Today I spent 45 minutes with a high school sophomore. Last week it was two different seniors—an 8th grader and a student I am mentoring. Each of these conversations produced a variety of topics but each one was ended with a “thanks for meeting with me” or “thanks for making time for this conversation.”
Student ministry has a misconception in that “everyone belongs.” We really want everyone to fit in, we want each student to have a voice, we desire each student to feel a part of the community, and all of this often gets really complicated because each student is drastically different. When you sit knee to knee with a student you get to know them and they can be given a sense they do belong.
I sat with a student last week whose family just started coming to church, FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER about 5 months ago. This student is asking the basic question, “We’ve not had church for the last 16 years of my life—why now?” This student feels out of place in a small group setting when another students talk about Bible stories. This student looks at people raising their hands during a song of praise and wonders what that is about. This student has NEVER read the Christmas story out of Luke 2, till he was asked to read it two weeks ago in a small group.
By certain standards this student doesn’t seem to “fit in” to our student ministry. He doesn’t know the biblical stories, the lingo, or what is or isn’t a part of church. He has a lot of questions and is skeptical of the “whole church thing” (as he put it). So why has he not missed a small group meeting or a large group event in the past 5 months?
Because he’s been accepted.
There have been several students along with myself who’ve come along side this student and communicated that he’s accepted. The skeptical questions are accepted. The cynical remarks about church are acceptable. Our desire has been to help this student feel a part of the community by accepting him and giving him time. We trust that the Holy Spirit will move in divine ways in this student’s life; all we need to do is care for him as we would any other student who walks through the doors of our student ministry.
Creating space in my schedule to meet one on one with as many students as possible allows me to know the community I teach in our large group gatherings, how to structure small groups, know how to pray for students, and hear first hand what trend issues our students are facing.
I’ve watched the physical demeanor of students change, their participation grow, and their openness to God’s moving in their life as they feel accepted that they belong to a student ministry. Most often students feel like they belong when they feel people make time for them to listen to their lives.
I love making time to meet one on one with students. I love hearing their stories of life. I love seeing how God could use our ministry to minister to them. I hope this New Year your one-on-one time with students is full of ministry fruit!
I totally understand that you may read this title and think: “I will never get a sabbatical.” When I was preparing for my sabbatical I had some great friends in ministry tell me the exact same thing. They thought my church was crazy for giving me one and couldn’t believe that I was actually getting away for 12 weeks to refresh with God. I fully understand that many, if not most, people in ministry will never get a sabbatical. That being said…if you ever get the chance to take a sabbatical, let me share some of the nuggets I have learned and a potential way to break up your time.
Part One: Disconnect
The counsel I have taken from mentors in my life is to take the first month to really just disconnect from the pastoral ministry. I left on April 26th for my sabbatical and literally got on a plane that day to leave town. I was fortunate enough to be able to get out of town to not just mentally disconnect from ministry but also geographically disconnect. Probably the best thing that anyone can do is to be physically gone right away; this really helped with the disconnect process.
Disconnect more than just physically; disconnect from technology. While I was away I slowly disconnected from social media. First it was “Words with Friends,” then I stopped Twitter, Instagram, and finally Facebook. Be intentional about this and let people know that you will be gone. Stop the notifications on your phone and realized that the world will be fine with you gone from the social media world for a few months.
Part Two: Refresh
The encouragement I received was to take the second month to really refresh and do things that you haven’t been able to do in the past couple years. Pastoral ministry is very demanding and this often means few days off and having to miss important family events. The second month of my sabbatical we planned a road trip that would get us out of town for four weeks. This took lots of planning, budgeting, and asking family if we could stay with them. This could also include finding some places that you just want to go. If you have a family, or don’t have a family, find somewhere they want to go, or find a place that refreshes you. What refreshes me will be different than what refreshes you, so make sure you get some time to do what is going to fill your tank back up.
Part Three: Re-engage
This is the part that was most difficult. After being away from church for almost nine weeks I started to re-engage into ministry. Let me be clear that I did this slowly and cautiously. I began with meeting with my pastor for a lunch (at my favorite place to eat) to just catch up. He asked how I was doing and what my family had been up to for the last couple weeks. We started talking about what was coming my way in the next couple of weeks, and things I had missed out on while away (this included some people updates in our church body). I was able to share with him things that God has been speaking to my heart and how the marriage counseling our church paid for went. We dreamed some, chatted some, and really just caught up.
Knowing that the staff had maintained the same pace of ministry, and I had slowed down, meant there needed to be a strategic plan for coming back. For this I chose to come back from my sabbatical a week early and work part-time for two weeks to help me get back on pace; this was a great way to come back. I was able to meet with people in the church, catch up on some emails, and just connect with our team.
You may never be given the option for a sabbatical, but I really think the things that I’ve laid out here can be done in three months, twelve weeks (what I took) or three weeks. You could take this plan, tweak it, share it with your leadership team, and have a sweet time to refresh. The truth that I walked away from sabbatical is pretty simple: “God cares more about who I am than what I do.”
