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.

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4 Keys to Help Students Transition into Your Ministry

keysTransitioning in life is never easy, no matter what the transition.  While it may be exciting, it doesn’t mean there aren’t challenges.  Think of all the transitions you go through in life:  starting school, changing schools, going to college, starting new jobs, getting married, having kids, changing jobs, changing positions in jobs.

Some of the many transitions in life happens in the teenage years.  Not only do new 6th graders change schools, but they change ministries in the church as well.  And sometimes, going from Children’s Ministry to Middle School Ministry might be scarier than actually changing schools!

Here are 4 key things to do when preparing for a healthy & exciting transition.  This can also apply transitioning 8th graders to the High School Ministry if your Middle School & High School ministries are separate.  Or if you don’t transition until 7th grade, just substitute 6th grade for 7th.

1.  Work with Children’s Ministry Team.

  • Too often on church staffs, each ministry is a silo, keeping their head down and doing their own thing.  While it’s true we have been hired to lead a specific ministry, it’s crucial to keep the big picture in mind.  We are part of an entire team.  Just like on a baseball team, you may play shortstop, but you are practicing, meeting with, and encouraging the entire team in order to win.  You may have played a flawless game at shortstop, but if your team loses, what’s the point?  Sometimes, we’re so laser-focused on our ministry, that we lose sight of everything else.  I believe each ministry should be contributing to the overall health of the church.  Student Ministry staff should meet regularly with Children’s Ministry staff in order to ensure a healthy transition plan for incoming 6th graders.  This is a big reason Orange is such a great tool for cohesive curriculum.  Children’s Pastors should portray excitement about 6th graders moving up and talk up and about Student Ministry often.

    It’s about receiving students well, and handing them off well.

    And Student Pastors should…

2.  Make yourself available to Children’s Ministry.

  • Serve in Children’s Ministry!  I’m not saying you need to be in there weekly, but make yourself known to the kids.  When it’s time for them to transition, at least they will know who will be leading them next, and you’re a familiar face.  Offer to teach a lesson everyone once-in-while, go to a pre-teen event, like SuperStart, help out at VBS, or heck, just set up chairs and high-five kids as they come in!  Like I said, you don’t need to be at everything, but

    having a presence in Children’s Ministry breaks down ministry barriers and starts the relationship-building early.

3.  Treat the incoming 6th graders special.

  • It’s a big deal going from 5th grade to 6th grade.  Make it one!  This may mean:  1) moving them up at the beginning of the summer, so they can actually be and feel like a 6th grader before school starts.  2) Pull them out of Children’s Ministry a couple of times in the spring to “orientate” them by bringing them into a student service or class.  3) Throw a party!  Do some kind of welcome party for them, where you can focus your time on them and get to know them while having fun.

    It’s a big deal going from 5th grade to 6th grade.  Make it one!

4.  Meet with the parents.

  • This is a big one!  Establishing relationships with parents needs to start early, or the next thing you know, they’re juniors and you’ve never met mom or dad.  This also emphasizes your desire to partner with them to help spiritually lead their teenagers, because that’s what it’s all about.  Send a letter to parents in the Spring preparing them for the transition.  Invite them to a Student Ministry Orientation or a Student Ministry Open House so they can get to know you, your leaders, and your programming.  Maybe stand at the entrance to your Children’s Ministry on Sunday mornings, and meet them as they drop of their kids.  Have information to give them. There are so many questions when it comes to transitioning to a new ministry, and having answers on paper helps parents put the pieces together.  Whatever you do, you can never do too much to connect with parents.

    If we truly want to partner with parents, we must create many connections with them.

Transitions in life can be scary, let’s do everything we can to make them more exciting in Student Ministry

Are You Cheating?

Are You Cheating?

