4 Steps To Mentoring Teens

By | discipleship, habits, leadership, LEADERSHIP, mentoring, spiritual health, SPIRITUAL HEALTH, vision

After a long night of “studying” I remember wondering whether or not I would encounter Father B on my way back to the dorms.  He was the residential Jesuit at my freshman dorm on Xavier University’s campus.  Each and every time as if he were waiting for me, there he was just hanging out.  As I passed by not wanting to make eye contact, I would hear him say in the most loving and genuine tone, “Good morning Saint.”

After some time I found myself regularly meeting with Father B.  At first it was informal and eventually became a mentorship.  It’s because of that relationship that I was able to endure many storms and become the man I am today.  As a youth minister it’s something I strive to do for this next generation.

Mentoring is an essential part to any youth ministry.  While it’s not the first system to establish, it’s one that should eventually be incorporated into what you do.  It’s through mentoring that you can raise up the next generation and teach them to seek out wisdom from those who have travled the journey ahead of them.

So if you are looking to establish a mentoring program in your ministry it’s important to keep in mind these 4 steps:

  1. Create A Path: Teenagers are constantly being shaped into what they are supposed to do; however, rarely are they asked, “Who do you want to be?”  This is probably the most important question you can ask a teen.  And, it should be the first question you ask when mentoring them.  This question sets a direction and casts a vision.  It helps you know where to go with them.
  2. Give Them Application: It’s easy to fill someone’s head with knowledge; however, how much they retain can be a mystery.  The more application to your information, the more likely the teen you mentor will remember.  When you mentor someone it’s important to incorporate tangible habits that will lead to personal growth.
  3. Meet Consistently:  The best way to build a habit is to maintain a sense of consistency.  If there is too much time between each meeting or communication you can’t expect to see exponential growth.  An effective mentoring program is not just a one time deal or something that meets quarterly.  If you want to walk with someone through life you need to make sure you are meeting consistently on a weekly to monthly basis while communicating email or text in between.  The more they are reminded that you are near the more they are reminded what needs to be accomplished.
  4. Sit In Their Messes: If you really get to know someone sooner or later you are going to witness a disorientation that they are facing.  Mentoring isn’t about fixing someone’s problems or messes, it’s about walking with them through the darkness.  You are not going to have all the answers and that’s okay.  What you can provide for your student is solidarity and sometimes that goes farther than the wisdom you might dump on them.

Since you cannot meet with every student in your ministry one on one it’s important to raise up other mentors to serve alongside of you.  It’s not a ministry that you should start up right away if you are new to youth ministry.  Establish a foundation through small groups, worship and ministry.  It’s with mentoring that you take students deeper, create leaders and set them up for success after they leave school.

Do you have a mentoring program in your ministry?  If so what does it look like?

2 Questions We Forget To Ask Teens

By | leadership, LEADERSHIP, preparation, Questions, spiritual health, SPIRITUAL HEALTH, values, vision
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I hate that I do it; however, every time I run in to a senior in my student ministry I have to ask the question, “What colleges are you applying to?”.  Realizing the agony I’ve caused them I quickly apologize for being that broken record player in their life.  When you see someone you know it’s easy to ask them the same old questions, “How are you doing?” and “What’s new in your life?”  It’s a matter of habit.  Sometimes those questions are filled with sincerity other times it’s done as a reaction.

In your youth ministry I’m sure there are a series of questions that you constantly ask your students.  It might be, “What does your relationship with Christ look like?” or “What would God want you to do in that situation?”  While those questions are important and carry weight, they are not always the best questions to ask.  In fact there are several questions you should be asking, because they will challenge teens to look at their heart and the path God has shaped for them.  Two of those questions are:

  • WHO DO YOU WANT TO BE?  Teens get asked a lot, what they want to do and where they want to go.  Rarely do we ask them, “What type of person do you want to be?” It’s a question that deals with vision and values.  In a world that relies heavily on tangible accolades teens need to be reminded that God wants to know what is in their hearts, not what’s on their shelves.  Put this question in their minds and help them write out a vision for that person they want to be.
  • WHAT IF EVERYTHING WASN’T OKAY? Teens will face trials, some more life altering than others.  It’s easy to tell students that life will be full and extraordinary when they follow Christ.  It’s hard to tell them that not everything will work out according to their plans.  While it can be a harsh question it can help prepare them for the obstacles life will bring.  This is a great question to ask when a teen is discerning where to go to school or is about to take on a huge challenge.  It brings about the opportunity to talk about a true dependence on God.

