Student Ministry and Divorce: Get the story

Your students have stories about what happened to their family. They can tell you why mom and dad split up. They can tell you how weird it is living with a new brother or sister. They can tell you how they hate living out of a suitcase.

What you could easily do is go about your Sunday morning or Wednesday night and not really worry about the details. You could just be thankful that the students are here (this week at least because it’s not the week they go visit their other parent) and jump into your lesson without knowing their story.

As their minister, let me challenge you to know your student’s story.

It won’t be easy. You’ll have to make a lot of appointments with parents who may no be willing to give you the details. You’ll have to have some pretty awkward conversations with students about how they are handling the divorce, both when it happens, a year afterwards, and even six years down the road when they are still putting the pieces together about how it all works.

It’s messy business.

But if you plan on ministering to these students and their families well, you’re going to need to do some digging to get the history.
This is my challenge to you: get the story.

*This is an excerpt from my book: Student Ministry and Divorce: 4 Ways to Help Hurting Families.

Student Ministry #fail – Warm Bodies

Maybe you’ve heard the expression that all some volunteers need to be is a warm body?

Aka, someone who is actually alive.

There was a time in my ministry where I would have taken someone with a moderately lukewarm body.

I’ve never been really awesome at seeking out volunteers. I love it when I have them, but when it comes to recruiting volunteers to serve as small group leaders I really struggled early on.

And so whenever someone said they were “interested in helping with the kids” they would be given a copy of that month’s curriculum and shoved into a room of eight 7th grade boys.

Can you say “recipe for disaster?”

Your students and your church deserve your efforts in interviewing and vetting potential leaders.

Here’s what I should have done back then, and what I currently do to bring on volunteers. I wish I had a cool acronym, but IBISO isn’t actually a word. Sorry.

Interest

This is the phase where someone approaches you and says they are thinking about serving in student ministry. This could also be when you approach someone else to see if they want to begin serving because you see potential in them.

Background Check

Your church’s reputation will thank you down the road that you did this step and found out that the new person to your congregation has a history of “helping” with the student ministries of other churches. This is not an option. This is a requirement. My church takes it a step further and says that a volunteer can’t serve in any capacity until their background check has been in the church’s possession for a full two weeks.

Interview

Have a sit down interview with the potential volunteer. Ask them their testimony, their story, and why they want to serve in student ministry.  Make your expectations clear at this point. How long are you asking them to serve? In what capacity? What happens when they need to be out of town? What are the church policies? Line out your vision for the student minister here as well.

Don’t hold back. You want them to completely understand what they’re signing up for. That way you can reference this conversation later down the road if neccesary.

Shadow

Set a period of time where this potential volunteer shadows another veteran for a time. Maybe it’s one month, maybe its three. You want them to be “in it” before they make their final decision and before you make yours. They may be an awesome person, who can’t connect with students whatsoever.

You also want them to see how you “do student ministry.” If they disagree with the fundamentals of something you do, having them on your team may be more harmful than helpful later on.

Having them shadow works out any of the potential kinks that may hinder their service to the ministry.

Offer/Affirmation

After they are done with their shadowing, have a follow-up. You may find that they are no longer willing to help out in the capacity they thought they wanted to. You may find out you don’t want them to help out. They may be better helping out with the student ministry in a way that doesn’t involve…students.

Either way, this is your chance to encourage them if you both are still good to go and give them the offer for a set time.

But This is A Lot of Work

Take it from a guy who has failed when it comes to volunteers in the past. This may seem like a lot of work. Doing it this way will save you a lot of heartache and headache down the road if your interview process can be summed up in one question: “When can you start?”

Don’t just settle for a warm body.

Do the work on the front end and you’ll find out that you have a stellar team surrounding you. It’ll be worth every minute!

Student Ministry and Divorce: The Dropping Divorce Rate

Let’s get some things settled on this topic pretty quickly. First, the divorce rate in America is not 50%. That’s an urban myth. Most people come by that stat by looking at the numbers and misreading what they mean. For example: in 1990 there were 2,443,000 marriages and 1,182,000 divorces[i]. A little math on my smart phone tells me that there were almost half as many divorces in 1990 as there were marriages.

