Relational Ministry

Are You Compassionate?

By | authentic, compassion, ministry health, MINISTRY HEALTH, Relational Ministry
Courtesy of Susan von Struensee/Creative Commons License

I might have four sisters, but it doesn’t mean I’m always compassionate to the girls in my student ministry.  There are some problems I get and others I will never understand.  Fortunately my wife, female coworkers, and volunteers are more than happy to give me insight into those situations.  While I don’t get every situation I do consider myself compassionate because I love my students, and their families.

It’s important to have compassion in youth ministry.  It’s an important value because it builds authenticity and most importantly it represents God’s love.  But, compassion doesn’t come naturally to all of us.  For some it’s uncomfortable; therefore, you try your best to avoid the situation.  If you avoid it, you’re giving the impression that your ministry is cold and superficial.  To show your teens and their families that you do care there are a few steps you can take.  For example you need to:

  • Listen Carefully – To build compassion you need to embrace the whole story.  Too many times we are ready to respond, and ready to answer before we even know the problem.  By listening to the whole story you will pick up on details of the story beneath the story.  In other words you’ll hear more of the root issue when you take the time to just listen. 
  • Gain An Outside Perspective – You might not understand why a parent is feeling a certain way about an issue because you aren’t a parent.  You might not understand a teenage girl’s drama because you are a man.  While you want to be youth minister to all it’s possible to really understand every situation that walks across your path.  Sit down with someone you trust and know who might be able to relate to the situation.  They’ll be able to fill in the gaps that you might not understand.
  • Extend Your Capacity – Sometimes you just need to consult others and then there are times that you need to hand the situation off to someone else.  The reason you hand off a situation that needs compassion is because you are limited in your time or because you just aren’t qualified.  There will be times when you shouldn’t be there because of boundary issues.  Compassion means pouring out a piece of you and making yourself vulnerable.  
  • Sit In The Tension – You can’t fix every situation; however, you can still be compassionate by sitting in the disorientation of the circumstance.  Sometimes the greatest compassion the one person can show another is through solidarity.  If your teens know that you are there and present, they’ll take comfort in knowing that they aren’t alone.  To sit in the tension, just let them know that while you might not have all the answers you are willing to be available in the darkest and brightest moments.

Again, building compassion is a way of displaying authenticity and sharing Christ with others.  One of the best ways you can extend your capacity and maintain authenticity is through small groups.  Your leaders will know the teens and their families better than you.  So when a parent reaches out you can pass them along to someone who can walk with them side by side.

How do you build compassion in your ministry?

The Most Important Part Of Networking

By | networking, Relational Ministry, relationships
Courtesy of photosteve101/Creative Commons License

This week I’ll be out in Colorado at a youth ministry gathering.  It’s something I look forward to because it’s a chance to pow wow with like minded youth ministers.  When I get back I’ll be hosting a local gathering of youth ministers.  This is just another way of connecting with the men and women serving in the trenches around me.

Not sure if you are connected to a network, if you aren’t you should be.  Connecting in networks is important for youth ministers.  It’s what helps you realize you aren’t alone, it’s a great way of sharing ideas and collaborating on projects.  Even though the benefits are great, there is one that stands above the rest.  What is that?
BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS – And to build the relationship you need to:

  • Start Out With A Simple Invite – The feeling is to create an event where youth ministers mingle and do something profoundly deep.  The reality is that your first interaction should be simple.  Whether it’s one on one or as a group, just invite them over, order food and talk.
  • Make It Relational – Again there does not have to be a purpose as to why you all gather.  Just make it about getting to know them and them getting to know you.  You’ll want to keep it simple ; however, prepare with some icebreaker questions.  By building relationships you can begin to build trust.  That’s the most important goal in networking.
  • Be Sure To Stay In Touch – One way to keep the relationship strong is by maintaining touch.  At your first face to face interaction exchange emails and follow one another on Twitter.  Touch base from time to time and  make sure you don’t find yourself saying, “Hey, it’s been a while, let’s get together soon.”