Unexpected questions bring about unexpected conversations.  When you get the chance to ask your teens questions that are uncommon you create conversations that expose the depths of their heart.  When questions become too common they become easy to answer with generalities.  If you want teens to grow you need to expose what is going on in the heart.

What other uncommon questions should we be asking teens?

Do You Demand Excellence?

By | communication, COMMUNICATION, environment, excellence, goals, identity, irresistible, meetings, ministry health, MINISTRY HEALTH, vision, youth space
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Is there something in your ministry that drives you crazy?  Maybe it’s the person showing up late for a meeting or when there is a piece of trash on the floor of your youth space you cringe.  When you express these concerns to others they tell you to relax, but you disagree because you demand excellence.  And that’s good.  Striving for excellence means having the desire to take your ministry to the next level.

It’s easy for youth ministers to come off laid back because of how they look and who they serve; however, that should not be an excuse for a lack of excellence.  When you have excellence in ministry it means you have standards, expectations and organizations.  The only caution with demanding excellence is having it turn into a journey for perfection.  Perfection doesn’t allow flaws, excellence means wanting the most out of what you can give.  In youth ministry it’s important to have this desire especially when it comes to:

  • Youth Space: Whether it’s in the basement of the church or in a decked out youth room, your space needs to be an irresistible environment.  That means it needs to be clean, cared and prepared for, so that students are not walking into chaos.  They have enough craziness going on in their lives, let your space be that sanctuary.
  • Meetings: Whether it’s a 2 minute check-in or a 2 hour strategic meeting it’s important that everyone shows up on time, an agenda is set and people are prepared.  If you are leading the meeting all of that falls on you, so make sure you plan ahead of time.
  • Communication: It needs to be clear and consistent, the way that’s going to happen is by practicing, reviewing and receiving feedback.  You should never take for granted that your message is heard if only said once, repeat, repeat and repeat.
  • Identity: Excellence in your identity does not mean perfection, it means authenticity.  That means you need to embrace humility and transparency in how you communicate and interact with others.  If you stress too much about appearance and reputation you will only find yourself disappointed. Make sure you surround yourself with accountability so that people can help you stay true.

There are many areas in which we should strive for excellence; however, it doesn’t come naturally for all of us.  To obtain excellence as a value you need to set goals and cast vision with your team.  Excellence does not always mean perfection, it means having expectations and dreams of what can be and will be.  While you don’t want to be too hard, don’t be afraid to think big.

How do you strive for excellence?

Is Your Vision Statement Useless?

By | ministry health, values, vision
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How long did it take for you to come up with your vision statement?  A few years, months…hours?  Did you copy someone else?  It took me several years to come up with ours:

Church of the Nativity’s youth ministry exists to raise up authentic, consistent and irresistible disciples of Jesus Christ.

My first vision statement wasn’t even close to what it is today.  In fact it was pretty similar to another church I was studying.  I was told that I needed to have one, I wasn’t sure why I needed one.  But, I didn’t question it.  I had a vision statement but it was useless.

Was the youth ministry successful despite not having a vision statement? Sure.  It was doing well, it was growing and so it made me wonder, “Is a vision statement overrated?”