THE INSTITUTION OF MARRIAGE IS OVER!

Hold your horses.

What this table does NOT show is how many marriages existed before 1990. The only we see in this table is how many new marriages were performed. In fact, there were 54 million preexisting marriages in 1990[ii].

Yes, 1 million divorces are bad. But 1 million is not half of 54 million. That’s bad math.

And, current statistics show that divorces are slowing in recent years, not gaining speed[iii].

For another fact that’ll make your day a little brighter is that those who are active in their faith are much less likely to divorce than those who are “nominal” Christ followers.

Just because charts are cool, check this one out[i]:

Faith Affiliation, % Divorce Likelihood Reduction

Protestant – Nominal, 20%

Protestant – Conservative, -10%

Protestant – Active Conservative, -35%

Catholic, -18%

Catholic (nominal), -5%

Catholic – Active, -31%

Jewish, 39%

Jewish (nominal), 53%

Jewish – Active, -97%

This is from W. Bradford Wilcox, a leading sociologist at the University of Virginia and director of the National Marriage Project. What the numbers mean is this: A nominal protestant is 20 % MORE likely to divorce than the average American who claims no religion. However, the Conservative Protestant is 10 % less likely to get a divorce than Average Joe American. An Active Conservative is a whopping 35 % less likely to get a divorce!

So, by this data, we can actually see that being a Christian, an active one who attends church, is much less likely to get a divorce than someone who is only nominally involved or not involved at all!

So on one end, the data we’ve been told by many teachers who mean well is wrong and damaging to the cause of Christ. If it’s really true that Christians are divorcing at the same rate as the world, then Jesus doesn’t actually change many lives like He claims.

Mini rant over.

But even if the general population’s divorce rate is going down AND being active in your faith highly increases your chance of avoiding divorce, there’s still one issue that needs your thoughts:

Your students whose parents are divorced don’t care.

*This is an excerpt from my book: Student Ministry and Divorce: 4 Ways to Help Hurting Families. Continue reading

The Elves of Talgel: A New Fantasy Book

The Elves of TalgelI published Wayward, my first fantasy novel, in February of this year. It’s been a really fun ride going from some guy who wanted to write a book, to some guy who wrote a book.

Well, I’ve got another for any who like elves and goblins and stuff.

It’s called “The Elves of Talgel” and is half as long (40,000 words or so if you care to know) and is supposed to take place 100 years before the events in Wayward. If you’d like to receive an email every time I release a new book, you can sign-up here.

If you’re interested, you can find out all you need to know and more here.

If not, don’t worry. Student ministry and family posts will resume as normal soon.

And now, the back of the book:

“Aldor of Talgel could complain about his life. His parents died when he was young, his marriage has not resulted in the children he longs for, and he belongs to one of the least important houses of elves in the kingdom of Londorwin. But as a proud elf and warrior, in love with his wife and his country, he devotes his service to the kingdom that has been his home.

Invasion is stirring in the north: War drums beat loud over the horizon, heralding the coming gray horde. The northern trolls have allied with goblins of the mountains to push into elven territory and beyond–and the Elders of Talgel have foreseen a dire outcome if the elves stand alone. Called away from home, Aldor follows his general without question on a critical mission to forge an alliance before it’s too late.

Until now elves and men have been content to leave each other alone, with little accord between their kingdoms. The men of the south are proud and capable, but not yet in immediate peril. Convincing them to stand with a race they haven’t sought unity with for over a hundred years seems all but impossible–but for all of Londorwin, it is their best hope against the coming storm.

The Elves of Talgel is a short novel in the Legends of Gilia, set before the events of Wayward.”

Student Ministry #fail: Trying to be the Pastor

“I love it when you preach!”

“I wish our pastor had as much passion as you do.”

“When are you going to be a senior pastor?”

“You’ve got such great ideas! Our church could use them!”

Maybe you’ve been on the receiving end on some of those statements. Some I’ve heard. Some I’ve heard other student pastors tell me they’ve heard.

All of them are dangerous if not treated with caution.