Networking isn’t rocket science; however, it can be intimidating.  You are putting yourself out there; however, if you keep it focused on the relationship you will be successful.  After all no one wants to go through the trenches alone. Build the trust, build the camaraderie and grow stronger in what you do.

How do you network with others?

Get The Ball Rolling In Small Groups

By | authentic, conversation, conversation starter, Relational Ministry, relationships, smal groups, Systems and Structures, SYSTEMS AND STRUCTURES
Courtesy of Steve Snodgrass/Creative Commons License

I’ll never forget my first small group experience.  I was leading a group of sixth grade students and didn’t know exactly what to do.  I had the set of questions in front of me that would guide me. However, I wasn’t entirely sure how to use them to formulate life changing conversation.  So I decided to go off script and ask them a question from the heart.  I said, “How old do you think I am?”

Their answers ranged from 35 to 50.  I was only 24.  At that moment I knew that leading a small group of middle school students wasn’t going to be as fluid as I thought.
For many of you and your ministers leading a small group for the first time can be intimidating.  Even if you’ve lead groups for years, if you have a new crop of students breaking the ice can feel like punching through a concrete wall with your fist.  Before you panic, it’s important to realize that leading a group is a slow growing process.  To get to the point where the group is having deep conversations takes times.  That’s why to get the conversation rolling you need to:

  • Share Yourself – Teens need to know if they can trust you and that will happen as they get to know you.  Share a little bit about yourself, who you are, what you do and what you were like when you were there age.  Don’t show off, just be authentic and matter of fact.  Prepare what you are going to say and allow them to ask questions after you are done.  Follow up with saying, “That’s me and I look forward to get to know you.”
  • Ask Simple Questions – If you are writing the questions for your leaders it’s always best to start off the year with simple questions.  If the questions are simple the teens will be more inclined to answer them.  You want to set your group up for success because early on no one wants to sound stupid in front of their peers.  Make sure you use questions that everyone can discuss.
  • Let Them Talk – Sometimes you need to break the ice by letting the teenagers lead the discussion.  In the first couple of gatherings your goal should be to get everyone comfortable with one another.  That might mean talking about school, football or Angry Birds.  Try to guide the conversation so that you avoid gossip and slander; however, let them talk.
  • Embrace The Silence – If there is silence, embrace it because everyone is a little hesitant to make the first move.  If you constantly fill that silence by trying to dominate the conversation you just might shut down any potential sharing.  While you don’t want the whole 30 minutes to an hour to be utter silence, make sure you don’t rush to speak. Just remember to give it time.
  • Set Expectations – Make sure you let the group know the purpose of your small group.  For many of them they are there because a parent or a friend invited them to join.  They might expect it to be fun; however, they probably won’t expect it to be a place of safety, challenge and growth.  Give them rules and a vision for what this group will do for them and their faith.
Those first few weeks of small group are a challenge; however, once you are in them for a year or so it’s amazing to see the growth.  Small group leading takes persistence and the ability to allow the Holy Spirit to lead.  That’s why it’s important to start and end every group with a prayer.  Let God co lead alongside of you.
How do you get the ball rolling in small group conversation?

3 Strategies To Break The Ice With New Students

By | ice breaker, Relational Ministry, relationships
Courtesy of Niko Herlin/Creative Commons License

A few months ago a fellow youth worker, with Juvenile Justice Ministry, recruited me to mentor youth at the local juvenile detention center.  Each week I go there to sit down and just talk, listen and mentor young men who are in an unknown season of life.
First time I walked in I had no idea with what I was supposed to say or do.  Granted my friend had assigned me to one particular individual giving me some back story and common ground; however, it was still intimidating.  I didn’t know what I was going to say and I wasn’t sure where to start the conversation.
You don’t need to be in prison ministry to know that breaking the ice a teenager can be intimidating.  Like a first date you dread the silence; however, you don’t want to sound stupid.  Doesn’t matter if you are mentoring one on one or leading a small group, you want meaningful and deep conversations; however, to get there you need to overcome that first obstacle:


So, to help you break the ice, I have three strategies to get the conversation rolling:

  • TIP #1 – Pick The Right Environment

Granted you might not always have control over the environment in which you meet; however, if you do, pick a place where you know you will be comfortable.  Conversations are especially awkward when both parties are unsure of themselves.  So what makes you most comfortable?  Is it a coffee house, diner, the church?  

    • TIP #2 – Have Something Tangible

    Now when I’m meeting with a teen for the first time I bring with me a set of Uno cards.  It’s a game most people aren’t opposed to and it creates a fallback discussion.  Sometimes we need the tangible to help with the intangible.  It could be anything from a deck of cards, to a frisbee or football.  If you can’t think of an activity consider meeting at an eatery where food can be the focus. 

      • TIP #3 – Bring A Third Wheel

      If you know someone who knows the teen you are meeting with, don’t be afraid to bring them along.  This does two things, it gives you both common ground and secondly it gives you validity.  If the teen you are meeting with trusts the person you’ve brought along, then you can be trusted too.  It can be an adult or a teen, just make sure it’s someone you can count on to bridge the gaps.

        Starting out in a relationship is always difficult.  Granted there might be times you just hit it off; however, don’t be afraid of silence or bad questions.  You don’t know them, they don’t know you but God has brought you together for a reason.  Lean in and engage.

        How do you break the ice with teenagers?

        Keep It Simple This Summer

        By | pace, Relational Ministry, simple, summer
        Courtesy of pasotraspaso/Creative Commons License

        Schools are letting out, which means everyone is trying to wind down.  No matter what’s on your plate, you are looking to refresh and relax from an exhausting year.  You would love to be like teachers and shut it down for the summer; however, that might not be in your control.  Regardless you are ready for a break.
        While you deserve a vacation, it’s important not to shut down your summer completely.  If you do you risk losing momentum, ministers and you’ll find yourself in a panic as the fall quickly approaches.  It’s easy to fool yourself into believing that the summer is longer than it actually is and that will lead to burn out.  So, how do you relax without falling behind?


        A simple summer means:

        • Tearing Away The Excess – A tired youth minister entering into the summer can be like a hungry man walking into an all you can eat buffet.  With all the “extra” time you feel like you can handle more; however, that’s not quite the case.  No matter what your programming looks like it, it needs to be simple.  If you are giving ministers a break or planning on taking a vacation yourself, you need to make sure that your ministry is bare bones.  That might mean no technology or going unplugged with the music.  You might want to outsource your messages with a few videos.  Basically, you want to plan something that doesn’t need you in order to occur.
        • Setting Small Goals – You tell yourself, “This is the summer where I’m going to get 6 months ahead.” But it isn’t, is it?  It’s the summer you find yourself 6 months behind because you failed at the incredibly insane goal you set.  Instead create small goals and pace yourself.  When you win small, you win big, because you build momentum and confidence.  By setting small goals you accomplish tasks without wearing yourself out.  If you have a big dream to reach, just break it down and make it achievable.
        • Becoming Relational – Your relational throughout the year; however, summer is the time to meet with people for no other reason than to see how they are doing.  Grab lunch or a cup of iced coffee and just talk.  Don’t worry about casting vision, or developing a strategy for their small group, just get to know them.  You can do the same with teenagers, meet with your small group over a burger and fries to see how their summer is going.  Don’t set an agenda, just hang out.  What you show your team and the teens is that you care about who they are and not just what they can do for your ministry.

        This summer keep it simple.  Yes, you might have trips, events and camps; even more reason just to keep it simple.  Simplifying your summer means looking after your soul and giving your mind a rest.  When you can slow down the pace you can see the bigger picture.  You can see what God is doing in your ministry and in your life.

