Things to Focus on this Summer

dan-chung-4106If you’re in student ministry the next few weeks brings a major shift for you and your ministry. The school year is coming to a close and your program is probably about to change a bit. In our ministry we take a break from weekly gatherings and just do a handful of events and activities where the priority is building relationships with our students and their friends. With this change of pace brings the opportunity to focus on a few things that may have been pushed to the side during the busy school year. Below are a few things students pastors should focus on this summer. They are broken into two categories: ministry and personal.

In regards to your ministry, focus on…
Getting out of your office and spend time with students. Let’s face it, spending time with students during the school year outside of your programs isn’t easy. Their in school most of the day and your busy writing talks and planning the next big event. Now that summer is here you and your students should be more free to hangout. Take advantage of it. One of things we are doing this summer is having a weekly time for girls to get together and a time for guys to get together. The girls are going to meet at a local park for a picnic and to go hiking while the guys will meet at the church to play basketball. Here is a deeper look into what our ministry looks like during the summer months. Spend less time in the office this summer (be sure you tell your pastor you’re not just sleeping in or taking the summer off) and more time hanging out with students.

Planning for next school year. By now you should have a rough idea of what your student ministry calendar looks like for next school year. The summer is when you want to nail that calendar down. Get dates and major details for your events locked in. In addition to events be sure to plan out your teaching schedule as well. Strive to put together a solid teaching schedule that will get you through the upcoming school year.

Recruiting new leaders. The summer gives you some extra time to find new leaders. You probably will loose some after the school year so every summer comes the challenge of finding a few new ones. Spend time recruiting new leaders and meeting with them. Find out what their skills and passions are. Strive to get them plugged in and ready to go for the upcoming school year. I recently wrote a post about some things to remember when you recruit new volunteers.

In regards to yourself personally, focus on…
Reading. Hopefully you find time to read even during the busy school year. However, the summer months should open up some extra time for reading. As a side note, I put this under the “personal” section but don’t forget reading should be a part of your job as a pastor too. Either way, find some time this summer to read. Read ministry books. Read theology books. Read fiction books. Read biographies. Read books by people you agree with. Read books by people you disagree with. Read for your growth as a follower of Christ. Read for your growth as a leader. Just read as much as you can.

Getting a good vacation. Don’t let the summer go by without getting in a solid vacation. If you have a family, plan a family vacation that allows you and your family time to kick back and relax. You need this more than you probably realize. Wayne Cordeiro says, “Those who’s vocation is all about giving out are wearing out.” As student pastors we “give out” a lot. Throughout the school year we are constantly giving. That’s why we need to take a break and rest. Summer is a great time for this. Be sure to take a summer vacation and get some much needed rest. By the way, take some books on your vacation. Vacation is a great time for reading.

I’d like to end this post with making a statement some may agree with while others may not – your summer months should look different than the months during the school year. That doesn’t mean your job as a student pastors gets easier and you all of a sudden get extra hours you somehow lost during the school year. However, it does mean you don’t have to have a weekly program. You don’t have to be writing talks. You don’t have to be planning event after event. Take a break from the programs and talks. Spend time with students and build relationships. Plan for the upcoming year. Most of all, focus on growing as a person and a leader while getting some extra time to refresh yourself before the busyness hits again in late August.

 

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Recruiting Student Ministry Volunteers

For a church to have a healthy student ministry it needs more than just a student pastor or director. A good student ministry should certainly be led by a gifted, passionate pastor or director but that person will need a solid team of volunteers working alongside them. It’s important student pastors understand this and make recruiting volunteers a priority in their ministry.

Recruiting volunteers seems like a never ending task in student ministry. One of the big things I do every summer is recruit new volunteers. It’s part of the job of being in charge of a student ministry. I want to suggest a few tips that have helped me in regards to recruiting volunteers.

Don’t make a desperate call, instead, personally recruit volunteers. The easiest way to recruit volunteers for your ministry is to put something in the bulletin or say something from upfront during announcements. This isn’t the worst thing you can do but it certainly makes it difficult as you will have many people “sign up” and you may have to turn some of them down because they are not a good fit. However, if you’re willing to just let anyone serve in your student ministry you can go this route. I’d caution anyone on this and encourage them instead to personally recruit volunteers rather than just make a massive call. This will allow you to find the right people for your ministry. This takes much more time and energy but I believe it’s the best way to recruit volunteers for your ministry. Before moving on, let me just add this – if you are going to make a call for volunteers (whether that’s online, in the bulletin, or from upfront) be sure to have a application process so you can find the right volunteers. More on this process next.

Have a process. Don’t just let people sign up and become a volunteer without you having them go through a short process. This doesn’t have to be anything crazy. Our process for bringing new volunteers on board is pretty simple. First, I meet with them one on one to share with them what our ministry looks like and explain to them the areas they can serve. During this meeting I usually try and find out where they best fit within our ministry based on their passions and gifts. Second, they fill out a short application. This allows me to get to know them a bit more and gives them the opportunity to share their faith story. Sometimes people will fill the application out before I meet with them. Third, we background check the potential volunteer. Everyone that serves in our ministry must have a background check. Whatever your process is, please don’t skip this! This is important for your church and for the safety of your students. Once these three steps have happened I bring the volunteer on board and they start to serve.

