Can I first just say a big thank you to all of you who minister to our youth and children?! You all do a great job! We have leaders (paid & volunteer) that work tirelessly to reach the next generation. My wife, Natalie, is a licensed minister with the A/G and in all of our years in ministry, she has helped me minister to our teens and kids. In New York State I was a sectional youth rep for the Hudson Valley. I prepared retreats, ran youth leader meetings, and took teens on mission trips. I have traveled with teenagers to Australia, New Zealand, Panama, Romania, Botswana, South Africa, and Haiti. Most of these were one to two month trips. I have seen them filled with the Holy Spirit and operate in the gifts. I have been a Royal Ranger commander and Natalie has done Girls Ministries. Natalie has been our volunteer kids pastor for over 6 years. I have been a leader for VBS for over a decade. In the past 6 years, we have taken our VBS and condensed it to 45 minute long chapel services. We have then taken it to Mitchell Christian School to lead kids ranging from Pre-K to 4th Graders for their Spiritual Emphasis Week.
I share this all with you because I want you to know that we have been in the trenches with you and we continue to do so. Being a lead pastor in rural America requires you to wear many hats. I want you to know that Natalie and I don’t do it alone. We have a great team that takes many responsibilities off of our shoulders. With that said, our chief role in ministry is to make disciples. I have never seen my calling as one that just ministers to this or that specific age group (i.e. kids, teens, young adults, adults, the elderly). The Apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 9:22B-23 “I have become all things to all people that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel that I may share with them in its blessing.” When I come to youth camp, I’m all in. I will rip my shirt like The Incredible Hulk. I will crawl in bubbles attempting to not twist an ankle. I will pray at the altar with everything inside of me. My heart burns for the next generation!
When I do Vacation Bible School, I will dye my hair green, or bleach it blonde. I will wear a funny costume, and do fun accents. I will make cool experiments that put them in shock and awe. I will act out dramas with their participation, so that they fully catch the story, as it comes alive to them. At this time in my life, I get to minister to my four children year after year in our VBS. That is one of my favorite parts. Three out of my four kids gave their lives to Jesus at VBS and I had the privilege to lead them along with many others! I have a child-like heart so being goofy with them and bringing them laughter comes natural to me.
When you are doing ministry, go all in! With the energy, enthusiasm, and passion you show, kids and teens will eventually reciprocate in some form. We are models. We are examples, yes, broken ones, yes, imperfect ones, but models just the same. I just turned 40 this year and I can’t tell you how many times people have said, “Oh, you are the youth pastor right?” I have learned to be comfortable in my own skin, even when people don’t see the years of maturity and ministry I have put in. Jesus sees the years you have invested. Jesus sees your hard work. Jesus sees your spiritual maturity. To the young minister Timothy, Paul said these words: “Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe.” (1 Tim 4:12) Years do not equal maturity. Years plus the practice of God’s divine principles and character equal maturity. There are many immature 50 year olds out there. Don’t be intimidated by age and don’t feel like you must outperform to show your worth. When I wear the Lead Pastor Hat, I acknowledge who I am in Christ, I respect the older generation, and I model the character of Christ to them. Some will hold on to their age bias. That’s okay. Through good shepherding, and good stewardship of the gifts God has given me, I will love them well.
Lastly, Tyler asked me this question: “How do you balance it all?” Well with that question comes creativity. We call Wednesday night our “Hybrid Night”. Once every four weeks we have “Youth Group”. Our teens lead us in worship. I share a message which usually looks more like a discussion and personal connection than a formal message. We play a game and we just have fun. On the other three Wednesdays I lead our teen boys in Royal Rangers, and Natalie leads the teen girls in Girl’s Ministries. We have done this for years. Our teens go to youth camp, youth mission trips, and youth conference. We do special fun events with them as well. Wednesday night is focused on teens and children alone. We don’t do any adult Bible studies that night. For adults this is a night to serve, not a night to be fed. A Hybrid really describes all the ministry we do. Creativity, passion, and being on mission are all the tools that fuel the vision to make disciples. I hope and pray that God has given you something here to put in your spiritual back-pack. We are on mission together and I’m so happy to be on this journey with all of you in the South Dakota District! Hats off to you!!
In this modern world, our children and youth are being bombarded daily by messages from varying sources. Social media in numerous forms vies for their attention, subtly asking them if they are “cool” enough and fit into the norms of the world. The entertainment industry is now much more than radio or a CD - it can be accessed by computer, tablet, or phone, and is available all day to our youth, allowing a pervasive and powerful influence. As our nation drifts further and further from our Judeo-Christian roots, even the primary education system can contradict God’s word. The teachings on Sunday mornings and Wednesday night are often lost in the cacophony of stimulus that our kids are exposed to. It should be little surprise that it has become more difficult to keep our children grounded in their faith once they become adults.
How do we make the Gospel and Biblical principles more real and lasting as they grow up and leave the circle of our influence? By doing the one thing the world cannot do - being a shoulder to lean on instead of just one more voice. Mentoring, by definition, is a long-term relationship focused on supporting the growth and development of a young person by someone who is experienced. In the book “You Lost Me,” The Barna group identified one common complaint among millennials who had left the church - what they had been taught just didn’t seem relevant. A mentoring relationship, if done intentionally, can bridge the gap between theory and reality as they see Christ lived out in our lives as adults. It provides the opportunity for us to answer questions and understand the challenges of growing up in our modern world, and help them apply Godly principles to real problems.
