Snapcash is a thing. So talk about it.

I have high hopes for the students I get the privilege of ministering to. I really do.
Routinely I watch them serve in amazing ways all over our church campus on a Sunday morning: in our coffee shop, in the nursery, in the parking lot, and even running the projection program, lights and sound in the middle school room.

That’s right, every student I’m bragging on is 11-14 years old.

They’re amazing.

But I really need to talk with their parents.

Not in a “Come to me office, you’re in trouble mister,” kind of way. Being a parent of three (smallish) girls has taught me a lot about how much I know about parenting teenagers.

Zilch.

But, being a student pastor, it’s certainly my job to ensure that parents are equipped to raise their kids well and set them up for success.

So that when an app known for:
1. Being used to send nude pics of oneself to friends/strangers
2. Leaking said nude pics to various websites and other willing participants
3. Denying that the purpose of their app is based in the idea that what is temporary doesn’t matter
Says that they are adding on a new feature that allows cash transactions between their users, I cringe. The implications of that ability to pay someone for a pic are far reaching to say the least.

So, as a student pastor, I know it’s my job to encourage parents to talk to their kids about what’s going on.

Let me be clear here to parents and students alike: I think you’re both really intelligent and capable.

But parents, I wish you would be a student of your students. As in, study what’s going on in student culture and find ways to really get “into” their world by whatever means necessary. Have conversations with your kids about what their internet habits are. Be in the know about what apps are on their phone. Don’t take a hands off approach here. There’s too much at stake.

Hear me, I’m not advocating taking away a kid’s smartphone because there’s “bad stuff out there.” That mentality leads to a life of fear and shutting kids away in their rooms with only a Bible and a TV loaded with the latest bunch of Christian movies.

But what I am saying is do what it takes to know what’s on your student’s mind, their hearts, and yes, even their phones.
And students, know this: Your parents are smarter than you give them credit for. When they set rules and boundaries for you, 99 times out of 100 they are right on target and have your best interest in mind. And that last 1 time is the time when you should do what they say out of respect, even if you think they’re way off base.

My main point here?

Parents, talk to your kids about their hearts and their habits. Find out what they are up to. Be involved in their for real lives as well as their digital lives.

And, coming from a former student who had parents and was quite capable of lying, don’t leave it at one conversation. Have conversations with your students about important things often. And sometimes, be a little pushy if you think they aren’t being 100% honest. They’ll thank you later.

Students, listen to what your parents have to say. Don’t lie to them. It’ll be better for you in the long run.

And student pastors, do your part. Inform parents of what you’re learning about student culture. Challenge students to be salt and light in a dark world.

And for the sake of everyone, don’t send money over Snapchat.

Picture credit.

Selfie: Three Week Student Series

selfie

I just uploaded a new series I did last year to my “Lessons” page. It’s free, so feel free to use it, change it up, and make it apply to your ministry! Click the picture to get the dropbox folder!

Series Overview:

Selfies are pictures taken of yourself, generally using a phone camera and then uploaded to social media. Students take these to show themselves looking their best, looking their worst, to show that they were at a location at a specific time and sometimes for no reason at all.

What this series seeks to do is give the students a snapshot of what the Bible has to say about them. When they take a selfie, they are trying to define themselves. What we want for them is to be defined by God and His standards.

Lessons:

  • Be a Kid (A lesson in humility)
  • Created (A lesson on what it means to be made by God)
  • Loved (A lesson about being loved by God)

Go Again

Then the Lord said to me, “Go again; show love to a woman who is loved by another man and is an adulteress, just as the Lord loves the Israelites though they turn to other gods and love raisin cakes.”
Hosea 3:1

I’m finishing up a small group guide to Hosea and I’m just blown away by this verse.

Hosea isn’t told to go put up with his adulterous wife.

He isn’t told to break it off because it would be better for the kids to not be around their cheating mother.

He’s not even told to bring her back into her home and hold her adultery over her head for the rest of her life.

He’s told to go and love her again.

I can’t get over that this is how God loves us. We ran away from Him. We’re the ones who are far away. But instead of shame and guilt, we are given life abundantly.

What an awesome God we serve. I’m in awe of His love.

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?