Habits To Help Teens In Their Next Steps

Courtesy of Karen_O’D/Creative Commons

Ran into a college student the other week.  She was back in town because her school was evacuating for the Superstorm Sandy.  It was good to see her considering the circumstances.  We caught up and she shared with me everything that she was learning in class.  She then told me about a church community she has joined.  It seemed like a place where she was engaged in her faith, and has continued to grow in Christ.  As a youth minister there is nothing better than listening to a former student share how he or she is working out their salvation on their own.

Every youth minister needs a picture of what a teen should look like when they graduate high school.  It’s the vision you cast for your ministry and it’s the reason why you exist.  It’s the type of disciple of Christ you want to mold them into.

Every week you instill in them the habits of prayer, fellowship, Bible study, ministry, mission among a few others.  While there are a few basic habits that every student in your ministry should know, there are a few that will help them with the transition of high school to college.  While prayer and scripture are ones they should embrace throughout all seasons; there are a few that are necessary as they go from adolescence to adulthood.  A few of them are:

  • Honoring God With Their Budgets – When a teenager goes to college they aren’t going to have parents over their shoulders telling them what to do and what not to do with their money.  They’ll have credit card companies bombarding them to sign up.  It’s important for youth ministries to teach basic budgeting skills paired with Biblical teaching so that they can discern between greed and generosity.  This might mean creating a workshop for teens and their parents.  It might mean sitting down with them in small group and writing out a budget.  A great resource that we’ve used is Dave Ramsey’s Generation Change.
  • Connecting With Their Elders For Wisdom – Again, teens won’t have their parents or you with them to give them advice.  Granted they could call you up; however, what you want to be teaching them is how to seek advice from other God honoring adults.  This will help them when they face a situation where they are too embarrassed or ashamed to tell their parents.  To do this you need to facilitate intergenerational ministry into your programs.  That can be small groups lead by adults; however, look to have teens serve with adults in your church.
  • Investing In A Local Church – You don’t want teens graduating their faith when they graduate high school.  That’s why it’s not only important to teach spiritual habits that build their personal relationship with Christ; but their public one as well.  In order for the church to grow we need teens to invest in the local church.  This means showing them what to look for when they graduate.  Have them serve inside the local church so that they can see how to be a part of one.  Take them on trips to visit other churches so that they can discover the uniqueness of the Body of Christ.

There are so many habits to teach this next generation and if you think of them all you could feel overwhelmed.  When it comes to choosing the best ones for your ministry you need to know which ones will have the greatest impact after they are no longer in your ministry.  While there are core habits like prayer, scripture study and serving, there are ones that will help them transition from adolescence into adulthood.

What other specific spiritual habits would you add to the list?

Beware Of Christians: Movie Review

How are the students who are no longer in your ministry doing?  I think about a few of them from time to time, but only a few of them.  It’s difficult to remember every teenager I’ve mentored, taught or interacted with and so it’s great when we cross paths.  It’s at those moments when I wonder, “Did I do everything I could to help their faith or hurt it?”

I recently saw the documentary ‘Beware of Christians’ the story of four college friends who travel to Europe to challenge what they’ve been taught when it comes to following Jesus Christ.  All four guys, Alex, Michael, Matt and Will, were raised in the church; however, as they grew older they saw the discrepancies between a Christ follower in the Bible and one in the United States.  After watching this film I found myself asking three questions:

I wonder because in the film we see these guys really challenge their perceptions of faith and the church.  In the end their faith grows strong and it’s because they display the knowledge and faith one needs when faced with adversity.  That’s why it’s important to teach your students spiritual habits.

A subject that was brought up towards the end of the film is whether or not we give the impression that once you are a Christian, life gets easy.  This goes back to the question of whether or not your ministry is entertainment or a place where teens can grow strong in their faith.  If you tell your teens to believe and life gets so much better, when they face a challenge that concept goes away.  If their faith is built on that, then what will they have left?

In this film the guys share their honest perspective and the confusion that’s come with seeing what the world and church says about the following subjects:

  1. Identity
  2. Materialism
  3. Sex/Relationships
  4. Church
  5. Wealth/Poverty
  6. Media/Entertainment
  7. Alcohol

On top of their opinions they share the views of people they meet in the street of different countries.  The results just show how the lack of conversation on these subjects have created so many misconceptions.  If your youth ministry isn’t discussing these areas of faith then you are allowing the world to fill in the gap of communication.  The more you talk about them and encourage the conversation, you can fill those gaps with God’s wisdom.