        How else can we make summer simple?

        Make It Relevant

        By | ministry health, Relational Ministry, technology, tradition, trends
        Courtesy of George M. Groutas/Creative Commons License 

        I knew I was old when I referenced a 1-800 Collect commercial to a group of middle school students.  The mention of a phone where you inserted coins to make a call seemed absurd.  Their curiosity and confusion of what once was, has become amusing.  I have found enjoyment telling teens about the days without Facebook, youtube, texting and the Internet.  They look at me like I have three heads, I can see the wheels turning as they imagine the pet dinosaur I must have had when I was their age.  I’m 31; yet, to them I’m a 1000 years old.  When it comes to stories, anecdotes and examples I have to be careful not to lose students through irrelevance.  That because irrelevance tells others that:

        • We’re out of touch.
        • It’s about me not you.
        • We don’t understand.

        When you are irrelevant teens leave and you confirm any skepticism they may have had about the church.  What you need to do is make sure timeless truths never lose their value.  So how is that done?

        • Research The Culture – Even if you are obsessed with Twitter there are trends you are going to miss.  While there are many ways you can keep up with what’s current I recommend:
        1. Talking With Your Teens – Get a gauge on what’s going on locally.  Gather a group of students (either your leaders or any small group), treat them to lunch and just ask them, “What’s happening in life?” You would be surprised to hear what they have to share.
        2. Checking What’s Trending Online – What’s hot right now?  What are people talking about?  Hit up sites like the Huffington Post and Mashable.  They’ll tell you what’s going on, what people are talking about and even stuff you don’t want to know.
        3. Ask Others In Your Field – It might be big in your neighborhood, but the youth pastor one state over could have no clue.  By networking and connecting with other youth ministers you’ll learn about trends that aren’t on your radar.
        • Embrace Technology – There is a fine balance between entertainment and worship.  I’ll admit I’ve used technology because I was WOW’d by it and didn’t answer the question, “How does this help me communicate God’s message effectively.  But, we need to embrace technology because our teens are tech saturated.  If we can show them healthy use of technology that can translate for them.
        • Look For Transferable Principles – You might not feel like you are running a business; however, in a small way it’s reality.  Your teens can be like clients, employees, potential voters and the list goes on.  Don’t be afraid to study other fields of business to gain an understanding of how to do yours better.
        • Do Not Fear Tradition – If it’s old we tend to reject it and throw it away.  I’ve found using some of the life long traditions of my faith in student ministry has been effective.  If something has withstood the test of time, then it’s got to have relevance.  All you need to do is find the right time to participate in them and clearly explain their purpose to the teens.
        • Make It Relational – Relationships keep relevancy because of trust.  If I trust you and you trust me then you aren’t going to have a problem with me showing you something.  When you fake it and try to put on a performance teens will see right through it, so embrace the authenticity of a real relationship.

        You don’t have to be cool, hip or “with it” to serve teenagers; however, you have to be aware of what’s relevant and what is not.  What’s important is to be aware of the world that’s changing around you.  Embrace it, study it and listen.  When you feel confident with the culture you can share that with the teens.  And that’s something they want…confidence.

        How do you stay relevant?

        Do You Force Jesus Into The Conversation?

        By | conversation starter, engaging students, ministry health, Relational Ministry, relationships, teens
        Courtesy of Search Engine People Blog/
        Creative Commons License
        Had lunch with a former student the other day.  It was a good time, we just chatted.  He told me what was going on in his life, how he enjoyed the job he had just started working and we ate burritos.  It’s funny because it was definitely the most relaxing one on one I’ve had with a student in a long time.  At first I couldn’t figure out why and then I realized I was just letting it happen.  The conversation just flowed, no agenda, just a chance to relax and catch up.
        There are times I find myself trying to force Jesus into the conversation.  It might sound funny, but when ever you force a conversation it’s like mixing oil and water.  But, there have been those times meeting with a student and I would hear them say something, and immediately I would tell myself, “If I don’t talk to them about their relationship with God, then I’m failing them as a youth minister, right?”  But when I do that, all I’m really accomplishing is something similar to what author Jon Acuff calls a Jesus Juke.  