NO! Well, maybe it is and that’s because some are useless.  How do you know your vision statement is useless?
  • No One Knows It: How many of your volunteers or coworkers know your vision statement?  If your ministry leaders do not know why your youth ministry exists then all you are doing is playing church.  They might be living it out; however, it’s all unintentional.  It’s like driving to the right place; however, not knowing that’s where you were supposed to go.  When no one knows the vision, they don’t know their purpose.
  • It Doesn’t Fit Your Ministry: Maybe you just thought of crafty words and a catchy phrase.  Maybe you saw another youth ministry’s and adapted it.  While those are important steps to making a memorable vision statement, if it doesn’t fit your ministry it’s just a facade.  Your vision represents your identity and why God has placed you on this earth.  If it isn’t you then you’ll be lost.
  • It’s Not Being Lived Out: It might represent where God is calling you to go.  It might be memorable; however, if no one is actually living it out, then it’s just a catchy saying.  It’s one thing to craft a powerful vision statement; however, it’s another thing to embrace it.  An authentic vision statement is when your team is working towards it and trusting God fully.

Again, a vision statement is important; however, it needs to be crafted correctly (How to craft a great vision statement) and embraced.  With no vision your ministry will suffer.  If your vision isn’t known or used, then in the end it’s overrated to have one.  Take the time to sit down and ask God, “What are you calling me to accomplish?”

Do you think vision statements are overrated?  Is vision talked about too much and not executed enough? Share your thoughts.

Why You Need A Job Description

By | job description, leadership, LEADERSHIP, ministry health, vision
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When you tell someone you are youth minister what is their first response?  Many people ask me in return, “What’s your full time job?” After explaining to them that youth ministry is my full time job, it always leads into a conversation on how that’s possible.

Not sure why it is you got into youth ministry; however, if you plan on doing it for the long haul you need to know what it is you are doing. The best way to clarify what it is you do is with a job description.  On top of telling you and others your hours, pay and required certifications, a job description gives you identity.  While you’ll always be a team player, and need to pick up odd jobs here and there, in the end you need to have focus and focus.  And, when you have those components it will move you forward.

What do you need for an effective job description?

  • General Description – If you could sum up your job in one sentence, what would that be?  Answering this question will serve as a foundation for when life gets chaotic.  If you’ve ever questioned why you do what you do, this will be your answer.  It’s a vision for your position.
  • List Of Responsibilities – This could be an endless list; however, try to narrow it down to 5 – 10 must do jobs.  As a youth minister this should include delegating responsibilities, creating programs and communicating with others.  It should also talk about who you work with and why.
  • Expected Results – In a given year (or next job review) what do you hope to see from this job?  Whatever it is make it tangible.  This might include improving leader to student ratio or the implementation of workshops or events in a given year.  Set them high; however, make them achievable.
  • Areas Of Accountability – Who do you report to and who do you manage?  When you know the direct lines of report, you will know who to go to in times of need.  It will also help others know who you are responsible for managing and what programs you oversee.

After you have created a job description run it by your pastor and have others give you feedback.  They might see something that you’ve missed.  Don’t be afraid to tweak it because as you grow in experience some of your responsibilities will change.  If your church doesn’t have annual job reviews set one up with someone you know and trust in your church.  The feedback will help you grow.

With a clear job description you will have a clear picture on what it is you do.  Being a youth minister is not the same from church to church.  It’s a job position many people aren’t familiar with knowing.  The more clarity you can produce the more efficient you can be in growing young disciples.

What else would you included in a job description?

Why Does Your Ministry Exist?

By | leadership, LEADERSHIP, ministry health, purpose, vision
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Where there is no vision, the people will perish 
– Proverbs 29:18 (KJV)

This is a verse we embrace as a church.  We believe that everything we do needs to have a vision or else it will fail.  That means looking at why we do what we do and constantly revisiting it to make sure it has a purpose.

For many of us starting out in youth ministry our initial feeling is to just survive.  You want teenagers to come to your programs.  You want them to be engaged.  You want them to grow in their faith; however, to what purpose?

Just doing ministry isn’t good enough, you need to have a vision or else teenagers will eventually become disengaged and leave.  So, what should that vision look like?  In the end it’s between you and God.  However, here are a few questions to get started:

What Would Your Community Look Like If You Didn’t Exist?
If your ministry doesn’t have an impact on the community then you are running a club.  There is nothing wrong with clubs, they can be fun; however, they aren’t going to fuel the church.  To answer this question you need to take a look at your target audience.  Who are the teenagers you are trying to reach?  What problems and situations are they facing?  How can you best connect them to Christ?