Look for young and old. Strive to not have a volunteer team that is made up of people of the same age. It’s easy for student pastors to fall into the trap of thinking the best volunteers are college students and young adults. There are many valuable things this age group brings to the table so by all means recruit them! However, realize some of the best student ministry volunteers in your church may be older individuals. Strive to build your volunteer team with people from all age groups and seasons of life. This will bring excitement, balance, and maturity to your team.

This is just a few tips to help you recruit volunteers for your student ministry. Here are a few resources that may help you in this area: Everyone’s Called to Youth Ministry by Darren Sutton, The New Breed by Jonathan McKee and Thomas McKee, and Youth Pastor (chapter 9) by Houston Heflin.

The Healthy Student Pastor

z8bka7hqa3i-jordan-mcqueenStudent ministry can be a very demanding and challenging thing (especially if you’re doing in a full-time role). The constant demand of students and parents who need your attention never ends. The hours can be odd with most of your events happening at night or on weekends. It can become draining as you try to keep your mid-week program fresh and attractive week in and week out. On top of your weekly program it seems like there is always another event right around the corner.

But don’t get me wrong, student ministry is an absolute joy. I am honored God has called me to full-time student ministry and He has given me an amazing church to do it in. However, I have come to realize that student ministry is often a very demanding area of ministry that requires you to be healthy. I’m talking spiritual, relational, physical, and emotional health. Being healthy in all areas of life is a must for student pastors.

Spiritual. The spiritual health of the student pastor is of utmost importance. It’s important to themselves, their families, their church, and their students. If a student pastor is not spiritually healthy the students and the ministry, along with many other things, will suffer. A student pastor must keep their relationship with God as their first priority. This means walking with God daily and growing closer to Him. This means consistently getting into God’s Word on a daily basis for spiritual nourishment and strength. One pastor shares some wise words in regards to this area – “Don’t neglect your heart. Spend time in the Word, pray, and let God speak to you. Carve out time each day for this” (from the book Growing Young, page 62).

Relational. Student pastors must also be healthy relationally. I think this first includes their families. Student pastors must never sacrifice their families on the altar of their ministry. Far too often I see student pastors who are giving everything they got to their ministries while their family suffers the consequences. Loving and leading your family should always comes first. This also includes friendships. Student pastors must strive to have solid friendships outside the walls of their ministries. This provides an outlet for the student pastor to hangout with friends with no ministry agenda attached.

Emotional. The emotional health of the student pastor is also very important. It’s easy for a student pastor to be focused on the emotional needs of others (students, parents, volunteers, etc.) while neglecting their own emotional health. The crazy hours and demands of student ministry can cause the student pastor to experience burnout or even depression in some cases. The demands of student ministry can also cause stress and anxiety. It’s important the student pastor takes these things seriously and seeks help when they need it. This is where having some solid friends outside of the student ministry can help. They can be a safe place to go for healing. Also, student pastors should never be ashamed of seeking professional counseling or even pastoral counseling from another pastor. These are avenues God can use to strengthen you and get you emotionally healthy. It’s also important the student pastor has a hobby outside of ministry that serves as an outlet for them to refresh and relax. This will help them maintain emotional health.

Physical. This is often the area of health student pastors neglect the most. In the midst of eating way too much terrible food with students, student pastors must strive to keep themselves in good shape. This goes beyond just eating right, which is important, but also includes things like regularly working out and getting rest. This also includes making sure the student pastor takes a day off. We all need a sabbath (a day to rest from work). Student pastors must not neglect taking a day off to rest, which is closely tied to their physical health.

As you can see, student pastors need to be healthy in multiple areas. A student pastor that is healthy in these areas will be a blessing to their families, church, ministry, and students.

How to Make New Students Feel Welcomed

Every student ministry loves to see new students walk through their doors. With this comes our responsibility to make sure these new students feel welcomed right off the bat. I’m sure there are many students who go to a student ministry program for the first time and leave never to return again because they didn’t feel welcomed. I want to share a few things with you that we do in our student ministry to help new students feel welcomed. Don’t mistake the name tag picture to be a suggestion on how to make new students feel welcomed. Name tags will just make them feel awkward. Don’t do it. Follow the suggestions below.

Train your student leaders to look out for new students and to connect with them as soon as a new student walks in. In our high school ministry we have a student leadership team made up of students from 10th-12th grades. One of the weekly responsibilities of this team is to be on the lookout for new students and to be ready to connect with a new student when they walk through our doors. I encourage them to ask them where they go to school, what grade are they in, what kinds of things do they like to do, and what made them to decide to check out our ministry. Even if you don’t have an official student leadership team you can train a few students to do this on a weekly basis. Not all students are great at this. You will have some students who are naturally more friendly and can easily walk up to a stranger and start a conversation. Find a few students who are gifted in this area and put them to work. The best way to help a new student feel welcomed to to have a another student welcome them and spend some time talking to them. The sooner this happens the better so train your student leaders to be quick to welcome and talk to a new student.