Cheating is word that I typically associate with apathy & laziness.  And if I’m being honest, those are two traits that I really struggle with.  But more often than not, we find ourselves cheating when we don’t prepare, care, or share.  And when it comes to ministry and family, it’s possible that we are cheating the most important people in our lives.  As youth pastors, we live in the world of “Do I give this time to my family or to my ministry?”  On one hand, we all know that ministry can truly suck the time out quickly.  You look up and realize you were gone 4 nights last week, or 3 weeks last month.  On the other hand, you commit to being home as much as possible during the week, but then you don’t feel like you are being a team player in the church.

What gives?  Is there a way to balance church ministry and family?  I recently talked with a youth pastor who told me his summer plans.  They included doing back-to-back mission trips that actually overlap, so he’d be gone for over 2 weeks!  That’s not including summer camps and activities.  I always get weary of hearing how busy youth pastors are, always questioning…do we have to be?  I want to pose the question, do we schedule our ministries with (ours and our students’) families in mind?  Here are 3 ways that we can be better at balancing family and ministry life:

1.  CARE about Your Student’s Families (Spread Your Trips Out.)  What?  You mean I don’t have to do all my trips in the summer?!  Not only do you not have to do all your trips in the summer, it actually may not be healthy to do them all in the summer…for your family and your students’ families.  Spreading your trips throughout the year helps your students’ families with their calendar and also their budget.  When we have Middle School Camp one week, High School Camp the next, Mission Trip the next, and then trips to amusement parks, etc., we are overloading our calendar and everyone else’s (not to mention getting upset when every student doesn’t participate in everything).  I suggest moving around trips that can happen outside of summer (such as mission trips).  Camps typically need to take place in the summer, so center your summer around that.  I think it’s a great idea to plan a mission trip over Spring Break (if you have multiple schools, pick the one that draws most of your students).  This way, it’s far enough away from summer to help with budgets, and it will provide momentum for your ministry from Spring to Summer.  Most mission trip organizations may only do summer trips, but you can easily piece together your own trip (which will make it a ton cheaper as well!).  Let me know if you want any ideas on how to do that.  We’ve gone to Indianapolis, Chicago, and Nashville for $150-$200 per person each year, total.  You also could add in a weekend Fall Retreat to provide the third leg of your trip tripod for the year.  Potentially, you could plan your year as follows, having one trip propel you to the next:

March – Mission Trips ($150-200)

July – Camp ($375)

November – Fall Retreat ($75)

Truth is, when we end up cheating our family, we are also cheating our students’ families.

2.  PREPARE Ahead of Time (Create an Advance Calendar.)  Creating a weekly, hourly      calendar is crucial to making the most of your work week.  When we go into the week with no plan, we typically waste time, go into programming unprepared, and often say things like, “I’m just so busy,” or “I just don’t have enough time.”  I’ve been doing student ministry for 11 years, and the time is there, I’ve just realized that I hadn’t always used it efficiently.  So, the last thing I do at the end of the week is schedule out my next week by the hour.  I know I’m in the office Monday-Thursday, there are some meetings already on the schedule, so then I just fill in around those meetings.  What I found was, once I started scheduling my hours (I just use Google Cal/iCal to do this), I had way more time than I thought I did.  Obviously things will come up in your week you weren’t prepared for, but you can always schedule in some catch up time as well.

I’m willing to bet, the more you intentionally schedule your week, the less work you’ll be taking home or getting home late.

3.  SHARE the Workload (Empower Your Volunteers.)  Empowering you volunteers is not the same thing as delegating.  We empower volunteers, because they are gifted and capable to do certain ministry things.  The more we empower those that are called, the more ministry that can take place.  There’s nothing more beautiful in student ministry that watching amazing adults lead students in a small group setting, and essentially become their youth pastor.  They go to their games, visit them in the hospital, take them out for coffee.  We even have volunteers leading one of our mission trips this year, not because I don’t want to, but because it enables us to take 3 mission trips during the same week.

Sharing the ministry workload empowers volunteers to rise up to the calling God has put in their life, while enabling you to be more effective with your time at work and at home.

What are some problem areas you see in the way you schedule your time?  What has worked well in your life balancing work and family?

