe even now? Everything going on right now is good and necessary, but sometimes when we start moving fast we forget the some crucial parts of ministry.

Yesterday I had to slow my mind and refocus on a few things that are mandatory for this season in our ministry.


It's funny. When I need God the most I have the greatest tendency to act as if I don't. Prayerlessness is acting as if we don't need God. When schedules and activities start going fast it's easy to depend on ourselves instead of running to God.

Staff Relationships

If I'm running fast then my team is feeling it as well. Yes, we go through seasons of really hard work and there are other times where there's more flexibility. In times like these the leader must work extra hard to show genuine appreciation. My tendency is to be over demanding and difficult to please. If I do that now I could damage relationships that I value.

Adult Leaders

Spring time in student ministry must mean recruiting new leaders for the fall. From a strategic perspective this is the most important thing we can be doing with our time right now. It's very difficult because the deadlines for all the other stuff is soon. Relationship is a high value for our ministry and relationship happens when our volunteers are hanging with students. No volunteer leaders means no relationships with students.


When things start moving fast it's easy to forget we have to tell people what's happening. From staff to students to parents, effective communication can't be put on the back burner when things get hectic.

Ok, I would love to write a little more but I honestly don't have time right now. If you have any advice I could sure use it.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Relationship is King

I hate to do this, but I was able to be with Josh the other night and it he reminded me again of the importance of simply building and nurturing relationships. This is a post from a year ago. I hope it encourages you as Josh always challenges me.

Life 2 Life

Every youth group has that kid. You know the one. The student who is an accident waiting to happen. For me Josh was that kid. My first real exposure to him was at Erlanger Hospital right after he broke his back. That was just the beginning. I’ve actually seen him get hit in the thigh with a golf ball. You could read the word “titlelist” on his upper thigh for weeks. Beyond the accidents Josh was a fun kid who was faithful to the Lord and to the ministry. There are so many stories I would love to tell about this student. Sometimes just saying the name Josh makes me laugh.

At one point his dad forbid the two of us to be anywhere close to large bodies of water including lakes, rivers and oceans. With Josh I’ve been stranded on a small boat in the Atlantic in an intense thunderstorm. On a separate occasion I was actually with him when he was run over by a boat. Because of shared trauma our hearts will forever been connected.

Josh is now 26. It’s really kind of miraculous the boy is still alive. Last year I was privileged to attend his wedding and meet the woman he will spend the rest of his life loving well. I’m so proud of the man he’s become.

A couple of weeks ago I found out his dad died suddenly. I was in the area so we got to spend some really neat time together. We cried and laughed as we told stories about his dad and how awesome of a man he was. His Father’s nickname was “Boss” and he lived out that name with with great passion.

Towards the end of our time together the subject kind of changed. Sitting across the table from one another we began to talk about my future and what I should do when I grow up. (I was recently in a job transition) It’s funny how things kind of come around. My relationship with Josh had always been about me encouraging him and giving him spiritual mentoring, but now the tables were turned. The student had now become the teacher and it was time for me to sit and listen.

As we talked about what I should do next in my life he said something so interesting to me. “David, I would love to see you in a small church instead of a large church”. Of course I asked him why. What he said next was a golden reminder to any of us who love students. “There are many things I remember about being in the youth group, I remember you used to talk about the woman at the well a lot” (I really love that story) “But what I remember most are the times you and I spent together. That’s what had the biggest impact on me. If you’re in a large church with a large youth group I’m afraid kids won’t get that opportunity.”

I know I’m preaching to the choir here but it reminded me once again that youth ministry is the ministry of “being there.” Student ministry is the abiding ministry of Jesus in our lives and connecting our lives and hearts to students. I’m not really sure what I did in those “one on one” times. In fact I’m pretty sure they weren’t that intentional most the time. The reality is ministry is more about who you are and where you are than what you do. Paul said this about his own ministry.

8We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us.

Let the words “we loved you so much” sink in for minute. Is there any relationship in your ministry that would fall into the “loving so much” category? Paul didn’t have to force himself to live life to life with people, it was the natural overflow of his affection towards those to whom he was ministering.

Sure, Paul taught and preached the truth to people but he shared more than words, he shared his life. My guess is that people he served are a little like Josh. The truth they saw in Paul was at least as powerful as the truth they heard from Paul.

So, what does it mean to share your life? If ministry is about being there then sharing your life has to be defined as time connecting with those who are under your care. That’s the main thing Josh remembered about his time in the youth ministry. It wasn’t the incredible expository teaching I delivered every week but was the backpacking trip or the time on the golf course.

Why is it that for some of us taking the time to be with students can be so challenging? Could it be that so often our performance is judged by what’s done in the large group setting? Many times the greatest hope and desire of parents and church leaders is that their kids won’t gripe about having to go to church. They believe that if students go to church they won’t have sex before marriage and they’ll stay off drugs. And isn’t that what student ministry is all about?

