5 Best Decisions About Planning a Retreat

5 Best Decisions About Planning a Retreat

When I started out in Student Ministry over 13 years ago, I knew what I didn’t know, and one of the things I knew I didn’t know was how to put together an effective weekend retreat.  So, naturally, I looked around for retreats or weekend conferences I could just take my students to.  Although, it was a lot easier, logistically on my end, I realized how difficult it was to find a retreat or conference that was what my students needed.  So after 8 years of trying conference after conference, and after declining attendance to those conferences, I decided to try my hand at planning our own retreat.

I’ve now done 6 years of our Fall Retreat, and throughout those years, I have been able to adjust and make decisions that have made our retreat one of the best and most anticipated things we do during the year.  We have also seen our attendance increase by over 400% from our last conference we attended 7 years ago, to this past year’s retreat we did on our own.

So, here are 5 of the best decisions our team has made when planning our Fall Retreat:

1.  Get Small Group Leader Buy-In.

This one is huge!  The success of our retreat is tied heavily to our small group leaders buying into going on the retreat.  I tell all of our new leaders when I meet with them to block off the 2nd weekend of November for our retreat.  Each year, we have about 95% of our leaders attend.  This does a few things:  1) It makes it easier to promote, as all of our small group leaders promote within the group, and it becomes a small group emphasis. 2) It gives us plenty of van drivers, and 3) It speeds up small group bonding having 33 hours together with the students.  Throughout the weekend, we give 3 specific times where small groups meet together to discuss.  Any new student that comes on the retreat also gets exposed to a small group, and hopefully, connected for when they get home.

Oh, and in order to get Small Group Leaders to Buy-In, make sure you “Buy” their retreat for them!

2.   Hold the Retreat Over a Saturday & Sunday.

This may not seem like a big deal, but I quickly realized that having a retreat over a Saturday/Sunday, as opposed to Friday/Saturday, or even Friday-Sunday was a big deal.  When we would leave on Friday, we lost a large portion of adult leaders due to work.  Whether they were rushing to get off work in time or getting their kids squared away, leaving on Friday was a headache.  Fridays also posed a headache for students and families, due to Friday night sports, parents getting off work, etc.

When we changed to Saturday/Sunday, the floodgates opened!

We also made sure the retreat location was not too far, so we didn’t waste time driving.  While 33 hours doesn’t seem like enough time to have an effective retreat, when planned accurately, it’s plenty of time!  Keeping the retreat at 2 days also cuts down on the costs, which is always appreciated by families.

3.  Tie the Theme of the Retreat in with Weekly Programming.

This is just something that helps bridge the retreat to our weekly programming.  We essentially treat the retreat as 3 worship sessions and 3 small group sessions.  And then our team plans a 4-week series, using the 4th session as our final week of programming in November.  It ties the retreat in well, and gets students a little more excited to come back on the final week, which has a little bit of a retreat feel to it.

4.  Connect Summer Camp/Conference to the Retreat.

This can be something really simple.  Each year at our Summer Conference, our students write a “Letter to God.”  In the letter they capture how God challenged them, what He revealed to them, and how they are changed.  They seal those letters up, and we hold on to them until the Fall Retreat, where we give them an opportunity during quiet time to open them and reflect on the journey they’ve been on for the last 5 months.  It can be a really powerful thing for them to read what they wrote and talk about it in their groups.

5.  Keep It In-House, if Possible.

Our first retreat, I hired a speaker and a band.  It was a waste of money.  The speaker was good, but the students didn’t know him, and in a setting where it’s only our church, it became more of a barrier.  So, we now do our own worship and teaching.  We save a lot of money, and the students don’t have to spend time getting to know us.  The retreat becomes an extension of our programming.

Each year, we learn of something else we can do to make it better, but hopefully you can get a head start with these ideas!

Dealing with the Highs & Lows of Student Ministry

Happy Sad

If you’ve been in Student Ministry for longer than 2 days, then chances are you’ve experienced the emotional & spiritual roller coaster that comes with the job.  It might even start on Day 1…”Woohoo, I have a job!”  “Oh no, this is what I get paid?!”  Or possibly it’s a season, where attendance is high, support is strong, and you are just sitting by the phone waiting for a call from North Point.  Then there’s the season were attendance is low, apathy is high, and there’s a loud minority of complaining parents, and you update your resume on a weekly basis and wonder if UPS is hiring.

