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?

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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?

Read to Lead

Read to Lead

I’m not the best reader.  I always had a difficult time in school keeping up with all of the required reading.  I actually took a speed-reading class in college to get better, but I couldn’t keep up with that either.  Sometimes I wish that all the books I want to read would just be laid out as Facebook posts, then I’d for sure get through them in no time!  However, I completely realize the benefit to reading whether I’m a reader or not.  I know that if I’m not reading, then I’m not learning, I’m not growing, and I’m failing as a leader.  So, each year I try to set a modest goal of 6 books to get through.  The way I pick my books is based off the areas I want to be more effective as a leader.  These areas are 1) Leader in my Own Faith (sounds ridiculous, but often we completely rely on others to lead our spiritual growth), 2) Leader in my Home, 3) Leader in my Church/Ministry.  Here are some books that are on my docket this year:

1.  Giving Up Gimmicks:  Reclaiming Youth Ministry from an Entertainment Culture by Brian H. Cosby

2.  Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters:  10 Secrets Every Father Should Know by Meg Meeker

3.  Excellence in Preaching:  Studying the Craft of Leading Preachers by Simon Vibert

4.  The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John C. Maxwell

5.  You Win in the Locker Room First:  The 7 C’s to Build a Winning Team in Business, Sports, and Life by Jon Gordon & Mike Smith

6.  The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni

7.  Celebration of Discipline:  The Path to Spiritual Growth by Richard Foster

That’s it.  There’s always more books I want to read, but I know my limits.  If I can get through these in 2016, I’m confident that I will be a better leader in the areas I am led to lead in, either that or my brain will explode.