        “the Jesus Juke is when someone takes what is clearly a joke filled conversation and completely reverses direction into something serious and holy.”

        Granted the conversation could be serious; however, if I move from conversation mode into preaching mode, I can be counterproductive.  So how does it happen?  It’s usually due to the fact that you are:

        • Not Listening – Sometimes teens just want to share what’s going on in their life and they don’t need/want God’s wisdom, what they need/want is Jesus’ listening ear.  A teen might be venting, sorting things out and all they need to know is that someone cares.  When you don’t listen and just give advice you can give off the impression that you care more about hearing yourself than them. 
        • Taken AbackYou are surprised, and overwhelmed.  Instead of allowing the moment to fold out, pilot mode kicks in and you start speaking Christianese.  It’s like you have the right intentions; however, your actions don’t match up.  Big words emerge from your lips as you speak and you wonder, “Does any of this make sense?” Sometimes the best response is none at all.  When tension hits the tendency is to run and hide; however, you just need to lean in and trust God.  Let Him guide you through the silence and awkwardness.  
        • Emotionally Triggered – Something sets you off and you feel like you have to get a point across.  Maybe they are getting something off their ches, that triggers a memory, an insecurity or a judgment.  Instead of allowing them to flesh it out, you judge them and get on your soap box about how they immediately need Jesus.  There is a time to preach and one on one mentoring isn’t really that time.  Emotions are healthy; however, if we are driven by them we can make it about us and not Christ.

        I’m not saying you shouldn’t talk to your teens about Jesus outside of small groups and church.  You just need to recognize the situation God has placed you in and the role he wants you to embrace.  Build the relationship, bring Christ in not just with your words but with your actions.  What that means is sharing His love by listening, sitting still and leaning into the tension.  When the time is right God will give you the words, after all hasn’t He before?

        How else do we Jesus Juke our teens?

        Are You Vulnerable In Your Ministry?

        By | accountability, journal, Relational Ministry, vulnerable

        No matter how many time I try to defy stupidity it seems to smack me in the face.  I was doing laundry (last minute) before a trip when I noticed a pile of old, smelly painter canvas in the corner.  I thought, “Huh, I should wash and dry those so they don’t get mold.” It wasn’t a bad idea, but I shouldn’t have stuffed the massive canvases in our moderate size washer and dryer.
        Fortunately, the washer was okay; but, the dryer?  Wasn’t damaged too bad, just messed up one of the baffles.  When things like this happen I have to make a decision:

        “Do I fix this on my own or do I get some help?”

        Whether it’s home repair or ministry seeking out help can be:

        Humbling        Embarrassing       Intimidating

        Emotions like these three can be hard to face and embrace.  Early on in ministry I ignored those feelings which has caused me to:

        If I had realized that the emotions stirring inside of me were really God destroying my pride I would have avoided the damage that came from my poor decisions.  As youth ministers we need to allow ourselves to be vulnerable so that God can destroy the sins that prevent us from living out His plan.
        The way I’ve learned from my mistakes is through:
        1. Journaling
        2. Spiritual Direction

        These two methods aren’t the only way, but they way work for me.  Journaling allows me to see where I’ve gone wrong and the spiritual direction gives me accountability.  If we are truly going to take on the big problems, we need to let the Big Guy take them on for us.  But again, these aren’t the only two ways of allowing God to work within us, so I would ask you:
        How are you vulnerable with God?  

