Friday, September 25, 2015

Great Youth Ministers Build Relationships

I know that most youth leaders don’t want to be labeled as “great” because the majority are humble people who just want to make a difference.

  Twenty years ago I moved from a volunteer position in a little church in northern Oklahoma to being a full time youth pastor at Harmony Baptist Church in southeast Oklahoma.  I still can’t believe they hired me.  My college training was audio production.  The only experience I had was running my own business, a multitude of different jobs, and a couple of years of teaching youth Sunday School and ministering to students.

It didn’t take me long to realize that I could not teach Sunday School, Discipleship training time, and our Wednesday night youth group.  Thankfully there were some Sunday school teachers in place but I needed one more.  So I went on the hunt.  I didn’t know much back then and not many books had been written on the topic of building a team, in fact among a large portion of smaller Southern Baptist Churches the youth ministry philosophy was “hire a youth pastor and let him do all the work”. 

My strategy was simple.  Look for someone already connecting with students.  I noticed a couple after church on Sunday mornings standing and talking in the isles with other people.  Who were the other people?  Middle and high school students.  So I put my crosshairs on Greg and Kellie.  Soon they were teaching the high school Sunday School.  They also slid right into helping on Wednesday nights. 

On the job training is where they (and I for that matter) honed their youth ministry skills.  I don’t remember ever sitting in and listening to them teach Sunday school.  I don’t remember any lessons they taught.  I do remember them laughing with students, joking with students, talking with students and hanging out with students.  They invested into a small group of teenagers.  That is youth ministry!

I remember hanging out with Greg and Kellie, eating meals together both in our homes and out on the town.   I remember even fishing and camping with them by the lake in the woods behind our home.  (camp close so the ladies can drive up to the house for the facilities)  I remember taking a road trip with them to the mountains of Arkansas, and I got us lost a little as we traveled back home.  We had great times together as friends.

I love Greg and Kellie for a few reasons.  They always were a support and encouragement to me as a youth pastor.  They loved students and invested in their lives.  They are great friends.

Greg and Kellie were great youth ministers because they were investors, they invested into the lives of students. 

Yesterday my friend, Greg, went home to be with the Lord after a year long battle with cancer.  Today I’m positive he is worshipping at the feet of Jesus Christ, no more pain, perfect.  One day I will get to join him in that worship and we will look around and see the students that he and Kellie invested in worshipping along side of us.

Greg was a great youth minister.

Monday, September 21, 2015

5 Things Every Teenager Needs to Know about their Faith

Know their Faith 
What they believe.
One of our main purposes in our student ministry is to equip our students to understand and grasp their faith.  Owning one’s faith is vital to spiritual growth and success.  It is sad to see a student go off to college and then a liberal, non-believing, professor blows their faith apart.  Why is this even possible?  The professor knows what he believes even though what he knows is wrong.  The professor is firmly established in his belief system, even if he believes in nothing. 

Our students have to be stronger in knowing what they believe.  Ask a student, or even many church going adults, what they believe and they will tell you they believe in God and Jesus but their knowledge of God and Jesus goes nowhere beyond that point.

Reason behind their Faith

Why they believe.

When a student knows what they believe they need to be able to back it up with why they believe.  Belief is what saves but knowledge of their faith is what helps them grow and stand firm.  Ask a student “Why do you believe in God?”.  We as youth ministers need to be answering those types of questions as we teach, we need to give them the “ammunition” to be able to back up what they believe.  They need to be ready to give an answer as to why they believe.

Consistant Faith
God’s Word is unchanging.
Students need to grasp that God’s Word does not change.  We live in a fluid culture that is constantly changing.  What was taboo ten years ago is now accepted as normal.  When God’s Word says something is sin then it will always be sin regardless of what our society, culture or even government says about it.  When students grasp that God’s word is unchanging they will be encouraged because that means God’s love for them is unchanging.  With the divorce rate in America and the constant going back and forth between living with one parent then the other students need something to hold onto that is constant and consistent and God is unchanging.