My favorite story on mentoring happened on a Royal Ranger hike. For several weeks we had been going over the Royal Ranger Code, and had recently talked about what it meant to be “Clean in body, mind, and speech.” I had mentioned that foul language might seem cool, but wasn’t ok with God. On the hike, I noticed one boy who insisted on being right behind me, to the point of starting an argument with a couple other Rangers. Before long, this young man and myself were ahead of the others, and it became obvious that he had something on his mind. As we rounded a curve and the others were no longer in ear shot, he asked me “Commander, do you cuss?” It wasn’t enough for him to hear what we said, he wanted to see it in action, and to know if we actually were living what we taught.
Mentoring requires more effort. You must be present consistently and intentionally, and spend enough time “doing life” together to build a relationship of trust - whether it’s a hike, regular Wednesday night small group or Royal Ranger meetings, a campout, working on a knot tying merit, coffee after school, attending a high school athletic event or a youth group ski trip. Paul, writing in Titus 2:6-8 summed up God’s model for discipleship, “Similarly, encourage the young men to be self-controlled. In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us.” If you aren’t already, I would encourage you to begin the process of mentoring the children and youth of your church and community!
As fall approaches, the return to school is on everyone's minds. School districts have been strategizing for months on how to safely and effectively start school this fall. Many districts have started to share their plans and it's giving us a glimpse into the difficulties our schools will face when the bell rings again. If we are called to serve our community, I believe the church could be a part of the solution to this current crisis. Here are just a few ideas about how you and your church could help serve your school district this coming fall:
Facility Space: Most of our churches sit idle for the majority of the school week. Even now, some of our typical on-site programs have been cancelled or postponed. Let your school principal or the school district superintendent know that you have facility space available during the week if they need it. Most schools are already full and are now facing the challenge of trying to social distance in every area. If your building is near a school, perhaps you could play host to some classes, gym time, staff meetings or a teachers' lounge. If you're not close, perhaps you could host ISS students, students who need to be quarantined as a precaution or because they are at high risk, or for before or after school activities. You could also serve as an internet site should the school district need to flex to online learning. A few students could come to the church, inside or outside, social distanced, and use the internet to get their work done. God has blessed you with great facilities. How can you leverage that for influence in your community?
Substitute Teaching: Some teachers will not be able to be around the whole year, if at all, due to their own health risks or that of their loved ones. Most substitute teachers are retired teachers which would put them in the high-risk age category. And with teachers expected to stay home at the first sign of a symptom, or even if they were exposed to someone with the virus, the need for substitute teachers will be great. Perhaps you could take one day a week or every other week and substitute in your local school. This would meet a great need and you'd even make a little cash on the side (your missions offering?).
Bus Drivers: Just as school staff will have to be extra cautious or even absent due to symptoms, bus drivers will need to do the same. In some districts, the school is even discussing doubling the bus runs so students can be better social distanced on buses. This requires more bus drivers than ever before. This is a great way to serve and not interfere in your work day as much since most of the driving is early morning and later afternoon. Most districts do not require any prior experience. They will train you and get you certified at no cost. And again, you'll get paid to drive.
Auxiliary Staff: With new standards and guidelines for health, distancing, and symptom checks, our schools will need more personnel than they can afford. Lunch rooms will be split between 4 rooms so more lunch monitors will be needed. Students with even a hint of a symptom will be sent to the office to keep them quarantined till a parent can pick them up so staffing those extra spaces - keeping students distanced - will be needed. Some schools will check temps as everyone arrives or periodically throughout the day and extra staff will be needed for this. Could your church rally a handful of volunteers to serve a few hours a week?
Be Available: Make a concerted effort to touch base with your school or school district weekly or bi-monthly to see what needs have arisen and how you might meet it. Some of the needs are unknown at this point, but to have a group call and be available no matter what should arise is a major blessing for a school district. Even if there isn't a need you can meet, just hearing from the community who is ready to help will be a much-needed encouragement.
My prayer is that the school districts around our state would KNOW that the church in their community is there to serve them during this time. This is our moment - will we capitalize on it?
As we enter the second half of 2020, it's a good chance for us to pause and evaluate where we are at with Speed the Light and BGMC. But first, let's remember why these ministries are important, even during a time of uncertainty and chaos.
The giving nature of God never ceases. I hope you see it in your life daily, if not, weekly. You, me, and our students were created in the image of God which means we have a giving nature too. It's who we were created to be. We need to give outlet for that to be expressed.
Like an engine that sits idle day after day, it runs sluggish and eventually will seize if not run regularly. For ourselves and for our students we need to keep our giving engine running so it doesn't lock up. It will be much harder to get back to where you were as an individual and a group with your giving if you shut off all opportunity. But if you keep flexing that muscle, you won't lose ground and you may even gain ground.
The need is still great. I've never lived in a time that feels more like the clock is winding down than what I live in right now. We know with each passing day, the return of Jesus is drawing nearer. Yet there is so much more work to be done! Our missionaries are on the front lines waiting for the tools they need to advance the gospel. I'm not going to hold them back. I'm going to keep giving.