The problem, not just in Student Ministry, but in ministry altogether, is we too often desperately look to other people rather than God for approval and appreciation.  And it’s fun when it comes our way, but it’s depressing when it doesn’t.  And when it doesn’t come from other people, we can be our own biggest cheerleader or biggest critic.  The voices in our head tells us we are the best or the worst depending on circumstances.

Here are a few ways I’ve learned over the years to keep a level head in ministry:

1.  Don’t let circumstances or events determine your success or failure.

I’ve been there many times.  We have a highly successful event and I’m waiting for my pay raise to come next month.  I have a terrible event, and I question my calling.  It’s natural…and it’s sad.

Instead of focusing on circumstances or events, focus on methods and vision.  Everyone is going to have a dud event, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you have a dud ministry.  Events are a means to an end.  Our goal is to make stronger disciples of Jesus, not to have 1,000 people at a Nerf Wars.  Keep the big picture the big picture.

Where we can get in trouble is focusing on the inconsequential things so much that we pour time, energy, and budget money into it, in order to feel successful, not necessarily to make stronger disciples of Jesus.

If circumstances, events, and programs are always a failure in your mind, go back to the big picture drawing board.  Get the 10,000 foot view, get out of the weeds, and maybe start over.  The big picture drawing board always starts with prayer, and when that’s absent, you are definitely on your way to a dud ministry.

One thing I always keep in mind, is that God can remove me whenever He wants, and God can put anyone He wants in a position of leadership.  None of us deserve to be where we are.  We are here by the grace of God.  I do not deserve to be where I am, and I know it can be taken away at any time.  I also know that someone else can do my job and many can do it better.  But I’m honored that God has me where He has me, and I’m going to believe that it’s for a reason.  This keeps me grounded in what I get to do and how I get to serve God doing it.

Remember, the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.  Of course, God may be calling you somewhere different, but make sure you are running towards that calling, and not just away from a circumstance.

Make sure you’re running towards a calling and not just away from a circumstance.

2.  Don’t let a few loud voices determine your value.

Some people have a gift of complaining.  They’re really good at it.  And they do it really loud.  Often times the things that stick with us are the loud things.  But that can be true on the positive side as well.  Typically there are 5% that think you’re the best youth pastor on the planet, and 5% that think you should be fired immediately.  Which means there’s about 90% that we don’t hear from.  That’s obviously a majority, but we all too often focus on the 5% bad or good, which are extremes.

Don’t let the highs get to your head, and don’t let the lows get to your heart.

And let’s be honest, we’re biased.  We take a defensive posture when the negatives come at us, and we join in the praising (at least in our head) when the positives come at us.

3.  Regularly evaluate your ministry from an unbiased position.

I don’t know exactly what this may look like for you, but it’s crucial that you are always evaluating from an unbiased position.  This may mean having a core team of people that can be brutally honest with you, that you trust.  This may mean surveying leaders, students, or parents regarding the ministry.  Evaluate every trip and event.  Regularly evaluate your programming.  Make changes where changes need to be made.  Bring church leadership into the process.  Keep them updated, not just on the what you are doing, but the WHY you are doing it.  When church leadership understand your WHY, they will have your back and go to bat for you.  When they don’t know the why, they can’t back you up.  They may want to, but they don’t understand they why.

When people see that you are consistently open and evaluating, they will know you’re fighting for the ministry and not just yourself.

4.  Stay rooted in Christ.

This should be a given, but all too often it’s not.  If you are consistently praying for guidance and direction, ultimately God has your back.  And if He brought you to it, He’ll lead you through it.  The question we will always have to confront is, “Did God bring me to it, or did I bring myself to it?”  Consistent time in God’s Word and in prayer are crucial to staying level.  Our ministries will always need course corrections, and we get those directions from God.

The more level you stay spiritually and emotionally, the less the hills and valleys will impact you in an unhealthy way.

How are some ways you’ve stayed level-headed in ministry?

