I have never been a huge “outdoorsy” guy or someone who desires to rock climb, scale a cliff face at Yosemite or scale Everest. That kind of activity isn’t something that gets me going! I can totally understand why people love it. I am sure there is some sense of accomplishment by the actual physical activity but the real reward is making it to the top to see how far you have come. I have been to the top of Pike’s Peak in Colorado. Why would I climb to the peak when they have a perfectly good road to the top where I can drive and save myself the time? It was incredible to look out over miles and miles of God’s creation. Down the mountain you could see the lush green valley and the city of Colorado Springs. You could also see the Rockies as the mountain range stretched over miles and miles. That moment is etched into my brain, it was awe inspiring. We have these types of moments in our faith as well and they are so important. As a student pastor these mountain top moments may look different for you than it does for your students.
1. Mountain Top moments are when you feel close to God like never before.
Mountain Top Moments make you feel like you are really in the presence of our creator and king. These are powerful and life shaping moments that I believe God uses to give us an idea of whats to come!
I remember being a high school student headed to summer camp in New York. I remember the worship, “This is the Air I breath” was my jam. I remember the speaker, not his name but what he said challenged me to the core. I remember the decisions I made that week to change how I as going about my life. It was a pivotal week in my faith journey. It was one of my first mountain top moments that I will never forget.
2. Are you giving your students the opportunity to have mountain top spiritual moments?
Are you creating times where teenagers can get away from the routine of life they are currently in and spend intentional time with our Savior. We’re talking about Summer Camps, Missions Trips, Retreats, Get Aways, Discipleship Meetings, even regular church programming. These moments are faith-shapers. Teenagers need to know that the mountain isn’t forbidden, its attainable and all are welcome.
Obviously within these moments there is a place to teach, guide and shepherd. Some students feel loss when they lose sight of that feeling and those emotions. The truth is… its ok. It’s ok to feel different and not feel the same. The feelings are not what fuel our faith, its the experience that allow us perspective and allow us self evaluate. God uses that perspective to help us make necessary changes in our lives that propel us into greater knowledge and love for Him.
3. Are you planning for the moments?
Are you looking at your calendar and planning for moments, or times where you want to lean in a little harder to what God may be trying to teach the teenagers you shepherd? Your year starts now, it starts with a plan and ends with praying like everything depends on God (because it does).
What mountain top moments are you praying for this year??
I remember it all to well, the day my lead pastor walked into my office with an envelope in his hand. He asked if I had a few minutes to chat, which we all know is code for "you're screwed". He gave me the letter and let me read it. It was from an anonymous parent that was less than pleased with how things had went for their teenager in the student ministry I was leading. The letter was scathing, calling me names I'd rather not repeat and questioning my leadership. The parent, who wrote the letter, held nothing back. Instead of delivering the letter to me, of course, they sent it to my lead pastor. I was mad, I was hurt and since the letter wasn't signed with a name I tried to figure out who could have written such a letter. I will never forget that conversation, I will never forget the letter and I still to this day have no idea who wrote it. So my question is, how do you handle criticism?
If you are in ministry long enough you learn quickly that criticism comes with the territory. As a general rule, most people respond to criticism poorly. I know that my first reaction is to put up my walls and get defensive. I get defensive because I feel they are taking a shot at my character, my identity and my competency. If I am totally transparent with you, I hate criticism, constructive criticism and negative criticism. I don't like knowing Im not good enough or at least feeling like I'm not good enough.
Taking a defensive stance on criticism is the least effective way to approach push back. Below are three ways I am learning (yes, learning cause its still hard sometimes) to deal with criticism.
1. Consider The Source
Who is it that is bringing criticism? The answer to this question dictates how much stock you should place in the push back. There are people who are going to negative about pretty much anything. There are people who will always go to bat for you. When the people that usually go to bat for you are giving you feedback, you should probably listen a little harder. On the flip side, do not give the wrong people more credit than they should have. Ask yourself, "does this person bring a perspective that I should listen to?" The answer to that question will lead you into the next point.
2. Where's The Truth
Once you have determined whether the person giving feedback is a perspective you need to listen to, you need to find the truth in their statement, feedback or criticism. More often than not, they are not 100% correct in what they are saying. What if their feedback is 50% right? Shouldn't that be enough to take note of and acknowledge? Even if its just 10% correct, its worth taking in and acknowledging the truth that is there. When you look for the truth in the feedback/criticism you are approaching it with humility. That posture of humility when receiving feedback/criticism helps you evaluate honestly and allows you the opportunity to grow and not be offended.