Grow their Faith 
Growth requires investment and times of stretching.

Students need to establish the habit in their life of spending time daily in His word and in prayer.  Anything that grows has to be fed.  What is the diet of your students?   What is it they are taking in on a daily basis?  In many churches we have adults showing up to be fed, some will even leave a church on the basis of “I wasn’t being fed”.  At some point in our faith we have to know how to feed ourselves.  If a 13 year old kid can’t feed himself food at meal time people will look and say, “something is wrong with that kid”.  Same thing goes with us as believers.  As we grow in our faith part of that growth has to be feeding ourselves.  We have to eat more than once a week.  Many Christians are anemic because they only get fed by the pastor on Sunday mornings.  That’s the only spiritual meal they eat each week. 

Share their Faith 
We aren’t meant to keep our faith to ourselves, it’s personal but not private. 
Sharing our faith should flow naturally and be part of our daily lives and interaction with our world around us.  I, as a youth pastor, have been guilty of focusing on “bring your friend to youth group to hear the gospel” when I should have been focusing on equipping students to share their faith with their friends.  When a student shares their faith with a friend and eventually that friend comes to know Christ coming to church will follow.  Should they invite their friends? Yes.  Should they learn to invest in their friend’s lives?  Most definitely.  Jesus last words to his disciples was his command for them to go into all the world and share the gospel.  Sharing one’s faith is part of becoming a fully devoted follower of Jesus Christ.  We need to equip students and encourage students to share their faith.

Our Role

Some practical things we can do in our student ministry to move towards accomplishing the five areas about faith listed above:

  • Investment from adults in the church.  We need adults on our team who love teenagers and desire to help teens grow in their faith.  Adults who can model discipleship to students.

A balanced plan or strategy.  We need to plan out our messages/lessons well in advance with a plan to answer questions about faith.  If your plan is to figure out on Thursday what you will teach next Wednesday night you need a better plan than that.  Sit down with some students and adults and look at entire year and come up with plan.

  • Apologetics.  Look for opportunities to share helpful information to help students defend their faith.  Books, conferences, messages, small group discussion, etc.
  • Pull in current events into messages to teach students about God’s unchanging truth.
  • Equip, teach and supply students with what they need to study God’s Word on their own.  Give them quiet time journals, teach them a strategy, model this with your own life.

You can find helpful resources for equipping student in their faith here:  
LeaderTreks Deep Discipleship - a systematic approach to discipleship

Download Youth Ministry - great teaching series that you can purchase.
Simply Youth Ministry - teaching series, quiet time and devotional material
Group Publishing 

Thursday, September 17, 2015

"We do mission trips instead of camp."

I don’t have a problem with doing mission trip instead of camp.  I have had youth leaders and even students use the phrase, “We do mission trips instead of camp.” in hyper-spiritual way.  I personally think mission trips and summer camp have two entirely different purposes and goals. 

Summer camp’s focus should be on spiritual growth and bringing lost students to know Christ.  As I posted earlier, camp is a great time to help a student grow spiritually.  The focus is on teaching and worship.  I have even heard “Summer camp is focused on the student” in a negative way.  Yes!  Camp does focus on the individual student.  It’s called focusing on discipleship and spiritual growth.  It’s important and camp is great tool for accomplishing that purpose.

Mission trips teach students to reach out to the lost, to focus on individuals in need, move students out of their comfort zone.  We hope teaching students to come back home with a vision to reach the lost in their own community.   A totally different purpose from summer camp.  Of course when this happens spiritual growth can occur as well.

Why do one over the other?

The volunteer youth leader may say, “I don’t have enough vacation time to do both.”  If your passion is missions find another volunteer(s) in the church to take your group to camp or find a camp where your group can go without the need of staffing the camp yourselves.