A Student Ministry Bridge to Nowhere

A Student Ministry Bridge to Nowhere

Is it possible to live at home with mom & dad forever?  Ten years ago, the answer would be, “Who would want to?  Give me my license, and give me my freedom.”  Today, though?  I would say, “Yes, it is possible.”  More and more kids are living at home longer, delaying getting their driver’s license, possibly even delaying going to college.  The verdict is in, and adulthood is not all it’s cracked up to be, and teenagers know it!  Community college is more popular than ever, and the age you can stay on your parent’s insurance is at an all-time high.

Some students never want to leave the youth group, and others flat-out leave the church when graduating from youth group.  So, how do we minister to teenagers who are not ready to move out and move on?  How do we prepare them, spiritually, for adulthood when adulthood is moving further and further away?  Even if they’re not ready to leave home, how can we make sure they are ready to move on from youth group?

Too often Student Ministry has become a bridge to nowhere instead of a bridge to a more mature faith in Christ.  We must prepare them for faith after high school, and we have to make sure that when they graduate high school, they are not graduating the church.  And we do this by…

1.  Integrating teenagers into the church body today.

Now, of course teenagers in your youth group are a part of your church.  BUT, do they feel a part of your church?  That is the key question.  We can tell them all day every day that they are a part of the church, but if their reality is otherwise, none of that matters.  It’s kind of like the shark attack scene in “Couple’s Retreat,” where Vince Vaughn claims he was attacked by a shark, and everyone doubts him.  It’s my favorite line of the movie…”I know my own truth!”  Obviously, this statement is paradoxical on many levels, but nonetheless, teenagers know their own truth.

How can a student in your youth ministry feel a part of the church when they are always separated from the church?  While I completely agree that teenagers need their community, sometimes we sacrifice the Church body for the sake of community.  We must realize the difference between community and group isolation.

Our student ministry team has found that the best way for teenagers to feel a part of the church is to completely integrate them into our weekend services.  No longer do we have students in one building and the rest of our church in another.  No longer do new families walk in and not see any teenagers around.  No longer do students walk into a church worship service for the first time after graduation.  Our teenagers are fully engaged into the life of our church, and it is great seeing middle school & high school students sitting in the front of the worship center each week leading the way in worship!

I definitely believe that teens need their community, and we give that to them on Sunday & Wednesday nights, but not at the expense of the overall Church body.

2.  Empowering teenagers to be the NOW generation instead of the next generation.

Teenagers are capable.  That’s not the problem.  The question becomes are they willing?  Many adults in the church don’t believe that teenagers are willing OR capable.  But that’s bologna (or baloney).  The problem is they have not been given the opportunity to be willing or capable!  Teenagers, especially high school students, can do nearly anything an adult can do, but the church often questions that, and therefore never opening the door for them to serve or to contribute, hiding behind the mantra of teens being the NEXT generation.

If we always say they’re next, then they’re never now.  

What integrating teens into the weekend church worship experience does, is it immediately opens the door for them to have more serving responsibilities.

Since integrating our teens on the weekends, we see students every single week, greeting people, running lights, camera and video, passing communion and offering, leading and teaching in Children’s ministry, leading as part of our worship teams, and even being prayer partners.  We never have a student takeover weekend, because it would look exactly the same as all the other weekends!  Plus this frees up the youth pastor to interact with parents, new families, and the rest of the congregation every weekend.  Student Ministry in your church becomes MORE visible, not less visible.

And now when students graduate high school, they still have a sense of belonging in THEIR church.  They are still serving and they are still coming to weekend worship!

When given the opportunity and the vision, teenagers are willing & capable!  Student Pastors must believe that, but more importantly, Church Leaders, Senior Pastors, and Executive Pastors must believe that. When the entire church buys in, the teenagers are the ones who win.

Are we worried about what our student ministry looks like today, or what the Church will look like tomorrow?

I would love to know…How are you making teens feel like they have ownership in your church?  What are some ways we can better pass the baton of ministry to them before they leave us?