        Living In And Moving Through The Tension

        By | decision making, Relational Ministry, relationships, tension

        I never completed my first marathon, I passed out in the 24th mile sending me to the emergency room.  So, when I decided to give it another go, I had to face the reality that I may never be able to complete a marathon.  The pressure was difficult and when I pulled a muscle halfway through my second one, I had to face the decision, “Do I pull out or do I risk a greater injury?”  I was basically living in the tension.  A decision that I didn’t want to face had to be made.
        If you are going to be successful in ministry, you are going to need to live in the tension, because it’s:

        Where We Go Deep

        As a youth minister it’s always going to be difficult for me to talk to students about situations like loving the sinner, but hating the sin and confronting someone about immoral behavior.  Both of these actions are difficult for me to do and if I told you otherwise I would be lying.
        Following Christ gets personal, there is a lot of emotion involved and the pull between what I feel and what is right can be torture.  But, if you aren’t living in the tension then you are hiding from the issues, it’s like saying, “I don’t want to deal with this because it’s too hard.”  No one ever said ministry would be easy.
        To live in the tension we need to:

        • Rely on God’s Grace – Follow His plan 
        • Look at the Source – Ask yourself why are my feeling conflicting with my thoughts
        • Pray and Seek Wisdom – Get insight, digest God’s word and equip yourself.
        • Know There Is A Tomorrow – Once you act in the tension know that you are moving forward.  Bad decision or not you’ll move forward.

        While we want to constantly make God honoring decisions, we must make sure we never remain idle.  Being idle is an excuse for not confronting sin and not moving forward.  So go ahead live in it, lean in.

        Share your thoughts.  What are your thoughts about living in the tension?

        Why Your Ministry Should Only Be 3 People

        By | invest, ministers, ministry health, Relational Ministry, teens

        I don’t know maybe this is revolutionary, maybe not for you, but for me it is (at least at 1am).  What if we (youth ministers) just focused on 3 teens at a time?  Chew on that for a minute before you continue to read on.  I’m just saying, think about 3 teens that you would just pour out the majority of your energy and attention into.  Granted you might not get the best 3 right away, but think about it, wouldn’t that be:


        Speaking of simple, here’s a simple fact: Jesus had 12 disciples and of those 12 there were 3 He was real close to (Peter, James and John).  Not that the other 9 weren’t important, it’s just that Jesus had a plan.  Now take that fact and think about this: Why do we feel like we need to invest in more than 3 or even 12 teens at one time?  Pressure to grow numbers? Fear of not reaching everyone? Popularity? Pride?  It’s a good question because when it comes down to it:

        • Our Range Of Influence Is Limited: I don’t know about you but I have a hard time keeping track of all the students in my ministry.  Not that I have a lot, but I’m not a master of names.  If I have that much trouble remembering multiple names how do I expect to influence multiple lives at the same time?  I can’t because I have limits.
        • Focused Ministry Means Larger Impact:  If I’m focused the obstacles are clearer, the goals seem reachable, the vision has more detail.  It’s the good ole adage “Jack of all trades, master of none.”  In order to have an impact you need to be focused on the people you are serving.
        I know you might be wondering “What about the other teenagers?”  Great question, but the 3 principle doesn’t stop there because you begin to focus on 3 of your adult ministers.  Share life, values and vision with them.  Spend time getting to know them, treat them to coffee, or bring them to a conference.  As you invest in them, ask them to invest in other ministers.
        I’m not saying stop managing people or don’t do a large group program, what I’m saying is who you invest in should be a limited amount of people.
        As you get more comfortable with that principle take it to the last level and invest in 3 other youth ministers in your area.  Doesn’t matter if you have 10 days or 10 years invest in them because you believe in them.  Take them out for a bite to eat, listen to their woes, pray for their families.
        Maybe your number isn’t 3, maybe you feel like it’s 5…that’s fine, but don’t forget about your limits and the need to focus.  Whatever the number is, just focus.  

        Try it out, think about it and let me know what you think.
        How do you invest in your students, ministers, and fellow youth workers?