Train your adult leaders to connect with new students as well. Not only do new students need to be welcomed by another student, they also need to be welcomed by an adult leaders. Train your adults leaders to be looking out for new students. Train them to not just look out for them but to actually talk to them and to get to know them. It makes a huge impact on a student, especially a new student, when an adult intentionally talks to them and shows an interest in them. It’s easy for our adult leaders to clump up together and not connect with new students. For many adults, talking to a teenager is not always easy and at times very intimidating. But our adult leaders have to be willing to leave their comfort zones and connect with both new and regular students.

Train yourself to talk from upfront with new students in mind. Whenever you the student pastor stands or main leaders stands upfront and talks to the crowd of students, make sure you talk with new students in mind. Don’t just jump up there and welcome them to your program. A new student will not know who you are so introduce yourself. If you have trained your student and adults leaders well than new students have been talking to them all the way up until your program starts. Once it starts and you get upfront, quickly introduce yourself and give a general welcome. I also make sure I do a few other things when it comes to this idea of keeping new students in mind when upfront. Whenever I start my message, I always quickly review the current teaching series we are in as well as what we have talked about the weeks prior. Also, when I talk about things like retreats and mission trips I always explain what these look like and why we do them. All these things are things that are regular students know and may not want to hear explained over and over but making a new student feel welcomed and comfortable is more important.

These are just a few things we do on a weekly basis to help new students feel welcomed when they walk through the doors of our ministry. Even though I think we do well in this area we have not arrived. We can always get better. I’d love to hear from you. What are some things you do to make new students feel welcomed when they walk through the doors of your student ministry?

Doing Student Ministry in a Shared Space

chairstackNot all student ministries have their own space to meet. If you’re a student pastor that serves in a ministry that has their own space this post is not for you. Instead, this is a post for those of us who meet in a shared space. In my current position, our student ministries, both middle school and high school, meet in a shared space. Our facility has a room called the “Big Room” (we didn’t get too creative obviously) that is specificity designed for our Sunday worship services. However, it is also designed to be easily used for other events and things including our mid-week student ministry gatherings.

Not only in my current ministry, but in many of the ministries I have served in previously were ministries that met in shared spaces. Because of this I have learned a thing or two about doing student ministry in a shared space. It’s not just about making the space appropriate for your students, it’s also about respecting other ministries and doing what you can with what you have been given. Here are three important things to remember when doing student ministry in a shared space.

1. Make your stuff portable. I have met a lot of student pastors that don’t purchase or use certain things in their ministries because they meet in a shared space. Don’t let meeting in a shared space keep you from getting stuff that makes your student ministry effective and attractive. All you need to do is make sure your stuff is portable. For example, we have a ping-pong table, flat screen TV with a Wii, check in station, and more that is all portable. When we are not using the space, all our stuff it is all in a storage area. I have also been involved in ministries that have had portables stages, sound equipment, and other media/tech stuff. Meeting in a shared space doesn’t mean you can’t have certain things (big or small) that help make your ministry attractive and effective, it just means you need to think “portable.”

2. Make sure to do a good job cleaning up. One of the best things you can do as a student pastor who uses a shared space is to make sure you clean up after your ministry uses that space. Don’t be the student guy who leaves a mess hoping the facilities guy will clean it up. Don’t hold back when your using the space. Use it to the best of your abilities and make a rocking space for your students. However, put in the same amount of energy cleaning up as you do making the space “your own.” Coach up your leaders (and student leaders) in this area. Have them help you clean up after your program is over. Whatever you do, excel in this area. Your pastor will appreciate it, the facilities guy will appreciate it, and God will appreciate it as strive to be a good steward of the space He has allowed you to do ministry.

3. Compromise with other ministries. For me this is the hardest part about doing student ministry in a shared space. It’s tough at times to not be able to do certain things because it might interfere or mess with the space too much, which will affect other ministries. But remember other ministries are having to do the same for you. For example, our student ministry meets in the same space we have our Sunday worship services. There is a ton of expensive things in that room. From multiple projectors, audio equipment, and stage lights, there are a lot of things in that room that can be broken and will cost our church a ton of money to fix or replace. Because of that, there are certain games I’d love to do with our students (especially the middle school students) that I can’t do. At first I didn’t like that, but after talking to other leaders in other ministries that use that space and oversee much of that equipment that is in that room, I have come to be ok with compromise. I’ve also learned the things you usually have to compromise on with a shared space are not the most important things. It’s usually things like games and how the area is set up. All good stuff that is important to effective student ministry, but they are not deal breakers. Effective student ministry can still be done. The important things like community and Biblical teaching can be done no matter what the space is like and no matter what you can or cannot do. Learn to compromise with the other ministries that may use that space.

These are just some simple things I have learned with doing student ministry in a shared space. I am planning to do a follow-up post with pictures of our shared space and how tweak it to make it fit our student ministry. Look for that post soon.