The truth of the matter is, I am currently the student pastor at my church. Specifically, the student pastor to middle school students.

Guess what that means?

Being the senior pastor is not in my job description.

But early on in my ignorance and in my pride, I thought that if I was given the chance, I wouldn’t do a half bad job of being the head guy. I could preach. I did it every Wednesday night. I could make hospital visits. I did every Friday. I could have a vision for the church to follow. I made one for the student ministry. If I’d be given the reins, I could boost attendance, calm the quarrels, and make the church a booming success and a great asset to the Kingdom of God!

I’ve since become smarter (if only slightly so).

Now you may go to a church where everyone absolutely loves the senior pastor and there is no question whether or not he should be in charge. Not everyone does. Some churches are split (literally and figuratively) on who should be the pastor. And many can tend to think that the student pastor would be a good candidate.

Parents. Students. Grandparents. Former students who still attend your church.

The longer you stay in your spot as the student pastor, the more people you will be able to influence to think that you’d make a good head pastor.

Unless your church is actively searching out a senior pastor and you actually want the job (after spending a long time in prayer), back off.

Your church hired you to be the student pastor. That’s it. Sure, sometimes that means you visit sick people in the hospital. Sometimes you do funerals. Sometimes you may even preach to the whole congregation. Don’t let those small and far between opportunities to minister to a different age group cause you to think you could do the pastor’s job.

I’ve been in ministry long enough to know that the pastor has to deal with so much more than preaching on Sunday mornings and making a few hospital visits. I also know that God has not given me a passion to be the head guy. I’ve been called to play second fiddle to the pastor’s lead (actually, in our org chart it’s more like 5th fiddle, but I digress).

If you’re the student pastor: be the student pastor.

Answer these questions if you’re having trouble deciding whether or not God is calling you to the role senior pastor.

You have been called to serve the senior pastor and his vision. Is it difficult to serve under the pastor’s vision? It may be time to consider if it’s your heart or your calling changing.

Would you consider being the head pastor at any church, or is it just the church you are currently employed at?

Would you be willing to have a face to face conversation with the head pastor about your desire to pastor? If not, back off.

Do you enjoy when people say you preached a great sermon? Remember that you probably had way more time to prepare than your pastor does. He gets a week if he’s lucky. You probably had a month. Plus, little Miss Gertrude who said you did an excellent job was probably just being nice or glad to hear a fresh voice.

Do you wish that you were spending more time with adults than ministering to students? It may be time to think about whether or not God is calling you out of student ministry.

Student Ministry and Divorce: When the numbers don’t matter

Numbers don’t mean much when you’re looking into the face of someone who just told you that their parents are getting a divorce. What was once a statistic is now a student you care deeply for. Who cares if the divorce rate is low? It’s affected this student personally and so now, the ball is in your court.

How many students in your ministry have parents who are divorced?

How will you respond when you first hear the news of a student whose parents are splitting?

What does your ministry do to help students going through divorce?

How do you interact with the now split household?

What happens when the parents remarry?

What about step-brothers and step-sisters?

How will you minister to these families that are now broken?

That’s what this book is primarily about. The numbers are important because it shows us the trends of culture and American lives. What we do when it becomes a reality for a student in our ministry is something that matters more than a stat. It’s also something we can actually do something about!

*This is an excerpt from my book: Student Ministry and Divorce: 4 Ways to Help Hurting Families.

Student Ministry #fail: Begging from the Pulpit

You know you’ve done this before.

The mission trip is in one week and your adult to student ratio is dangerously high. So, you do what any youth minister who forgot to hustle months before does: you make the general announcement.

Now general announcements aren’t bad really. In fact, I know some churches that if it isn’t said from the pulpit on Sunday morning, it didn’t happen (or won’t happen in the future). Never mind the newsletter, website, twitter account, announcement slide, hand out, and two separate emails. No Sunday morning pulpit announcement? It’s not going on at church.

The problem with the general announcement for adult volunteers to help support the student ministry is that it says that anyone can play, and that just can’t be.

Case in point.