HOW Short-Term Mission Trips in Student Ministry? (PART 2)

HOW Short-Term Mission Trips in Student Ministry? (PART 2)

If you haven’t read Part 1 of this post, click here to read WHY Short-Term Mission Trips in Student Ministry.  In that post, we covered why it’s important to do short-term mission trips in Student Ministry.  But how do we plan a trip, especially if we don’t have a large budget?  What if I told you, we do 3 high school mission trips every year on a budget of $500 total?  It can be done!  It may take a little work, but the payout is well worth it.

1.  Do you want to go through an organization or plan it yourself?

There are many positives and negatives to planning your own mission trip or going through an organization that plans it all for you.  If you decide to go through an organization, you may be tied to only the dates that the organization offers.  The positives of going through an organization are, the details of the trip are planned for you, and the elements of the trip are most likely top-notch, due to the professionalism and staff of the organization.  Negatives of going through an organization could be pricing – typically mission trips are a lot pricier through organizations due to all they have to pay for, including staffing.  Another negative could be lack of flexibility – dates and locations are set, schedules are set, not much room for wiggle.  If you do decide to plan your own mission trip, know that it will take more work, but ultimately will be your own experience at a much lower cost.  The rest of this post will pertain more to planning your own trip without going through an organization that plans the trip for you.

2.  When do you want your trip to be?

The next thing you need to do is figure out when is the best time to do a mission trip.  Traditionally, student mission trips are taken during the summer, but they don’t have to be.  Maybe the summer is the best time for your students, but maybe it’s not.  Spring Break could be a great time to do one, especially if you live in a town with one school district or if all of your school districts are on the same Spring Break.  The upsides to a spring mission trip are, you don’t crowd the summer, you space out your big trips (assuming you do summer camp), and you don’t overprice the summer.  I actually do our mission trips over Spring Break, even though we have many school districts on different breaks.  While I realize it may not be convenient for everyone who is not on break, we still try to make it work for them, knowing that, for us, spreading out huge trips during the year is more effective than piling them all up in the summer.  When is the most effective time of the year to focus on a mission trip?

3.  How long do you want your trip to be?

There’s no right answer to this.  Some trips may be better being a week long, some may be better being 4 days.  I think it depends on where you go.  For our out-of-country mission trip, we go for 8 days to get the fullest experience possible.  For our in-country trips, they are 4 days and within a 5-hour drive.  This helps students who are not on Spring Break miss only 2 or 3 days of school max.  We have learned that we can accomplish everything we want to accomplish and experience what we want to experience in that amount of time, and it still be a life-changing trip.

4.  Where do you want to go?

This question will also answer the questions of who do you want to go, and how much do you want it to cost.  Obviously the further the trip and the longer the trip, the more it will cost.  We take our Seniors overseas, which is more expensive due to flights and the length of the trip, but for everyone else, we try to give them the best missions experience at the lowest cost possible.  So, when deciding where to go, I want to be able to get there within a half a day, so we can use the other half for whatever we want.  We have narrowed our cities within 5 hours to Nashville, Indianapolis, Chicago & Kansas City.  Some great experiences can be had, and some great work can be done in big cities like this.  There are typically a lot of options.

5.  What do you want to do?

What do you want your students to experience?  For me, I usually want our students to get a good mix of both hard work and relational work.  Knowing that we have almost 3 full days in a city, I decide how much of hard work vs. relational work I want them to experience.  You may want all hard, grunt work, or you may want all relational work.  One of the things I also want to do during a trip is experience the city.  We typically carve out a few hours to be tourists.  Eat, shop, whatever!

6.  Call a church in the area to partner with.

The thing about short-term mission trips is, you swoop in and swoop out with little lasting impact.  But if you can find a church in the area you’re going to in order to partner with, there can be lasting impact!  Local churches already have relationships with local ministries and organizations.  Plus local churches are a great place to call base camp for your group.  Sleep on the floor in classrooms, and have a place to gather and re-group during the week.

7.  Call local organizations to partner with.

Whether it’s through a local church or local organizations, begin to piece together your schedule by finding places to serve.  For example, you could serve one organization for the entirety of your trip, or you could serve two different places each day.  Monday could be a Food Bank in the morning and an after-school day care in the afternoon.  You could do a homeless shelter in the morning and a disaster relief organization in the afternoon. It definitely takes more leg work on your end to plan a trip like this, but once you’ve done it, it becomes easier to do it year after year.