Our "Vision 2020" for SD NextGen has a goal of "Giving $100k to STL & $50K to BGMC annually and TO NEVER GO BACK". When God put that on our hearts as a leadership team, He knew this is what 2020 would look like and yet he still called us to do this. After two incredible years of giving, the stakes just got higher. I refuse to lose ground. I KNOW we are capable. If the independent spirit of South Dakota during this time has taught me anything, it's that we can accomplish things that other places in the nation can't because we are hearty folk.
With that, view the graphic below to let me give you some updates on our STL & BGMC giving 6 month into the year.
As you read this report in the graphic below, I hope your heart aches with the need and also beats with a passion to see us reach these goals and see people's lives transformed.
If I can be of any help in cultivating a giving culture in your church or youth/kid's ministries, I would LOVE to be a part of it. I can help you dream about creative ideas, strategies for discipleship in giving/missions, or speaking for your youth or sunday morning service. Let me know how I can help you! Thank you for your part in helping us reach our goals and seeing the kingdom of God advance, even during the different days we live in! May God bless your ministry for your continued involvement in missions!
One of my favorite characteristics of Generation Z is how willing they are to go ALL IN for a cause. Gen Z wants to make a difference, fight for justice, and be a voice to those around them. Think about how powerful this generation can be, especially when they are discipled by God-fearing, God-loving pastors and leaders. We have an opportunity right in front of our faces that even Covid-19 can’t stop. As pastors and leaders, we need to make our ministries the safe space to voice their heart, we must communicate the why behind Jesus, and we must always point to biblical truth.
Generation Z is also known as the publishing generation; if they have an opportunity to post on social media they will! To me, that means we need to become their biggest cheerleader. We need to help them “publish” and make their voice known in the church. The church should be one of the best places for them to express, ask questions, help lead others, etc. If they can’t be a voice in their own church, they will go somewhere else - most likely friends, social media, etc. where Jesus isn’t the front runner. Let our churches become the best platform for Generation Z to seek after Jesus, wrestle with the hard questions, and be discipled into the strongest leaders.
I grew up in a church setting where it felt more of “do this but don’t do that”. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love the church and my experiences, but the heart was hardly communicated. Like I said, Generation Z loves to be behind a cause. A cause always needs a WHY. That means we must constantly communicate the WHY. WHY does Jesus matter? WHY should I live by the principles in the Bible when the world clearly doesn’t? WHY is church important? I could go on and on… But let me tell you, when Generation Z believes in the why they are hooked. Think of the Jesus impact they could have on their schools, families, friends, businesses, etc. if they get behind the “Why of Jesus”.
Lastly, Biblical truth needs to be at the absolute forefront of everything we do! Generation Z loves justice, but we must teach biblical justice instead of the world’s view. But the trick is, we cannot ignore the world’s view because this is what they see every day through friends, social media, youtube, etc. Discipleship comes into play once again, that we can help steer them into God’s word to find Truth.
One of my favorite things we do in our youth ministry is our Student Spotlight. This is something I started since I first arrived to Brandon Valley Assembly of God almost 5 years ago. Each service we give a student an opportunity to share part of their story. I give them three topics to hit: what is the story, what did you learn, and what do your peers need to take away from this? What’s even better is that this is often the student’s favorite part of the night and are lining up for the following weeks. Why? It gives students a chance to publish their voice, process their why, and find God’s is active and alive in their life. It becomes a beautiful opportunity to disciple our students and walk them through their relationship with Jesus. Now, it has looked different over the last few months, but we must always adapt. We’ve posted a few student’s stories over social media, but again that’s who they are!
The days of the pastors doing it all and students merely coming to listen are over. This is only ONE way, and I certainly do not have all the answers, but what more can you do to get the students active in their faith? What other capacities in your youth and kids ministry can students lead to help create ownership and actively learn the WHY? Maybe students lead the discussion in small group, share more student testimonies, have students lead on the worship team, have a student-led night, create a student-led planning team, etc… the possibilities are endless! I truly believe the more students can voice their hearts, learn the WHY behind Jesus, and grow in Biblical Truth that relates to their daily lives we will see more students fight for the cause of Jesus.
Most of our churches across SD have reopened for Sunday morning services. But very few have reopened their in-person gatherings for children. While children's ministry never stopped, the relaunch of meeting face to face brings a new set of challenges post-shutdown. No one knows what the future holds for the Church in this new reality of life and ministry. But here are 7 observations I've made as children's ministries ramp up for their relaunch.
- Children's Ministry is More Vital to the Sunday Morning Experience Than Ever
I have heard from many churches, parents and leaders that young families aren't returning to church until there is ministry for their kids. It's simply easier to watch service online, both for parents and the kids, in the ease and comfort of your own home. During the shutdown, my wife and I would watch church service upstairs and I would setup another screen downstairs for our children to have children's church at the same time. It worked very well for all of us. My kids thrived during this time and really engaged with the online content. Many families are choosing this option over attending church when the children need to sit with them in the main service. All this to say, when you can safely and effectively open up your children's ministries, I believe you will see a strong and steady increase in church attendance. This is important for so many reasons. The strength and momentum of the church will be firing again. People are going to be more engaged in the message and life of the church (come on, we all know our church family was dual screening or doing household chores during online church!), and will provide for more volunteers available for the Sunday experience. Not to mention the greater effectiveness you can have in ministering to children now that we are back in person. All this being said, . . .