What Has God Uniquely Blessed Your Ministry With?
We are ONE church and then we are all MANY parts.  God has blessed you with specific resources, people and even put you in a certain location for a purpose.  A youth ministry with vision is one that understands what it can possibly do with all the blessings God has poured down on them.  How are you  using them wisely?

What Does Someone Who Has Gone Through Your Ministry Look Like?
If I send my child to you in 6th or 9th grade, what will he or she look like after high school?  If it’s a disciple of Christ, what does that disciple do, say and even look like?  So many times we make our vision vague; therefore, leaving a lot to interpretation.  As youth ministers we need to have an idea of who we would like to send out into the world.

Crafting a vision isn’t as simple as sitting down at a table and writing it out.  It takes prayer, reflection and tweaking.  But, with no vision teens will leave your ministry.  With no vision teens will leave the church.  With no vision teens will never connect to Christ.

So, what is your vision?

Four Areas That Need Your Attention This Year

By | budget, communication, COMMUNICATION, preparation, Systems and Structures, training, vision
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The feelings of anxiety and excitement fill me up this time of year, and the back to school commercials do not help.  Everyone is focusing on what they need to get, do and learn before the school bells ring for the first time.  If there is a time when a check list is most important it’s over these next few weeks.

Doesn’t matter if you had programming throughout the summer, it feels like everyone is starting from scratch.  That sense of urgency fills the area and people pick up their pace. The mantra, “SO MUCH TO DO IN SO LITTLE TIME.” rings through all of our heads.

Not sure what’s on your check-list, maybe it’s long and maybe it’s filled with big things.  If you want to get that all done, there are a few areas you need to tackle first.  Those areas are:

  • Your Personal Schedule – What does your week look like?  Before the madness begins, start allotting time to when you will prepare curriculum, touch base with team, and even when you’ll eat lunch.  When you create a calendar for your week, you give yourself a pace.  If you walk into the roar of September without a clear pace you’ll find yourself falling behind or burning out. Give yourself 30 minutes to create one. (For more details go here)
  • CommunicationWhat do you want them to know? and What do you want them to do?  Those two questions should proceed every email, message and presentation you give.  The tendency is to have reactionary communication, which means waiting for something to happen.  Look at your calendar for they year and determine how you want the communication to roll out.  When is the best time for people to know certain information.  When you plan out your communication you give yourself time to craft an effective message.
  • Budget – It’s easy to only think about your budget when you want to increase it.  Like communication our budget needs to be proactive; therefore, create a spending plan for your ministry.  Develop a system where you know how much a week, or month you have to spend and record each item effectively.  Schedule times monthly to check-in on your progress.  Own a plan for your budget, before the budget owns you.
  • Training – What’s the vision for your leaders?  Decide on one or two things you want them to learn this year.  While there is so much they will learn in the trenches, it’s important for you to intentionally prepare them for a certain area of ministry.  It doesn’t have to be meetings, but making sure resources and online trainings are available to them.  Be sure you know how you want them to grow this specific year.

These four areas will impact how you serve and what you do as a leader this year.  The reason they are so important is because of the foundation they build in your ministry.  There are a million other things on your plate, you need these areas to help you organize and fuel them.  While you still have a little bit of margin left in your schedule, just take the time to reflect on them, and then plan on tweaking them throughout the year.

Would you agree with these four or am I missing an area?

Necessary Steps To Prepare Teens For The Future

By | family, future, habits, Systems and Structures, teens, vision
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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?

Have An Exit Strategy Before You Get Started

By | leaders, replacing, Systems and Structures, vision
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When you find the perfect church to work for you should start planning your exit strategy.  I know that sounds funny, but in all seriousness start figuring out how you are going to leave your current job.  If you don’t you will start building a ministry focused on you, instead of God.