8.  Put together your schedule and logistics.

Once you have pieced together where your serving, free time, etc., you can make a master schedule.  Some logistics to think about, where will all your meals come from?  We will typically take care of all of their breakfasts & lunches, but have them pay for their dinners.  The day we arrive, a couple of leaders will hit up a grocery store to shop for breakfast and lunch food.  It’s amazing how many people you can feed from a store for not very much money!  For dinners, we will typically go out somewhere and enjoy a meal.  The great thing about going through organizations and staying at churches is, it keeps your costs down.  Aside from donations, your main costs are for transportation and meals.  We can easily do a 4-day mission trip to Chicago for $150/person.  If you would like a breakdown of how much we budget for a trip like this and for all the things we spend money on, let me know!

Our ministry takes 3 simultaneous trips during Spring Break.  There is a Freshman trip to a rural Children’s Home, a Sophomore/Junior trip to a large city, and a Senior trip to Haiti.  Once the week is over, we have a Reflection Night where all teams come together to celebrate and share testimonies of what God did during Mission Week.  Contact me if you want more info on how we do these trips!

What are some mission trips you’ve taken?  Do you typically go through organizations or plan them out yourself?


WHY Short-Term Mission Trips in Student Ministry? (PART 1)

WHY Short-Term Mission Trips in Student Ministry? (PART 1)

Mission trips, in general, are a very interesting concept within the local church.  There has been criticism that mission trips don’t do enough good, as in they are not worth the amount of money spent to go on them.  For example, taking a team of 15 to another country for 7 days could cost $2,000/person, which would be a total of $30,000.  Would it be better to raise the $30,000 and use that money to aid the people of the country you were going to visit?  How much impact can a team of Americans really have in a 7 day span anyway?  How deep can relationships get in 7 days, only to never see one another again?  I think these are all great questions, but I also want to give my reasoning for why short-term mission trips, especially in Student Ministry, are worth the time, sacrifice, and money.  See Part 2 of the post, “How” Short-Term Mission Trips in Student Ministry.

1. To EXPOSE Students to Missions

What future would-be missionaries do you have in your ministry that don’t become missionaries because they’ve never experienced missions?

The truth is, students that going into missions or decide to become missionaries, typically do so, because of an experience they’ve had in missions.  There aren’t many people that become missionaries having never gone on a short-term mission trip.  So, while short-term mission trips may not change the world, long-term missionaries do, and long-term missionaries come from short-term mission trips!  I also believe the younger you get exposed to missions, the more inclined you will be to continue going on mission trips as you get older.

2. To EXPERIENCE God Outside Their Life Bubble

Without the mission trip experience, most students will go through their entire adolescence with only one view of God:  the God they experience in their life, in their home, in the town or city they live in.  Mission trips tend to broaden a student’s view of God, when they see the heartache and pain and poverty and likewise, the faith, the perseverance, and resourcefulness of people not like them.  We always hear how the people going on mission trips are the ones who are usually impacted more than the ones they’re going to serve.  That’s usually true, and as youth pastors, I believe that’s also a valid reason to take your students.

Yes, we want to serve others and make an impact for Christ, but yes, I also want my students to be impacted and for their lives to change!

3. To ENGAGE in Serving Others

I want our students to get to the point where they don’t have to wait for the youth pastor to plan a serving event to serve, but where serving is on their radar consistently.

The more opportunities students have to serve others, the more they see the need to serve others.

I also believe in order for serving to be on their radar consistently, we need to plan serving events/trips for them to engage in serving regularly.  We typically do a good job preaching and teaching about serving others, so when that’s paired with actually doing it, I believe it starts to sink in.  Mission trips are a great way for students to see a need and make an impact.  And while this can happen with service projects, service projects don’t typically have the impact that mission trips have.

I did not take students on one single mission trip my first 6 years of Student Ministry.  I regret that.

Because now I’ve seen the impact that mission trips have had on our students these last 6 years.  I’ve seen students return to these place on their own.  I’ve seen students do internships overseas that probably would’ve never happened.  I’ve seen students get plugged into serving locally as a result.  I cannot imagine not going on a mission trip every single year, and our students can’t imagine that either!

Be sure to check out the next post of HOW to plan short-term trips (that don’t break the budget or the calendar)!