By Theresa Mazza
My honeymoon phase in youth ministry was exactly what I imagined it would be. A giddy newlywed, I was absolutely head-over-heels in love with my new life as a youth pastor, and enjoyed an early blissful marriage to my youth group. I felt fulfillment and purpose. And I had no doubt that I was perfectly in the center of God’s will for my life.
I was 22 years old—the first female youth pastor ever hired at the church I was serving. I was doing everything a youth pastor should: my lessons were biblical and interactive, my events were fun, the parents were happy, and our discipleship program was impressively attended. Every mark my supervisor wanted me to hit, I hit. I did this by developing a core group of students. I’d witnessed this type of leadership investment before and knew it would work here. These teenagers were absolutely on fire for God and very active in every part of the ministry.
The investment was paying off. My core group served their guts out. They worshipped every Sunday night as if it were their last day on earth. They were faithful followers and hard-core student leaders. And they made me look good… really good. My ego was, well, healthy. And I knew—just knew—that I’d be the youth pastor at this church for a very long time.
But then God decided it was past-time for the honeymoon to end. A cloud of dissatisfaction settled over me, and it dawned on me that I was not the perfect youth pastor serving a youth group full of perfect teenagers. There was a kind of dark underbelly to all of my “success”:
• I called some kids by name and others by my default greeting: “Hey man.”
• While our core group was worshipping like crazy, the rest of the group sat patiently on the sideline for 30 minutes as our leaders talked over and around them.
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By Bob Krulish
That’s a wise and wonderful piece of biblical advice, but howdo you guard your heart? Being in vocational ministry and maintaining devotion to Christ is tricky. The lines often bleed over between the two. It’s easy to presume our service IS relationship with Christ. Oswald Chambers said, “Beware of anything that competes with your loyalty to Jesus Christ. The greatest competitor of true devotion to Jesus is the service we do for him.” True service, the kind that can have a lasting effect, must come from our personal devotion to Jesus.
There are a lot of voices in youth ministry: Your own, wanting to provide a healthy, rich environment for students to encounter Christ—and, just for full disclosure, your voice of pride, wanting to look good and be successful. In addition, you’ve got parents’ expectations, volunteer leader expectations, the pastor and church’s expectations, the expectations of your family…all different voices, and that’s just to name a few! These can all be very loud and demanding. So what do we do?
What I want to share isn’t new. But maybe it will encourage, help refocus, or embolden you.First Things First
It’s a way of thinking. “For as he thinks in his heart, so ishe” (Proverbs 23:7). How do we think about ministry? I ask our youth staff this question: “What’s the main targetof your ministry? What’s the main focus?” The answer is invariably “teenagers.” Is it a trick question? No. Not really, anyway. If we asked Jesus what the main focus of his ministry was, he wouldn’t have answered “mankind.” In fact, he did answer: “…it is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work” (John 4:34), and later in John 5:19 “…the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” He himselfis the goal. He’s our first target—NOT teenagers or mankind.
Second Things Second
Same as the first! God wants all my heart. That’s why he says, “seek first the Kingdom of God…and all these things will be added to you.” What things? Could it possibly be a fruitful and healthy ministry that reflects him? What’s the most important thing I can do as a youth minister? as a spouse? as a parent? Seek him. It’s hard.Sometimes he “plays” hide and seek with us. Look for him, pursue him, and sneak up on him!
What’s the goal of marriage? Is it to have children? Nope. A couple gets married because they love one another. There’s passion and desire to be with the other person and to “seek” them above all others. The couple doesn’t have a conversation that says, “Oh, you like kids? I do, too. Let’s get married so we can have kids.” That would be silly. Nobody gets married for that reason. No, they love one another, get married, and oh-by-the-way…they might have children. It’s the same with ministry. “Love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and love your neighbor as you love yourself”—and voila’, you may have spiritual offspring! He’s the voice you want to listen to.
Third Things Third
The crowds saw Jesus’ ministry of miracles. They were wowed, and said to him, “What must we do to do the works of God?” Or we might ask, “What must we do to have a successfulyouth ministry?” Here’s what Jesus would say to us: “This is the work of God, to believe in the one he has sent.” You might be asking, “Are we ever going to get to something practical or program-related?” Yes.
Fourth Things Fourth
In the church I serve, we have a phrase we use all the time: People over program. Which means: Always lean on the side of investing, building, nurturing, encouraging, provoking, leading, training, confronting, and loving your leadership teams. NOT to the exclusion of program, but value people more than program. Duke University has a perennial powerful basketball program. Every good ball player in the country would like to go to Duke and play under Coach K. Why? Because at the end of their experience with him, they know they will not only be better players, but better people. Yes, Coach K has a greatprogram, but in front of that he values his people to the extent he hardly has to recruit. People wantto go there. Build people over program.
Listen to God, seek God, love God, believe in God, and put people above program. These guarantee nothing. But they foster keeping and guarding your heart in the Lord in the midst of vocational ministry demands.
Bob Krulishis the associate pastor and men’s pastor at Greenwood Community Church in Colorado. Before that, he served as a leader in Young Life for 23 years.