“We don’t have the money.”  Yes, camps and mission trips can add up financially.  I have been amazed by the small churches that don’t have an abundance of funds trying to pay the way for all their kids to go to camp.  I understand scholarships, I understand helping off set the cost.  I also know that most parents will invest in their kid’s life if possible.  On average most Christian camps are far less expensive from sports camps.  I’ve seen parents drop a boat load of money to send their kid to football or soccer camp.  Our students pay for their own camp experience.  We have scholarship fund in place to help students.  I also designate some money in our student ministry budget towards camp.

Funding mission trips teaches students about the connection between finances and reaching the lost.  Our church budgets an amount to help fund mission trips but our students have to raise the bulk of their funds.  Last spring we took a mission team of 15 on a trip, the budget was around $29,000.00 for the trip, the church gave $6000 from the budget and $2000 in a love offering.  The other $21,000 was raised by individuals on the team.  Biblically when you look at the mission trips of the new testament the missionaries were backed financially by the church.

One idea I want to use this year in funding our mission trip for next spring is for students who are not going to become part of the team by helping by giving financially out of their own pocket and by sending out support letters.  
I firmly believe that where God guides he provides. 

I’m sold on doing a separate mission trip and camp experience.  Some students need that time to focus on their own spiritual walk that camp gives.  They need the camp experience to challenge them to grow and move to the next level.  Not every student is ready for a mission trip. (we take only mature eighth graders through seniors and they have to fill out an application to join the mission team)  Some students are ready for a mission trip and need that experience in their life to move them to their next level of growth and can be used to build leadership into your youth ministry.

Is doing a mission trip instead of camp wrong?  I don’t think so.  Is doing a combined camp and mission trip wrong?  I don’t think so.  But I would like to challenge us to think about the impact of doing the two separately can have.  The two have different purposes and goals so consider doing them separately.

If you are looking for a cool combination camp/mission trip check out LeaderTreks.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Choosing Your Camp Experience

What is your purpose and goal for taking students to camp?
For us our main purpose is to help students grow in their faith.  That could mean coming to know Christ as their Savior or taking that next step in their faith that will take them deeper.  Figure our your purpose and goal and build from there.

Change it up.  It is easy to get stuck in a rut.  Something I’ve noticed this year is that our older students weren’t signing up for camp.  Why? Some have summer jobs and are afraid to ask off, or don’t want to lose that money they could have earned.  (have to help them see that the spiritual investment is more valuable than the $200)
I think many of them had been to the same camp experience a few years in a row and were ready for something different.

When I arrived at Nags Head Church the youth had gone for a few years to a certain camp.  After I did some research I realized that camp didn’t fit the camp experience I wanted our students to have.  I was coming from a church that attended Fall’s Creek, a huge camp, and I wanted our church’s students to experience something similar.  I discovered Student Life.  So for several years we did Student Life camps, Student Life is a great camp, solid doctrinally, great worship, locations all across the US. 

Nine years of doing Student Life and then we decided to go do our own camp.  So we loaded the students in vans and drove to a huge log cabin that slept 50 in the Smokey Mountains of TN.  The next year we rented a camp up in the Shenandoah Valley of Va.  Doing our own camp was a good change but it was very labor intensive and required several adult volunteers to use their vacation time to help at camp.

After a couple years of doing our own camp I got a call from Matt Thomas at Camp Cale.  Matt was the new camp director and his desire was to see church youth groups to come together to camp.  For a long time Camp Cale has existed and the focus has been on individuals coming to camp on their own.  Matt desire to see churches grasp the impact that coming as a youth group to camp can have.  I told Matt we would give Cale a shot but they only had one shot to make it right.  Now we have gone to Cale for three years as a youth group.


This summer after realizing our upperclassman weren’t going to camp I quickly put together a 3 day retreat for upperclassman.  The goal was to build some unity and cast vision for the coming school year of building leadership among our students and moving toward student led youth ministry.  This mini camp accomplished that goal and purpose.

So next summer we are changing it up.  We will take our 7th through 9th graders to Camp Cale and we will do a camp trip for our upperclassman.  Trying something new and different to see how it works in hopes that this new approach will help keep the older students involved in taking advantage of the camp experience each summer and give the younger students something to look forward to.