The Return of Families Will Be Slow
While many will start returning, don't expect EVERYONE to return right away. Some have become comfortable doing Sundays at home. The normal "summer slump" in attendance is an even greater reality now than it was. While people are in this summer schedule, they may just finish out the summer doing church from home and plan to return come fall. Others just want to wait and see how it goes when you relaunch. They may wait a week or a month to see if there are any outbreaks or just knowing that your team will be better equipped in the future with weeks of experience under your belt. Celebrate with those who come back right away and bring your "A" game from the beginning. And as each week sees more families showing up, celebrate them and let them know they were missed.
Volunteers Will Be Hard To Come By
No duh, Sherlock. That's every day in children's ministry. Unfortunately, that is true. But I anticipate that getting volunteers will be harder post-shutdown. The break has given time for your low-level leaders to reconsider how they spent their time and have decided to not continue volunteering. Other adults may not be coming back to church for various personal reasons. Others may come back to church, but have decided they don't want to be around those little "carriers" anymore. And still others have found another place to serve in the church during the "back to church but no kidmin yet" time. As tough as this reality might be, how can you structure your ministry to not need as many volunteers? Is there a way to restructure your format or your facility to allow for less volunteers? Can you reschedule service flow to allow a leader to pull double duty? Also, get a head of the need. If you're not already, be on the phone to your key volunteers to put them at ease, cast the vision for Kidmin post-shutdown, and to see where they are at. Then move to others who you've been putting off asking pre-shutdown. It's now time to pull all the stops and ask anyone who would be available and healthy. Talk with your church staff about the ministries they are leading to find out if there are any of their leaders who have stepped down from those positions. Perhaps all they needed to keep volunteering was a change in ministry. Doing what you can ahead of time will keep you from freaking out Saturday night (or maybe that will happen anyway!)
Where You Start is Not Where You'll End Up, but Where You End Up Will Be Different Than Where You Were.
Social distancing, masks, sanitization stations and every kid in hazmat suits. Ok - so that last one might be a bit much, but we all realize there will be adjustments when our kid's ministry relaunches. Different is ok and even necessary. Just know some of these changes will only be in place for a short season. As people become more comfortable and as the virus fades, many of these precautions will be lifted. And yet, other changes we need to make are here to stay. Even as you relaunch and are addressing the immediate, keep your eye to the horizon. What might you need to be prepared for in the future? What might be unnecessary in the future so you can limit the energy you give to it now and reinvest that energy on more longterm efforts? What does the future look like for your kid's ministry? If there is a second wave in winter months, what do you need to be doing now to prepare? In leadership we should always have one on the current situation we are in but always have an eye to the future, weighing the coming trends and potentialities so we are prepared to lead our people into changing times.
Digital is No Longer the Future. It's the Current.
While digital content has been around for awhile in next gen ministries, it's increased presence and necessity has risen and never been more obvious. Just because the shutdown is over, doesn't mean digital ministry goes away. It is here to stay. Our kids have been engaging with online content for the last number of months. It has effected how the engage with the message. How does this effect how we structure our services when families return to church? What online elements do we need to continue to offer, both in the short term for families who are not returning to church yet, but also for the long term to reach those who are on the fringes of the church or those who may never set foot in the church. I think we need to keep digital and online ministry at the forefront of our children's ministries because of how it helps us reach further than we could before, in differing engagement styles according to family/child needs, and will prepare us for any future shutdowns, short or long term. How will you keep digital front and center in your children's ministry?
You're Not Alone
It can easily feel like we are trudging uphill through two feet of snow with our ministry strapped to our back and no one is around to help, let alone anyone else climbing and hauling in the same way beside you. But don't let Satan make you feel alone. There are many individuals, groups on Facebook, and online resources to help you be encouraged and resourced. THOUSANDS of others are trying to figure out the same things you are. Reach out to them, learn from each other, and support each other. In the same way, don't keep yourself cut off from others who could benefit from your experience, your mindset, or your encouragement. Just as you need someone else, there is someone else who needs you. I encourage you to reach out to those children's pastors in our district who are nearby you and network together. I also invite you to use our SD NextGen Children's Pastor's Facebook Group to encourage others and find support yourself.
Go Easy On Yourself
This is a very overwhelming time. There is so much change, so much to rethink, and so much to buckle down and do. And after the last few months of online ministry, which was hardest for children's ministry, it can feel like you're already behind or perhaps even failed. Be encouraged today. Don't beat yourself up. This is a new day for everyone and we are working to figure it out. If you're being a good steward of your time and resources, and you're doing your best, let God handle the results. Inevitably you will have some misses and mistakes and yet you will no doubt have victories and successes. Don't lose sight of the latter under the shadow of the former. God has STILL called you for this time and this place. He will give you what you need if you stay humble before him. I'm praying a fresh breath of energy, creativity, and encouragement on each kid's ministry leader today. You've got this.
For more information, here's a great resource on relaunching your kids ministry. You can find other great resources on relaunching the church from our national office at Covid19.AG.org:
FROM YOUR DYD
Phone calls, emails, texts, Marco Polo, Facebook messages, and ON AND ON AND ON! How can a pastor be OFF when you're ALWAYS ON!?