When I first heard about this film I was reluctant to watch it because I thought it would be another rant on how bad religion is; however, it brings about an honest conversation.  It isn’t a bash on religion, instead it’s a challenge for us to really look at what God’s word is saying.

My recommendation is that you show this to your seniors and teens who are sold out for Christ.  While it won’t convince all of them to go deeper in their faith it will bring up a lot of honest conversations that you need to have in your ministry.  One of the best things we can do to prepare our teens for the next stage of their faith is have them address and expose any questions or hangups.  If those go unresolved it could grow into a problem that pushes them away from their faith.

Have you seen this movie? What are your thoughts? Leave your comments.

Disclosure of Material Connection:  I have not received any compensation for writing this post.  I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Necessary Steps To Prepare Teens For The Future

Courtesy of Sean MacEntee/Creative Commons License

Last week I sat down with the recent high school grads for a little breakfast and chat.  It’s an annual tradition that started a few years back.  It’s a chance for us to walk down memory lane, I’ll bestow on them a few words of wisdom and then they go off to college, ready to take on the world.  It’s a bittersweet experience because while I’m happy to see them take on the next chapter of their life, I know I’ll miss them.  And while I hope that they’ve enjoyed their time in my ministry, I pray that it won’t be the pinnacle of their spiritual journey.

As a youth minister you want your ministry to be memorable; yet, it should also be the catalyst to push them deeper into faith.  While ministry has many components, one of the biggest should be preparing teens for the next chapter of life.  In order to do that you need to be implementing steps for the future, such as:

  • Empowering The Family – Youth ministers need to be looking at resources like Think Orange and Sticky Faith.  This is a time where uniting with your children’s ministry to tackle families has never been so important. While you might not always be there for the teens, chances are family will.  Build your ministry around the question “How can I better serve the family for the long haul?”
  • Giving Them A Vision Plan – On top of giving them a general vision for their life we need to teach them to cultivate their own specific one (Here’s how).  By teaching teens how to cast vision you allow them to use graduation as a mile marker to something great.  The reason teens leave ministry is because they meet a mile marker, thinking it’s the end goal.  A good vision will take them beyond their college years.
  • Instilling Habits – Just as Paul tells us in Philippians to work out our salvation on our own, we need to remind our teens the same.  High school flies by and many of them do not realize that one day they won’t have you or their parents reminding them to read the Bible, go to church and say their prayers.  Empower them by showing them the tools and resources they need to grow as Christians on their own.
  • Letting Them Lead – This is an area that I struggle in the most.  Give your teens opportunities to lead and serve on their own.  Do not micro manage them, give them the opportunity (like you do with your adults) to succeed and fail.  By creating these opportunities you allow them to see their potential and limitations.  When they understand the boundaries, they’ll have a better idea of the path ahead of them.

While a teen’s spiritual foundation does not solely fall on you, it’s important that you create a ministry that guides them in the right direction.  Utilize the other components and relationships (i.e. family) in their lives.  Help them see the bigger and broader picture.  And when they are ready to head off into the next chapter of life, let them go; however, remind them that they can always come back to you.

How do you prepare teens for the next chapter of life?

The Most Expensive Game In Town: Book Review

The highlight of my short lived sports career happened in 8th grade when my town recreational soccer team did the impossible and won the championships.  We weren’t supposed to win, we were not favored; however, with great coaching and amazing teamwork we pulled off the upset.  While winning the big game was memorable, the part I will always cherish were the practices and games that lead up to that moment.  I just enjoyed playing and being with my teammates.
Growing up it didn’t matter if the game was part of an organized league or just a thrown together scrimmage, I just wanted to play.  When I look at youth sports today I wonder, “Do kids feel the same way as I did?”
As a youth minister I love watching my teens play for their school or town teams; however, it’s also created a tension in my life.  As each year passes by it seems like the schedules get more dense and the travel gets farther.  As a result practices, games and tournaments conflict with church.  I’m finding more and more teens being forced to choose between ministry and sport.  Why is that?
In his book THE MOSE EXPENSIVE GAME IN TOWN: The rising cost of youth sports and the toll on today’s families author Mark Hyman reveals the ever increasing popularity of youth sports in this country.  The times of sandlot baseball games and backyard football challenges are slowly disappearing as more leagues, and tournaments enter into the scene.  The reason this is a must read is because it addresses topics and issues that parents, and youth workers need to face, such as:

  • FINANCES: The cost is going up, especially when it comes to travel teams for youth sports.  What this book will do is challenge parents to start counting the receipts and answer the question, “Am I spending too much?”  Basically, they need to know if the investment is worth it.
  • BOUNDARIES: Tournaments are gaining popularity; therefore, teams are hoping on buses and planes to participate.  This means less family time at home and more on the road.  Not that travel is bad; however, how much of a toll does riding in a car and sleeping in a hotel take on a family’s dynamics.
  • FALSE PROMISES:  Even corporations are getting in on the game, telling teens if you drink this or eat that you can be like your favorite sports star.  From equipment to accessories families are being pressured to invest in whatever it takes for them to reach the next level in sports.  With only a limited amount of openings at the highest level, the question becomes, “Am I buying the hype?”
  • IDOLATRY: Youth sports are great for the teens when it comes to socialization, exercise and team building skills.  As parents we enjoy seeing our children succeed; however, is it because it brings them joy or gives you value?  When the sport becomes more important than your relationships with others, especially God it becomes an idol.  Families should engage in recreational activities because of how it helps you grow and not only what it does for you.

While this book addresses many of the negative issues arising in youth sports it does end on a very positive note.  In the last chapter author Mark Hyman talks about the opportunities sports can provide for an individual.  On top of opening doors it can teach valuable lessons in team work, facing adversity and leaning in during high pressure moments.
As youth workers we need to make sure that the families we serve are aware of these issues.  Again, athletics are important for this next generation.  You and I need to make sure that when decisions are made, that it is with God in mind.

How do you perceive youth sports?  What type of impact does it have on your ministry?

Why You Will Scar Your Teens

Courtesy of cynthiacloskey/
Creative Commons License

Growing up I was a retreat junky.  Basically, if there was a retreat happening at my church or a friend’s church, I went on it.  And, if I was eligible I would apply (and most times) make the leadership team.  It was a rush, something I wanted, it was the way I experienced youth ministry.

Then in my senior I got what felt like a low blow.  I was told that I would not be on the leadership team of my church for the next retreat.  It was to be my last retreat in high school, so I was upset and needed to know why I wasn’t being chosen.  The youth minister told me, that because of my family situation that she felt that, “I was not emotionally stable to lead.”  Ouch, it hurt.  That decision hurt so much that I seriously considered leaving the church all together.

When I became a youth minister I told myself that I never wanted to do that to another teen.  But, as hard as I try I know that scarring a teen is inevitable.  One day I might say or do something that’s going to hurt them.  My hope is it’s not anything too deep, that they would question their faith.
No one in youth ministry wants to scar a teen; however, because of our human nature we are at risk of doing it all the time.  Why?  Because we are human and we are susceptible to pride, carelessness, and a lack of focus.  To avoid the deep wounds we nee to make sure we discipline with love, communicate clearly and show transparency, especially in these scar prone areas:

  • Canceling A One On One – Believe it or not that teen wants to meet with you, even if it was your idea.  If you have to cancel on a teen make sure you have a plan to follow up with them right away.  If it’s because of an emergency make sure the next time you see them that you have a clear and honest explanation of what happened.  Lastly, don’t make canceling on them a habit.
  • Firing Them From Ministry – A teen who is asked to step down from a leadership role will feel like they are being asked to leave the church.  To combat this feeling make sure their parent (Or small group leader) is there to affirm your caring love and knock down anything the teen might misinterpret.  Doesn’t matter the reason for why you are asking them to leave, just make sure it doesn’t come off you want them to stop following Christ.
  • Being Human – Whether you like it or not you are a role model in faith to these students.  You might be the primary link between them and Christ; therefore, seeing your sinful nature will cut them deep.  Don’t be afraid to share your humanity by being honest and authentic in your conversations.  Don’t feel like you have to always have the answer and embrace when you are wrong.  By being real with them, they’ll be more likely to give you grace when you need it.
  • Joking Around – If you are like me then you can go too far with the teasing and joking around.  Maybe you know some insider information about a student that if revealed, even in a joking manner, will cut them like a knife.  You want to be fun in their presence; however, at what costs will you go to make sure others are laughing?  If you hurt the teens with your jokes, then all you are to them is a bully.
Again, there are many ways (Intentionally and Unintentionally) we can scar a teen in our own ministry.  The goal is to make sure that you own up to your mistakes and pour into them with love and humility.  If you can do that then you are not only providing an environment that cares for them; but, a picture of how their Heavenly Father works in their life.
How else can a teen be scarred in youth ministry?  Is it possible to avoid this?