Don’t be afraid to change it up.  Some feathers might get ruffled but our needs for our youth ministry change from year to year which means the way we do youth ministry will need to change as well.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Choosing Summer Camp

(Part 1 of the Summer Camp posts here)

It’s good to change things up every now and then.  Our student ministries can get in a rut.  Ever notice your camp attendance drop?  Perhaps it’s time to mix it up and throw in something new and different.

When I look for a summer camp experience I look for:

Good facilities - students today need air conditioning.  It’s hard to get a good night’s sleep if you are dripping in sweat.  (unless you are doing an adventure camp in tents which is a totally different approach and strategy/purpose to the camp trip)  I remember speaking at a camp the first night I preached we were in a room with the windows open and ceiling fans on and it was still in the 90 something degree range.  It’s hard for students to focus on God’s word and the message if they are melting away.  I let the camp director know that I couldn’t continue to teach that week if the AC wasn’t turned on.  They had air conditioning they just weren’t running it “to save money”.

Doctrinally Sound - I want my students to learn the Bible and the truth.  I don’t want them misled.  I certainly wouldn’t take my students to any camp or event that didn’t line up with my church’s doctrinal statement. 

Excellent recreation opportunities
- games, organized rec, climbing walls, ropes courses, etc.  The camp we been attending for a few years now has added a gaga ball pit.  That thing is always full during free time, the students love it.  I loved it until I broke my big toe.

Friendly staff
- I’m a huge fan of good customer service.  I look for a camp administration and staff treats your students in a way that shows they want the students there at camp and enjoys having them there. 

Good food
- Camp can be miserable if the food isn’t good.  Students are expending lots of energy at camp and they need to be refueled.  I also look for a camp that feeds them until they are full.  Some students eat like a bird, other students need a little more fuel in their tanks.  Good camps know what students like to eat.

Special moments
- Camps that create in their schedule special moments that build great memories.  Things like: campfires, messy games, hiking, concert, etc.  Fun can help bring down barriers.

Close to home - I have done the ten hour drive to camp in van rentals.  I don’t want to go through that again.  Do you know how many times you will hear “are we there yet?” in ten hours?  I like finding a camp that you can drive to in a matter of minutes to 6 hours (that’s my max travel time in my old age)  I don’t want to waste 2 days of camp on the road.  Close to home saves money in gas.  Perhaps you can get volunteers from the church to shuttle your students if the camp isn’t real far and that saves money in renting vans which in turn allows you to sink that money into your youth budget.  Win Win!

So are you already planning for camp next summer?

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Why Summer Camp?

Summer camp holds a special place in my heart.  Why?
  From fourth grade through eighth grade I worked at a camp named “Treasure Island”.  This camp was in the middle of the James River on an actual island.  The camp had several weeks of camp each summer for 4th through 6th graders.  This was my first taste of camp.

In high school our church’s youth group would go to camp.  We rented cabins at Waianapanapa State Park we were a small church and it was a small camp but many fun and good memories.

Once I started in youth ministry as a volunteer at a small church in rural Oklahoma I found myself joining forces with a larger youth ministry to take our students to Fall’s Creek, the world’s largest Christian camp.  Fall’s Creek was amazing.  Incredible camp pastors, great worship leaders, just a huge experience.  When I went into youth ministry full time we took our youth group to Fall’s Creek each summer.

When I moved to North Carolina to be a student minister we started taking our students to Student Life camps.  Over the past 14 years we have done a mix of Student Life, our own camps, and Camp Cale.  Every summer of the past 22 years I have been part of taking students to summer camp.  In fact in the past 22 years over a year of time from my life has been spent at camps, retreats and youth group trips.

Why do summer camp?

  • Removes students from their usual routine and atmosphere.
    There is something about getting away from the normal ebb and flow of your life that helps take your guard down.  Going to a place where most of life’s distractions are removed helps one to focus on God.  Sometimes when the noise of life is removed a student can better hear that still small voice, the whisper of God.
  • Provides a temporary escape.  