During my time on staff at Sioux Falls First, our staff found ourselves using multiple tools to communicate as a team, but with no common understanding of when we were supposed to be on or off, how quickly we needed to respond, and what channel we were to communicate about what. It left us with feeling overwhelmed, stressed, spread thin trying to keep up with all the communications, never allowed to disconnect and inevitably we'd come to a meeting or event and at least one of us didn't have the most up-to-date information. Without a plan for team communication, your team can't function at it's highest potential. Here was the plan I came up with:
-Information Type: Future impending information
-Expected Response time: respond within 24 hours only on work days
We used this online app to organize project or event based conversations with some or all of us.
-Information Type: Necessary
-Expected Response Time: Respond within 3 hrs or beginning of your next work day if message came in when you were off
-Information Type: Pressing
-Expected Response Time: respond at earliest conveniences, even on day off
-Information Type: Urgent
-Expected Response Time: respond ASAP, even on day off
When our whole team agreed upon communication methods, we were able to better communicate with each other, avoid distracting rabbit trail conversations, respect each other's off time by communicating in the proper method, and ultimately to lead better as a team.
While your communication methods may be different or more simple, develop a plan for each team you're on that will help you to function at the highest level.
We all know we can’t do ministry alone— we need a team. This is where our volunteers, our team, our leaders come in. Recently our staff read the book, Ready, Set, Grow by Scott Wilson. One of the key aspects of the book is that in order to grow, we need to multiply our leadership. We need to appoint and empower leaders to do the work of the ministry. What opportunities are we giving our leaders to lead in their strengths? Are we humble enough to delegate or pass on ministry moments to our leaders so we can see growth spread in our congregation and in our youth and kids ministries? I’m still growing in this area and have to weekly re-evaluate and seek out leaders so we can have open communication about where they are at and where they would like to grow in ministry.
I asked some of my leaders questions to start the conversation on this growth and I thought I’d share them with you. Hopefully this sparks an understanding in you of how you can reach your leaders, encourage them in their leading, and gauge their involvement in your ministry as you ask them your own questions as well.
Bryan Misch has been serving on our One80 Youth Ministry team since 2017 serving with two youth pastors. Emily Antonen has also served under the same two youth pastors as Bryan for her three and a half years on the youth team. Kristie Arens has been serving in youth ministry for 20+ years and has lead with six different youth pastors.
When I asked these leaders what their favorite part of youth ministry is they all shared an equal love for seeing students truly understand what they are being taught. Bryan also stated that he loves seeing the growth from child to young adult as it is a time of “responding to the spiritual needs of teens and building trusting relationships” as they grow in “education, connection, formation, and hopefully transformation.”
In response to the question, “How involved do you like to be as a volunteer and would you like to serve more or less?” Kristie said that if she lived closer she would serve even more than she already does (she is on our Leadership Team, which are leaders who want to invest more time than just coming to events and being present on Wednesdays and have more of a say in youth ministry decisions). Because of the distance and because she also farms, she needs to prioritize her calling and her family while still being able to serve as much as she has in ministry. Kristie stated in both her answer to this question and to the next that her calling is “to my husband, my family, my farm” first. As a side note—be sure to celebrate these decisions in your leaders. Kristie has been in youth ministry the longest of our leaders and has a passion for leading youth to Christ. She is dedicated and sacrifices a lot to be on our Leadership Team. I know she and our other leaders who live farther away, can feel pulled in different directions from home and ministry and volunteering on other teams. Let’s remember to communicate our appreciation for these invested leaders regularly and applaud them when they state and stick to their boundaries concerning their families and careers.
Bryan, another leader who serves in multiple areas in the church, said that though he cannot commit to serving more now, he does think it would fun to be part of our Leadership Team some day to “give my thoughts and share ideas and to be more supportive of our youth pastor.” (I have the best leaders!)
My third question to these leaders was, “What is one thing you would love all youth and kids pastors to know from the perspective of a volunteer?” Emily said, "Leaders want information— don’t leave us out in the cold—we want to help.” I have loved being able to see how much this group of leaders want me to give them things to do and how much they want information about what’s going on. Sometimes I might feel like I have given my leaders the information in so many ways through text, paper copy of our calendar, weekly info, and Marco Polos but you can never over share to your volunteers the information of what you are doing and why you are doing it. I am challenged by this idea weekly— how can we efficiently and sufficiently get information from our heads to our leaders so they are fully prepared?
Bryan shared his honest thoughts on what he would like all kids and youth pastors to know from a volunteer. First, “It’s not fair to ask volunteers to do something that they haven’t been trained for.” Everything from weekly contacts to leading a small group and addressing behavioral issues should be something we invest time in to our leaders. How effective are we at this? Do we as pastors just assume they know how to do it? What resources can we use to further those teaching moments? Bryan went on to say, "Have you ever felt that your leaders ‘don’t get you?’ It could be that you need to get them first… In the same way that the volunteers serve the youth, remember it’s ok to serve the leaders… Maybe follow up with them to find out how things are going; not just in their ministry to the students but other areas of their lives.”
From a volunteer’s perspective, Kristie would like all kids and youth pastors to know, “We are not superheroes. We feel a calling but youth pastoring is not our job.” But that doesn’t stop Kristie— “We just want to make a difference. If we can help a student avoid tumbling down a mountain. If we can point one towards Christ. We want to make a difference.” I LOVE THIS! This sums up perfectly the heart of our volunteers in our ministries. I challenge each of us to encourage this heart of serving in our leaders by giving them responsibilities to grow, investing in their lives even outside of ministry, and growing in our communication so we can stay on the same page as together we lead this next generation to Christ.