In your mission trip experiences, what are some of the why’s you would give for doing them?

3 Ways to Keep Seniors Engaged in Youth Group

3 Ways to  Keep Seniors Engaged in Youth Group

Student Ministry can be emotionally draining.  One of the reasons it’s so draining, is because every summer, you have to say goodbye to students you’ve had for several years.  Students you’ve come to know and like really well, students you’ve poured into for years, students who have been leaders in the ministry, and even babysitters to your own children.  I truly dislike the month of July for this reason:  watching people you like and deeply care for leave your ministry all while wondering how much of them you’ll see again.  I believe, as youth pastors, we need to make sure we are doing a good job transitioning seniors out of our ministry, and into the next phase of life.  My goals for seniors, are to see them stand on their own faith, while contributing faithfully to the Church themselves.  (You can read more about that here.)  I think it’s crucial to be very intentional their final year in student ministry.

1. Make it Count

It is so easy for seniors to check out their final year.  Many of them check out of school, so naturally, they can tend to check out of youth group as well.  And often, we as youth pastors let them.  We may even have the attitude of letting them go, because we don’t expect them to stay as engaged as the rest of the students.  We may think to just turn our attention and focus to the younger ones who are more engaged.  This is especially true for student ministries that have middle school & high school combined.  So, let’s re-engage them into the ministry as well as into the overall church body.  Give them leadership responsibilities within the ministry.  Give them areas to serve in the church.  The more they are involved in the leadership of ministry and the church, the more ownership they will have, even when they graduate.

Don’t check out on them, or they will for sure check out on you!

When the goal in high school ministry is to have students graduate standing on their own faith, we do a tremendous disservice to them when we check out on them.  Pour even more energy into seniors!  Meet with some regularly.  They have more freedom than any other students, so you have the freedom to do more with them.  Make their senior year count!

2. Make it Memorable

I want our Seniors to make the most memories their senior year.

I want them leaving our student ministry with awesome memories and not just itching to move on.

So, I believe in doing some things their final year to make those lasting memories.  One of the things that we do is a Seniors Only Mission Trip in March of their final semester.  All the other high school students also have the opportunity to go on mission trips, but the only one that we do out of the country is for seniors only.  The reason this is so memorable, is that prep for this trip starts in October.  So for essentially the entire school year, we are prepping and meeting for our trip in March.  There’s a lot of bonding that takes place, and it’s multiplied exponentially when we spend 8 days together out of the country.  The mission trip itself is a good mixture of work, but also group time.  It’s a great opportunity to spend time each night talking about the future, looking back at the past, and making tons of memories.  It’s amazing to see how engaged these seniors are, especially their final 3-4 months upon returning.

3. Make it Special

I think it’s okay to treat seniors special during this time of year.  After all, as much as you have invested into them, they have also invested into the ministry.  It’s a big deal that they are graduating and moving on, and for the first time in their life, they will be leaving specified programming and ministry designed and tailored just for them.  How can you make this time of year special for them?  I think it’s important to do some specific senior-only events, all while making sure they know that their time in the youth group is not over until it’s over.  Maybe your church has a college-aged ministry.  One way to make them feel special would be to get them plugged into and engaged in your college ministry while still in high school, whether it be a fun event or simply a preview night.  I believe one way to make them feel special, is by not graduating them from the student ministry until the very last minute.

They’re only in high school once, don’t rush them out!

Make it a point to give them a smooth transition out, and not abrupt.  Even if everyone moves up a grade in June, give them a special summer title of Graduated Seniors, and hold on to them for two more months.  Take them to your summer camp, keep them involved in summer programming and events.  At the end of July, we have a special senior night for them and their families.  It’s our final milestone event where we honor them, feed them, and for one final time, appreciate them.  It’s a great send-off.  (If you would like details on how we do this night, including some of the elements that make them feel special, let me know).

What are some things you have done to keep seniors engaged?

3 Ways to Planning Events w/Intentionality

3 Ways to Planning Events w/Intentionality

The Student Ministry Calendar is extremely busy, especially compared to all other ministries in the church.  It can be exhausting just looking at a yearly or even a summer student ministry calendar.  You have outreach events, discipleship events, community events, worship events, serving events, camps, retreats, mission trips, and then you multiply all of that by two if you have separate Middle School & High School Ministries.