If you enjoy what it is you do, you need to have a succession plan or else you might interrupt your church’s momentum.  When you don’t create a succession plan you risk leaving the next guy hanging.  You risk allowing the program to crumble.  You risk distracting your pastor from leading the church so that he can find your replacement.
If you like your church (Even if just a little), you want to leave it on the best note possible.  While you might only stick around your church for 2- 5 years, you still need to develop a plan.  And you do that when you:

  • Define And Grow Leaders – Are you the only leader in your ministry?  If you can’t answer that question then you need to start looking at recruiting and growing strong leaders.  They can’t be you; but, they should be able to take on the responsibility and have goals for the program.  Invest, train and give them clear roles.
  • Craft And Cast Vision – When the ministry is only about you and your ideas it will fall apart.  Crafting a God honoring vision will help you change the focus from you to Him.  When the program becomes about God, it creates the opportunity for other leaders to step up and take the reigns.  Make sure the vision is clear and then engrain it into the minds of your teams.  When you focus on God, you allow Him to lead you.
  • Share The Investment – Is your ministry a program or a cause?  If it ceased to exist, what would your community look like?  You need to look at your ministry like a movement and not a monument.  Therefore, share with others why your ministry needs to exist.  Get them fired up about your vision and values because if you have to step away one day, they’ll be the ones to make sure your ministry keeps moving without you.
It’s easy not to think about your ministry’s future because there is so much happening in front of you now.  That’s why it’s important to look at your team not just as volunteers but as future leaders.  It’s important to have goals and a destination.  And, it’s necessary to look at what God has called you to do as a movement.  When you do that, you see yourself as a piece of the puzzle instead of the puzzle itself.  When that happens you glorify God and grow His church.
What does your succession plan look like?

Have you thought about replacing yourself at your current job?

What’s The Bottom Line To Your Ministry?

By | communication, COMMUNICATION, elevator speech, vision
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How good is your elevator speech?  If you aren’t familiar with that term, it’s when you have to get your point across, or make your pitch to someone as if you were riding an elevator.  The goal is not to speak quickly but to say more by speaking less.  It can be an exhausting exercise if you like to take your time explaining concepts, using analogies and specific examples.  Chances are you’ve never really been in a situation where you had to get your point across in two minutes, and then again maybe you’ve never realized you’ve been in that situation.  You thought you had the time, you thought you had their focus, but all they needed was a quick answer.

For example the time:

  • A parent called you on the phone with questions about your program.
  • The friend of a teen who’s never been to church
  • A potential minister who is unsure whether or not he/she can make the commitment.
Believe it or not you’ve been in that situation, you just didn’t realize it and rambled on for too long without CLEARLY COMMUNICATING THE BOTTOM LINE. 

To get to that point takes more than just practice, because you want to make sure you say the right thing.  To put together the best elevator speech you should figure out:

  • What It Is You Want Them To Know: At the end of your spiel the person listening should be able to repeat back to you the bottom line.  If there is one thing they must know what is it? Should they know that small groups create big change?  Or, connecting in an authentic relationship with Jesus Christ comes through connecting in authentic relationships with Christ followers?  What’s that one thing?
  • What It Is You Want Them To Do: What’s the purpose to your spiel?  How should they react to your statement?  Should they join your ministry?  Sign their kid up for the camp?  What direction are you trying to send them in?  Know where it is you want to send them before you tell them anything.
  • How To Put It In One Sentence: In an elevator ride chances are you only have a few minutes.  If you can explain your ministry, event or opportunity in a sentence or two you won’t lose them in the details.  Condensing your pitch into a sentence will force you to be clear and concrete because you won’t waste a word.
  • How To Make It Memorable: When you take your time to explain everything you sometimes explain too much.  The goal is to make it attractive enough so that they want more.  If you make it memorable they’ll have questions, and that’s when you can fill in the blanks.  Get them interested by making your message compelling.
Again, it’s not the most attractive exercise; however, if you can lay down in a sentence or two your vision, mission, purpose or general ministry then people will begin to listen and then pursue.  We live in a noisy world, and to get your message out there you need to make sure you craft it, tweak it and practice.  It’s through clear communication that people begin to invest and pour into your ministry.  

What other steps do you take to clearly communicate the bottom line?