Lastly, how can we encourage our volunteers in their leadership? Kristie mentioned ways that I honor our youth leaders well—buying coffee for leaders at Youth Conference, giving them birthday gifts, praising them, and writing notes of encouragement and prayers to each leader. Kristie’s love language is words of affirmation and gifts but she also appreciates being trusted to handle things in the ministry— it goes a long way in showing how much I appreciate her.
Emily also talked about her love languages of quality time and words of affirmation for ways to specifically show encouragement and appreciation to her. She encourages pastors to get to know what your leaders love language is so you can affirm them that way.
Bryan said encouragement goes such a long way and can be done in so many different ways. “Never underestimate just how insecure [leaders] are!” He feels that most volunteers often feel that they are not very good at leading. Sometimes they wonder if the work they do is appreciated. A way to combat that feeling is to provide group feedback whenever you meet as well as speaking to leaders individually about the work they are doing. Group feedback is a great chance to talk about how well your leaders are relating to students and individual communication affirms their efforts in specific ways.
After reading this maybe you have some of your own questions for leaders to share with me and the other pastors so please reach out with your ideas so I can continue to grow my volunteer team and teach them to do the work of the ministry as we do life together.
Ministry is never done alone. For those who may not know, SD NextGen is a team effort that I have the honor of leading. But we have some very capable and top-level leaders who help shape what and how we achieve what God has asked us to do. Let me introduce you to the leadership structure for SD NextGen:
Executive Leadership Team: This smaller group of leaders helps shape our budget, core values, and strategic visioning for the ministry.
-Ben Snyder, Asst. DYD, Aberdeen First
-Jake Koenes, Youth Pastor, Crosswalk, Sioux Falls
-Nicki Smosna, Kid's Pastor, Yankton First
Leadership Team: Our leadership team is comprised of a broader representation of our #605Fam in both youth and kids ministries. This team helps to implement and facilitate the vision and to be an accessible resource for our nextgen leaders across the 605. These leaders are available to you if you have questions or need encouragement as they may be closer to you geographically.
-the ELT members
-Nathaniel Molan, Youth Pastor, Rapid City 1st
-Casey Antillon, Youth Pastor, Brandon AG
-Ryan Wolfenden, Kid's Pastor, Aberdeen 1st
-Jon Molan, Associate Pastor, Restoration Church, Huron
-Joe Bailey, Black Hills Retreat Center Director; Associate Pastor, Lead AG
Directors & Coordinators: Our Directors and Coordinators lead ministry-specific teams within SD NextGen.
-Royal Rangers Director: James Dye, layman, Journey Church, Rapid City
-Girl's Ministries Director: Nicki Smosna, Kids' Pastor, Yankton 1st
-Junior Bible Quiz Coordinator: Jeremy Harris, Watertown CLAG
-Teen Bible Quiz Coordinator: David & Denise Sullivan, laymen, Rapid City Bethel
-Missions Coordinator: Nathaniel Molan, Youth Pastor, Rapid City 1st
-Fine Arts Coordinators: Kym Tufte, Youth Pastor, Yankton 1st; Krystle Tufte, SDAG Admin
-Krystle Tufte helps part-time with SD NextGen. She is available to assist you with questions or information you may need.
The entirety of SD NextGen operates under the vision and leadership of our District Superintendent, Pastor Steve Schaible and the district presbytery.
I am grateful to serve alongside these incredible leaders as we steer SD NexGen to be aligned with the vision of God.
I just want you to know, it's ok.
During these last few months of Covid, I've talked with many of our youth and kids' pastors and asked them how they are doing during this time. Most of them have expressed to me various feelings of frustration, exhaustion, or failure. Learning to lead and minister during this time has been overwhelming and to see the waning response from students, parents, children, or even our closest leaders has become discouraging. Responsibilities outside of our nextgen role have increased ten fold. Some have asked me "What more can I do?" and others have said "I'm not even a youth pastor anymore . . ." How should we feel during this time and what should we do? Let me offer some suggestions:
First, it's ok. It's ok to feel the way you're feeling. It's ok that your "normal" has vanished. It's ok that your students or kids aren't responding anymore. It's ok that last week's online service had glitches. It's ok. One of the greatest attacks that satan uses against us is self-defeat: doubt, lack of confidence, fear, etc. Do NOT let satan get a foothold in your life over this. Do not question your calling. Do not let sin creep in. Do not allow division to come between you and your people or between you and your lead pastor. We all are under authority, but as you are able, release yourself from the self-imposed expectations that are often more burdensome than what our boss asks of us. Let go of your savior complex. Jesus has got this. And he has a pretty good helper, the Holy Spirit. Remember, it isn't your job to save students. It's your job to show them the way.
During this time, refresh and renew your ministry vision. While we might not know HOW church will look going forward (programming), we can begin to decide the WHY of ministry going forward (mission, values). What are the things that are important in this new world? Personal devotion, discipleship, a worship experience, but maybe not as often or as similar as before. Who do you want your youth or kids to become through your ministry? Map it out and then determine HOW to get there as we see what is possible in this post-covid day.
Serving your lead pastor and the Sunday service SHOULD be a top priority. I know this may not be what you trained for, hoped for, or even love doing. But the Sunday experience is still crucial to the success of the local church. And it is one of the main things constantly on the heart of your pastor. I believe if you serve your pastor's vision and the Sunday experience with your very best, your personal life and ministry area will be blessed. It isn't a distraction or a hassle. This IS the ministry you are called to do, even if it doesn't have the word youth or kids attached to it.