It’s easy to get confused about what makes ministry successful. Effective ministry is much more than shaping the behavior of kids. Jesus did a lot of up front teaching but he changed the world through the 12 men with which he lived. Please don’t here me say that the teaching of the Word and our large gatherings are not important, they are. My plea however is that we would remember and embrace that life-to-life ministry must be the foundation of student ministry and for that matter all ministry.

As we wrap our minds around this simple reminder, let’s consider a couple of questions.

Is your life worth sharing?

Paul was passionate about sharing his life with people. Our lives are only worth sharing if we are daily being transformed by the power of God. This means it must be our priority to savor God daily in personal worship. Time feasting on the Word and crying out to God in prayer is the only chance we have to share a life with students that will enable them to go deeper.

How do you judge success?

We have all experienced the joy and thrill of walking into our youth room and seeing it almost full or overflowing. Do we view our success by how many students are showing up at one place at one time? That can be an indicator of success, but if it’s the primary indicator you will invest most of your time, energy and resource in the large gathering and rob life-to-life ministry.

Do you have space in your life for relational ministry?

If we believe Jesus, Paul and Josh we know it’s so important to create times of one-on-one or one-on-a-few opportunities. A ministry of “being there” is about being available but also being intentional about having time to spend with students. Let’s take a look at our calendars to see how much time we really have set aside for these life to life encounters with students.

I’m so thankful my friend Josh reminded me of the simple truth that ministry is about relationship. I love being with Josh. I’m thinking about scheduling a deep sea fishing trip for us. Just for old times sake!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Can Students Lead?

This afternoon I'm taking a few High School students to East Texas on our church's first leadership retreat. The objectives are pretty simple.

* Broaden their definition of leadership
* Encourage them to lead by using their God given gifts
* Dream about ways to be the hands and feet of Jesus to their peers
* Help them discover ways they can use their gifts NOW

The more I think about it the more I'm convinced that a person can't lead an effective student ministry without somehow encouraging and equipping students to serve / lead. Engaging the potential of students is a necessary step in a ministry's growth.

Here are some random thoughts on beginning the process of thinking through equipping students to lead.

* Ask students for their opinion.

Sit down one on one with a student and ask them what they love about the student ministry. Ask them what they struggle with. By asking and listening carefully you'll learn a lot but also communicate how much you value this student.

* Ask yourself the question, "what are adults doing that students could / should do?"

There is very little adults do that students couldn't participate in at some level. Sure we want a balance of old people like us around students, but we need to think through opportunities for students.

* Help students dream

You may see gifts and passions in their life they can't see. Part of our role is to help those who are younger think through the question "what if?" What if God really used them to shake their campus, or lead a small group. They're not getting up every morning thinking this way we need to help them.

Throughout the weekend we're going to have some guest bloggers. I'm asking students to share their thoughts and experience as we go through the weekend. It could be rich!

Monday, May 3, 2010

I Missed It. Thoughts On Volunteer Leaders

Last week I hosted a cookout at my house for juniors. The goal was pretty simple hang out, eat some delicious burgers, and talk for just a minute about what it means to be a senior in student ministry. We had a great turn out and a great time.

However, as I looked around the my back yard I noticed that something was missing. Some people who should have been there weren't. Among all the juniors who attended there were no volunteer leaders.

Our adult leaders are pretty vested in the lives of students. It's not their fault they weren't there it was mine.

You see, sometimes when things get hectic instead of pursuing the value of including volunteer leaders in all I do, I end up trying to do everything myself. It sounds backwards doesn't it? When we get busy we should reach out to others for help, but sometimes it seems including others requires extra time and energy.

To be honest I felt a little more Godly because I was the one who went to the grocery store to buy all the stuff we needed for the cookout. What a servant I was! In reality I'm the last person who should be doing stuff like that. I'm famous for leaving out key details like buying all the ingredients for hot dogs and forgetting the hot dogs.

When thinking through including adults here's some things to think about.

* Plan Ahead
Our leaders are busy and will only be able to participate when given advanced notice. "Fly by the seat of your pants" ministry doesn't work when including leaders.

* Include them in the planning
Don't be a one man or woman show. Believe it not some of them are more gifted than you in the planning process. Let them lead, ministries who provide space for others to lead draws leaders.

* Know their gifts
If you know how they're gifted you'll be more effective in helping them find their ministry "sweet spot".

* Show them copious amounts of gratitude.
This goes without saying. Don't take your leaders for granted.

Ok, the cookout was successful but if relationship is a high value it means including adult leaders in the process and unleashing them to pursue and deepen relationship with students. When I do everything myself I rob them of their potential to utilize their God given gifts. Not to mention that gatherings aren't all they could be when I limit what we do to my own creativity.

Ministry is always deeper, more fun and more effective when done in the context of team. Take the time and energy to include others. Didn't God design us to do life and ministry together?