    It’s sad but there are students who have a terrible home life.  There are students who get juggled from living with one parent then back to the other.  For them the “normal” of life is living in a constant state of flux.  At camp a student can be in a place where they don’t have to be concerned or even think about the mess back home.
  • A break.
    Students work hard (or should) all year in school, athletics, extra curricular activities.  Many of those students take up summer jobs.  God created this universe in six days and on the seventh day he rested.  God intends for us to take breaks and rest.  Camp can provide a well needed break for students and rest from normal life.
  • Intentional focus on God
    Summer camp provides a week where the focus is on God and spiritual growth.  It is rare in a person’s life to get to spend an entire week that is built around God and his word.  How many adults wish now that they could get away for a week and focus solely on their relationship with God.
  • Lives are changed at summer camp.
    I have seen summer camp have an impact and influence on so many teens’ lives.  I have seen students come to know Christ at camp and even carry that new relationship home and influence an entire family to turn to Jesus Christ.  Many students realize at camp God’s purpose for their lives and even answer the call to ministry at camp.
  • Camp can be a springboard.
    Camp can be a springboard to launch your youth group into a stage of growth and outreach.  Students come back from camp challenged in their faith walk.  This is a great time to take that challenge and build on it.  (more on that in another post)
  • Camp is fun.
    Let’s be honest, camp is fun!  Students have a great time at camp.  I have a blast when I’m at camp myself.  Most camps have built into their schedule some rec time for games and competition as well as some free time where students choose their afternoon activities.  Fun is a huge draw factor on getting kids to go to camp. 
  • Builds relationships.
    Camp provides students opportunity to build relationships within their own youth group.  Living together, eating together, playing together, worshipping together can be a huge factor in tightening and strengthening relationships among your students.
  • Influence.
    A week at camp allows you, their minister, to focus on them.  During the year we get around 50 to 100 hours with them at youth group.  A week of camp gives you 120 hours of living life with your students.  You get to sit around the table and chat with them, worship with them, cheer them on, spend focus time answering questions and asking questions.  When do you get that kind of opportunity as a youth pastor?

So now that summer is over we should be looking to next summer and deciding what to do about camp.  In my next blog post I’ll write about what I look for in a camp and even challenge you to mix it up, break away from what you always do, “We always go to ________ for camp”, or, “We do mission trips, not camps.”.  Try something new, do something different.

(Part 1 of 4 on Summer Camp)

Friday, September 4, 2015

Sabbatical Prep

Well when this posts I will have been on sabbatical for 4 days.

When you are the one that leads the student ministry there is a certain amount of prep work to have your ducks in a row before going on a sabbatical.  In my case there were three months worth of Student Church to assemble and schedule.  This took some extra work but after doing it I thought I might do this same approach to every quarter of the year so I can focus on other areas of student ministry and plan and put more effort into message prep.

Thankfully I have an awesome team of volunteers that lead our student ministry.  During my absence several will take turns bringing the message at Student Church.  We are also currently using LeaderTrek's Deep Discipleship curriculum.  This allowed me the ability to go in and edit and tweak to fit our Student worship time flow.  I set up a file box and put a folder in the box for each week's Student Church.  Each folder contains:
Message Outline
Student Handouts
First Crow - our pre game team meeting guide
Next Steps - student decision cards
POD Leader guides
POD student guides

In the dropbox I put folders that contain our powerpoint slides, video and music videos for our worship time.  This dropbox is accessible from the iMac in The Loft for our tech team.

The two keys that made it easier to plan this sabbatical were an awesome team of volunteers with some who have the gift of teaching and LeaderTrek's Deep Discipleship.  A sabbatical is a great time off to rest, refresh and renew and there is a lot of work that goes into the planning and a whole lot of photo copying.

Then as you leave your office for the sabbatical there is that little voice inside saying, "did you remember everything?"  I guess in 86 days I'll know the answer to that.

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