The question becomes, is it necessary to have a jam-packed calendar full of events, trips, and programming?

I bet we would be surprised by how many of us don’t even ask this question.  We just pack our calendars full of things, because that’s what we do, or in all honesty, we don’t realize we’re packing them this full.  We put an event here, and a trip there, surrounded by programs, and the next thing we know, we’re gone four nights out of the week or two weeks out of the month.  When we examine a couple of things, we can plan our ministries with more intentionality.  We should always be asking, 1) Why do we do the events, trips, programs we do, and 2) Is there a better, more efficient way to do what we currently do?

I believe when we ask these questions, we can come up with three solutions to be more intentional, efficient, and impactful:

  • 1.  Combine events to maximize impact.

Combining events can surprisingly be very advantageous to, not just you, but your volunteers, students, and parents.  For some reason, we get so focused on having “outreach” events that we lose sight of why we do outreach events.  For instance, I plan a huge water wars night designed to get the masses through the doors of our church.  We don’t do worship, teaching, or anything like that, because this is an outreach event, not a worship/discipleship event.  My goal of the night is to collect all of the new people’s information, and make sure they are invited back to said worship/discipleship event or maybe a normal programming night.  The problem with this, is a very small percentage, or maybe a fraction of a percentage would actually come back to a normal programming night.  After all, they came for the fun, so where is the drawback to a “non-fun” night.

Combining events will put fun AND focus all in one event, without having to figure out how to get students back for something more meaningful.

What happens when you combine events, especially in the summer when you have more time, is it puts fun and focus all in one day/night.  Maybe it’s once a month, attaching an After Party to a Wednesday night service.  Do your normal program, but then have food and fun that follows.  This would double your timeframe, but when you do it once a month in the summer, it’s really not a big deal.  You could do things on campus, like dodgeball tournament, water wars, nerf wars, or things off campus, like bowling, trampoline park, swimming, etc.  What you’ll find is, you skip the step of trying to get people to come back to your program, because they are already there, waiting for your After Party!  Our motto this summer has been, “Come for Jesus, stay for the after party.”  Usually it’s the other way around, and they don’t end up staying.

  • 2.  Know the difference between utilizing momentum and over-scheduling.

Sometimes, it’s actually smart to schedule multiple things in a week when you’re coming off of a momentum-producing event or trip.  But often, we are simply over-scheduling.  When we step back and take a birds-eye look at our calendar, there are many random events with no purpose or meaning behind them, other than another night away from home for all, with little fruit to show.  When we schedule heavy around momentum-producing events, and light elsewhere, we begin to see, not only more fruit, but more excitement around events.  Often times, stand-alone events become pretty ho-hum.

I always like to start big and end big, with students hungry for more in between.

End the summer with a big event, take a couple weeks off, then come back with a big kick-off event for the fall.  To me, when students are hungry for more, it typically means we are doing well with the events we are doing, and not over-scheduling.

  • 3.  Utilize resources from other ministries.

Typically, churches have multiple ministries doing the same ministry.  In other words, there may be Children’s Worship, Student Worship, and Adult Worship Ministries, Children’s, Student, and Adult Small Group Ministries, etc.  Why not pool resources and help each other out?  Granted, some things need to be separated, but sometimes we are duplicating events unnecessarily.  There could be huge benefits to doing a church-wide small group leader training event, with age-specific breakouts.  Or using your adult worship ministries to train and mentor your student worship team(s).  This way, we are resourcing more efficiently while showing the congregation that we are one team going in one direction.

Typically, churches have multiple ministries doing the same ministry…why not pool resources and help each other out?

I believe that when we schedule with momentum, combine events for greater impact, and utilize resources from other ministries, our planning will be much more intentional and deliver a greater punch overall.

Have you seen planning be more effective using any of the about 3 solutions?

Are Your Students on the Jesus Diet?

Are Your Students on the Jesus Diet?