I needed a driver for a trip BADLY. And to make things more interesting, according to our church policies, I was too young to drive any vehicle with students in it. Awesome. So I called the four people who could drive the giant church bus. A month before we were supposed to go on the week long trip.

One month out.

Most employers won’t even give vacation time if it’s asked a month out.

But fortunately, the fifth driver I called was retired. And yes, that’s correct math. Our church had four drivers. Two of which most of the time did the driving. Both of which couldn’t. Neither could the other two church members. Leaving me to outsource, not just the driving, but the chaperoning, to a man who was a friend of someone in our church.

Do you see the potential issue here?

Student pastors:

The all call from the pulpit is a bad way to get volunteers for student ministry. You don’t want those who are only willing. You want adults who love students, love Jesus, and are fantastic volunteers.

When you make the pulpit announcement, you’ll get whoever says they have a free week.

Instead of hoping that adult volunteers will fall into your lap, make sure you’re hustling 6 months out to get your chaperones and leaders in place.

Not only could the consequences be that your driver doesn’t really enjoy students (at all), but you could run into some bigger issues that I’ll discuss later.

Don’t wait.

Get your chaperones in line a good 6 months out.

What have been your week long trip volunteer horror stories?

Divorce: It’s An Issue

Divorce is an issue.

But it’s one that’s not as trendy as others.

It’s not the newest crisis teenagers are facing today. It has very little to do with being online, drug use, social media, life threatening eating habits, binge drinking, or sexuality.

I’m not minimizing those by any stretch.

But those issues seem to get youth ministers and parents hyped up. They’re the current trends, the recent developments, the ones on the news.

Divorce has become old hat. The norm. “The way things are.”

Here’s the problem: divorce is a big issue to those going through it. To the student, it’s life changing. To the parent, it’s the end of what they had dreamt when they first married. To the community, it’s taking sides and gossiping about who’s at fault, why things went south, and what new relationships will occur.

So where does that land you, the student minister?

If you don’t have students in your youth group who are going through a divorce situation, are living with only one parent because of a divorce, or have been affected by divorce in one way or another, I’d be very surprised.

Divorce is an issue.

And it’s one that we, as student ministers, need to understand and address if we are to minister to the students God has given us well.

ebook

*This is an excerpt from my book: Student Ministry and Divorce: 4 Ways to Minister to Hurting Families.

Student Ministry #fail

hastagfailI don’t know many student pastors who would say that they are perfect.

But I know of at least one who thought he was.

At first.

Seven years in student ministry has certainly taught me a lot. I wish I could say that I learned by listening every time advice was given to me.

The truth of the matter is that I learned a lot of my lessons by failing. I might even go so far as to add “failing in a HUGE way.”

For the next couple weeks I’m going to highlight some of my more spectacular failures and what I could have done differently in retrospect.

As my pastor would say: Learn from my dumb taxes.

Take a moment to read and to gain some insight into student ministry and how it can be done right (and how I did it all so wrong at times).

PS – That student pastor (me) no longer thinks he is without fault. He fails now with the understanding that it was coming sooner or later.

Student Ministry and Divorce

ebook“Everyone is ministering to students of divorce. No one is doing it well.”

Doug Fields – Veteran Student Minister

I heard the quote above awhile back and it hit me that I may not be doing everything I can be to minister to students whose family has gone through, or is going through, a divorce.

The community I served in seemed particularly devastated by divorce. Several students came from families with only one parent, or one biological and one step parent.

And I wasn’t trying to reach them.

At least I wasn’t trying to reach them in a way that was different than the other students I had.

So I set out to change that.

What I found are four ways you can help a student and their family in your ministry.

This project has been a long time in the making and I’m so glad it’s finally ready.

I’ve also included tips from other veteran student pastors who are doing a way better job than I was originally.

In addition to these four ways, I wanted to share what the Bible had to say on the topic of divorce and a profile of a family I served. Keeping the Biblical perspective and personal story of my students in mind helped me shape the four ways I outline in the book.

Plus, I give practical steps along the way to help you figure out how to better reach the students in your own church who are going through a divorce.

If this resource is helpful to you, I’d love to know about it! Write a review or share in the comment section.

Interested?

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