3. Humbly Respond
Your response to the person bringing the feedback/criticism will let them know what type of a leader you are. Humble leaders are gracious in their response, quick to acknowledge truth and will own mistakes or short comings to provide a clear road to resolution. Every person deserves a gracious response, no matter the circumstances and no matter how fired up you might be. If you need to wait a day, a week or longer in order to garner a humble response then wait the appropriate amount of time. Your response will leave a lasting impression of you and your organization.
Those are just some things I have learned and still need to be reminded of often. So what about you? How do you handle criticism? Do you have any good tricks you use?
Parents are often a source of frustration as a youth pastor. They either don't value your programming like they should or are highly critical of whats going on at the church. You have to get past the urge to not care about them. The truth is they care, and care a lot. They, more than likely, have no idea how to do your job and the nuances/pressure that goes with it. Instead of holding a grudge, being dismissive or writing them off, what if you started building bridges with the parents of the students at your church?
Here are a few things you can start doing right now to make parents a priority and communicate to them how important they are! (You can get all 21 ways to make parents a priority HERE!)
1. Tee It Up For Them
Most youth ministries do not think about parents when they plan events. You think about the students loving the event and what the student can get out of it. This mindset isn't necessarily a bad thing, obviously you want students to love the events you put on but I believe that there is a crucial piece missing.
What if you took your events and designed some of them for parents to have the winning conversation with their child. You are probably good at setting up a great environment for your students to learn or have an encounter with God. It’s probably easy for you to get up and craft an incredible message about the harmful affects of pornography, the importance of purity, identity in Christ etc. I would imagine you are used to having those serious conversations with students and challenging them in their faith when it comes to the issue at hand. Where there is a drop off is the follow up, accountability and follow through with commitments that are being made. Lets be honest, we get to see our students for a few hours a week tops. This is where I think youth ministry can take huge steps in designing meaningful experiences, include mom and dad and allow parents to be the primary disciple makers and provide accountability to their own kids.
When you set mom and dad up to have the winning conversation you communicate that you understand their God given role as a parent. Parents usually aren't great at carving out time to have the kind of talks they should be having with their kids. Take the guess work out of it and make space for them to enter into the dialogue.
What you can do today:
Think critically about some of the events you currently do or dream up a new one. Here are some ideas to get your brain moving in the right direction.
Mother Daughter Mud Run - Create a mud obstacle course and set up Moms to have a conversation about their daughters identity in Christ.
Father Son Event - Flag football and a chili cook-off to set up dads to have a conversation about pornography and sexual integrity with their son.
Father Daughter Ball - Host a formal event where everyone gets dressed up has a nice meal, maybe even have some dancing and set up dad to talk about sexual integrity with their daughter and how they will fight with them and for them when it comes to this matter.
Mother Son Adventure Race - The amazing race on TV has some incredibly compelling challenges and is fun to watch. You as a youth pastor can probably create something just as fun for moms and their sons to experience. Plan it all to set mom up to have a conversation about how to treat the opposite sex and what being a man of God looks like from their perspective.
These are just ideas, what could it look like for your student ministry at your church!
2. Options For Them
Most parents enjoy being a part of what their kids are a part of. Think about the community rec sports landscape. How many dads and moms volunteer to coach their kids soccer team or little league team and have really no business being the coach? They do it because they want their child to have an awesome experience playing that sport. I believe that they would do the same thing for your ministry if they realized there was a need and that there were different options for them to serve and be a part of your student ministry.
There are parents that would be rock star small group leaders, worship leaders, game inventors, set designers, curriculum developers, light programmers, cafe workers, etc. They are missing the personal ask or the option to use their gifts. Can you create enough options for every parent in your ministry to have a meaningful serving opportunity? That is more of a challenge than anything else. There are parents that honestly do not want to serve in the same place their kids attend but there are some that are waiting for you to ask them or show them options of how they could plug in.
What you can do today:
Start writing down different ways you could utilize parents in your ministry. Think outside the box and start dreaming about what could be. Create 3 new opportunities that currently aren't options in your ministry. Get ready to send out those opportunities and see what happens.
3. Plan For Them
Your ministry calendar usually revolves around the school schedules in your community. Do you think about families when you plan events or give families the space to spend time together? Mothers Day, Fathers Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day, 4th of July, Christmas, Thanksgiving are all holidays where you have to make a decision on when to have programming and when not to, or when to schedule an event and when not to. Consider that families are looking for chances to spend together in the midst of the busyness of life. Help your families out with your schedule, realize the need for family time and plan accordingly.
What you can do today:
Send out a survey to your parents and ask them about the holidays, when it would be good to have programming or an event and when it would be detrimental. Get good data before you make decisions. This will endear you to parents if they know you are thinking about them before you plan.
What are you doing to INCLUDE parents in youth ministry?