"It's ok" is not an excuse for laziness. Work as unto the Lord. Ecclesiastes 9:10 - "Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might." Young leaders, whether pastors or in other fields, may be viewed as lazy by older generations. This is not always true of us, but we have to remember we need to prove ourselves. Show yourself to be a faithful, hard worker. Show up on time, meet project deadlines, do what is asked of you. God will not hold us accountable for how our students engage with us or the Gospel, but He will hold us accountable to the effort we put forth for the work He called us to do. We don't earn God's approval by how many hours we put in, and yet we are compelled to give Him our very best.
Times are changing rapidly. The days we've come through are already fading in the rearview mirror. Yet we know changes are still coming and we don't know what it all means for the Church or nextgen ministry. Just remember - it's ok. Play the long game. This work you are called to is a journey, a marathon. Pace yourself, continually looking to the future, analyzing the times and anticipating changes. You will get through this. And I'm praying you and your ministry are stronger because of this time. I believe in you and I know God is doing a work in and through you.
Remember, God loves you and so do I.
This newsletter is a fantastic opportunity to share and be ministered by nothing better than our 605fam. I have been spending time during Covid19 pondering a lot of what is next. Maybe you have heard people say that when we come out of social distancing and return to "normal," it can't be the same as before. Maybe you agree. It is a privilege to hit pause on the many agendas that were to take place this summer for our kids' ministry. Now I have wrestled with this plenty of times mainly because there is work to be done! My heart is to reach kids to know our Father authentically, and this is a desire that words can't seem to do justice. When I speak about the privilege, I talk about the intimacy I get to share with Christ now, in this season.
I am a children's pastor at Yankton First Assembly and have been doing this for four years. Before this position, I still remained close to raising kids through daycare or seeing the hope special needs kids had for changing the world when I was a paraprofessional. Either way, God set me up to have a heart and a desire to help parents and adults see why kids are the greatest in the kingdom.
The verse that continues to stir me and consistently lines my mind toward the goal God is suggesting I reach is Psalms 90: 15 and 16. Moses was crying out to God during their 40 days of wandering. And he cries out to God, saying, "We've been overwhelmed with grief; come now and overwhelm us with gladness… let us see your miracles again, and let the rising generation see the glorious wonders you're famous for" Wow. Moses believed in the next generation. So should we.
I know that kids can seem like a mystery to most. I understand that each child is differently built with different gifts and different areas they can grow. I know this because of who I am and who He says I am. Each child is raised differently in a different home and is growing up from the influence of parents who need to know what they are capable of. Parents who needs to see the gift of a child and the world they can change! I am not saying this to condemn; I am saying this because there is hope. A hope that we as parents can do this, we as pastors can do this, we as leaders can do this, and we can only do this through Jesus.
Now back to children and why they are the greatest in the kingdom. As we grow older, the hardness of the world often make our hearts callous. We have been hurt, we have been modeled a bad habit - I am sure you know what your worldliness is. Either way, we no longer see like a child does because of growth in a fallen world. Think about the moment you were given a gift as a child. Remember how excited you were to open it no matter what was inside because it was a gift you received. I think kids have it figured out. When we teach them, they are often vulnerable, humble, and have teachable little attitudes. This is definitely something we can learn from. They are often void of pride, hypocrisy, or haughtiness. Often, kids are trying to get the approval of their parents, starting at a young age. I know that I struggle with some of the things that these kids don't. What is so great about this, we as adults can raise them up to know and see Jesus from the miracles He is capable of doing through us. We have this quiver full of arrows. We have studied and been taught how to aim the arrow to the middle of the target. The reason is because of the people who planted seeds in our lives to bring us here. Ultimately, the promise God had for us and His goodness brought us out of the storms we went through.
Jesus' children have significance. No matter what age, we can be the greatest in His kingdom. The only way we can do that is by being like a child. Matthew 18:3,4 "So, unless anyone becomes like a little child, he will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven. So anyone who becomes humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven." True humility can bring us to where God wants us. We don't have to compete or justify our decisions unless we humble ourselves before the Lord.
Sometimes I like to stand for a moment in a room full of kids worshipping. When I look around and see how easy and straightforward it is for those kids to receive the presence of God, I am often immediately overwhelmed by how we serve an amazing God who can look at a child and show the gift we can receive through faith. We have a rising generation, leaders and pastors! They are growing up now in this messy world, truly knowing the Father and His goodness. Let's be a part of that. Let's show the kids we have been positioned to teach, helping them and their parents rise up and bring the Kingdom of Heaven.
God is a God of peace and justice. His righteousness is perfect and his grace is complete. Jeremiah 33 contains a Word of the Lord coming to Jeremiah about the future restoration, peace, and prosperity for Israel and Judah. I believe it is a word God speaks over us today. In verse 6, it says "Nevertheless, I will bring health and healing to it; I will heal my people and will let them enjoy abundant peace and security." Our land needs healing from many injustices and tragedies. This past week our screens were consumed with a glaring example of one of these injustices. How do we lead as youth and kids leaders during this time?