Who likes diets?  I mean seriously, I cannot think of anyone who likes them.  The best thing about diets is that the very nature of a diet is that it is temporary.  Usually whenever I go on a diet, I do a 10, 20, or 30-day diet.  I can typically handle a diet, because I know that soon, I will be off the diet and back to my normal eating.  My goal is to lose weight and get healthier, so I tell myself that I’m going to do that in an allotted timeframe.  The only problem is, when the timeframe is over, I go back to eating what I want and not exercising, and I end up with the same unhealthy lifestyle I began with.  And my life becomes this endless cycle of short diets to enable me to eat the way I want for a time until I need to diet again. Essentially I diet to prevent death, not to be the healthiest me I can be.

Unfortunately, many students in our ministries follow the Jesus diet.  In fact, many people in our churches follow the Jesus diet.  No, I’m not talking about a literal food diet, like what would Jesus eat.  I’m talking about a spiritual diet.  I fear that our ministries and churches sometimes even foster and enable people to be on the Jesus diet.  What is the Jesus diet?

The Jesus diet is just like a physical diet, yet it’s a spiritual one.  It’s when we feel compelled to enhance and better our spiritual lives for a time being, yet after that timeframe, fall back into our “normal” ways.  It’s a natural thing.  We hear a convicting message, we get back from an awesome conference, we go on a mission trip.  Essentially the results of these things is a Jesus diet.  We become compelled to change, and so we change…for a week or two.  We become compelled to serve on a mission trip or even days after, but then stop.  We’re compelled to change after a conference or camp, but we eventually tire of the diet and go back to pre-diet days.  We want to better our spiritual lives, until we get tired of it or hit a goal, then we go back to where we were pre-diet days.  How can we, as leaders and pastors and volunteers motivate lifestyle change instead of dieting?

I think we need to teach…

1.  Consistency Over Intensity

If I was serious about getting healthier, I would stop dieting and change my lifestyle to incorporate health and exercise throughout, without putting a timeframe on it.  Dieting is typically super-intense and then stops.  I don’t have to be super-intense with my healthy eating and exercising, I just need to be consistent.  It’s the same for our spiritual lives.  The days following camps and mission trips and messages can be super intense only to fizzle out.  Too often we (myself included) base a lot of our ministry around these things.  This promotes intensity.  And while I don’t believe intensity is a bad thing, I do believe that intensity rarely sustains.  I believe our ministry should be equipping students for consistency in their relationship with Christ, and that means

1) Teaching them to live and grow their faith daily in their normal environment.

2) Giving them tools to study the Bible on their own and have an effective personal quiet time.

3) Showing them ways to serve people they’re around everyday.

4) Equipping them to talk to their friends about their faith.  It’s much easier and more normal to talk to people about your faith when you’re living a consistent one.  It’s typically the intense, inconsistent Christians that scare people away or repel them from Jesus.

I believe consistency is more effective than intensity…just ask the tortoise and the hare.

We always witness how camp is a mountain top experience, and weeks following coming off that mountain top, our faith fizzles, the intensity wears off, and we end up taking a spiritual nap.  It’s because of the intensity of the week, we cannot sustain it!  The ones that do gain from weeks like this are the consistent ones.  They’re not going from zero to 100 in one week trying to sustain that pace.  It gives them a boost in their faith, but not at unsustainable speeds.  The thing about mountain top experiences, it suggests there is a top, which in turn suggests there is an end.  Then the rest of their life is spent trying to reach that top again, only to be let down.  Let’s help students see that there is no mountain to climb, only a narrow road to travel.

2.  If You Mess Up, Don’t Give Up

When I mess up on my diet, I usually call it quits.  Try again next go-around.  I feel like a failure, and that there’s no use to try to continue it.  If I miss a day or two of working out, I just stop.  Once I lose momentum on my diet, it’s very difficult for me to continue it.  Unfortunately, many people feel this same way following Jesus.  A sin or a mess up, and we give up.  We miss a day reading our Bible, we put it back on the shelf for a while.  Missing a few days is better than missing them all!  When following Jesus is a lifestyle instead of a diet, we won’t feel defeated when we mess up, but instead learn from our mess ups, and seek to grow stronger from them.

A mess up becomes a blip on the screen instead of a roadblock.

I believe that our students (and ourselves) can benefit tremendously by getting off the Jesus diet and living the Jesus lifestyle by being consistent and not giving up every time we mess up a little.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go get back on the treadmill.  I seemed to have fallen off 3 months ago.