This is a huge conversation that cannot be contained in this small post. But I want to encourage you with a few thoughts. First, let me humbly admit, I'm more confused, angry, and hurt than I am confident in giving answers. No one deserves to be treated in the manner George Floyd was. But not being a person of color, I can't tell you all the ways that our society needs healing change. I can only encourage you in the few ways I know are a part of the solution:
1. First, start or continue conversations with your students around unity, grace, and the negative impacts of racism. If the Church can't talk about it, there can be no healing. I'm encouraged to hear many of our churches reaching out to African-American brothers and sisters in Christ to help create conversations of unity, understanding and healing amongst our students. Reach out to a trusted voice if you need help on this sensitive topic.
2. Don't be afraid to admit you don't know the answers or even what needs to be said. We all have different histories and backgrounds which is the beauty of our nation and our churches. Yet many people prefer to cover their insecurities by speaking the loudest and the boldest, without having much of anything to say. Instead, be humble. It's ok to not know what to say or what to ask. Be willing to work together with others to hear what they have to say and shape your thinking by listening to trusted voices and a wide spectrum of opinions. By the way, may we not forget to START with the "opinion" of the Word of the Lord. This is the only opinion that is perfect, true, and is a foundation for us to build upon.
3. They will know we are Christians by our love. This is foundational to our faith and who Christ has called us to be. "For God so LOVED the WORLD". Are we teaching our students how to show love, how to BE love to a broken world? Are we encouraging them to love each person - those different than us, those ruder than us, those angrier than us, those further from God than us? It must become an instrumental part of our students' lives if they are to live as Christ in this world. Be an example of love in the way you live and talk. And then teach them how to do the same.
A quick word on youth vs. kids: as a leader, you must navigate the sensitivities of your pastor, church leadership, families, and students. Even in a conservative, somewhat secluded state like ours, there are a variety of comfortabilities with difficult topics. Ask yourself these questions:
1. What is my pastor comfortable with me discussing with those I lead? If you don't know, ask. Don't guess or assume.
2. What would the parents of your students be ok with you discussing? Some are very conservative and others understand their teenager is already exposed to this via social media and their friends. At the very least, communicate to parents PRIOR to digging deep into any sensitive topic.
3. What is age appropriate? Youth can and should be discussing these situations in great detail. However, this probably isn't an appropriate conversation for children, especially the younger they are. Focusing on the gospel teachings of love, peace, and kindness go a long way towards shaping for younger students the conversation on racism, hatred, and injustice to have when they get older.
I'm praying for the healing, peace, and security promised to Israel in Jeremiah. And I'm believing that God can and will use his Church to bring it about.
My name is Jonathan Molan, my wife is Heather, and we have three children: Elijah 6, Elizabeth 3, and Joshua 7 months. Heather and I have been in Huron for almost 7 years now and life has been an adventure. I carried my wife into our first home together, became a dad, lost a son named Judah, experienced a church split, now moving our current church location to another. I have also had multiple jobs as a substitute teacher, bus driver, contractor, now a film business. It surprises me how fast the sun and moon rotate each day. Life has never been as fast for me as it is now. I have heard it said, “We are just as defined by the things we say no to as the things we say yes to.” When I say “no” to something, the something or someone that naturally got my “yes” receives value. It’s wise to know when to say either.
A few years ago I was invited to be part of a pastor’s cohort for rural communities called Watertower: The Icon of Rural America. Some of the information I learned from it shaped the way that I think today. Perhaps the most impactful concept to me was the idea that if someone were to sell all they had, move to the brush of Africa, and live in a mud hut to tell people about Jesus, in the church culture they would be deemed a hero—and rightly so. However, if the same person decided to move to a town of 100 people in rural America and give the rest of his life to that town one of two things would happen: either his church would remain small and he would be considered a mild failure of society or it would grow and he would soon be encouraged to move on to a larger church/community as a form of promotion. Why is that?
In America “bigger is always better”—at least so we think. The way we reach people in cities can be the same exact way we reach people in rural America, but most times rural requires longevity and trust built with the people of that community. Committed relationships influence regions. Unfortunately many people have listened to the call to use their first church/community as a stepping stone to something bigger. Like most other pastors, I have been invited to serve in other capacities around the nation but haven’t felt God leading my family that way. Ultimately, where God has asked me to remain, I consider to be “bigger and better”.
If you ever had a job, you know perspective changes when you give your two-weeks notice before leaving. In one of my first jobs after turning in my two-weeks notice, my boss came into my workplace when I was a young teenager telling me, “You’re already checked out.” He was referring to my focus and my passion for the job, and he was right. If I constantly entertain the thought to move on to another place it actually effects me in a negative way: I want to influence a town but I’m “already checked out”. Moving into a small community is courageous and each moment and decision matters. However, decisions influence people 100x greater when people know you love well and you are there to stay.
With a growing a family, I started working in the school systems primarily to make money because starting off in a small church I didn’t make a lot of money. My first 3 years were only focused on the people attending our church. At Watertower they pushed concepts to “pastor communities.” It’s the idea that we are to seek the prosperity of the city we are in regardless of if the people ever attend our church or not. I returned to the school system with fresh perspective. My influence to youth went from 20 in the church to over 1000 in the school systems. The obvious temptation is to only invest into the people we are going to get something out of. Thanks to Watertower, I have a new love and respect for these small towns of South Dakota.
Staying committed to the the town or city God has called you to goes hand in hand with another very important aspect of successful long-term ministry. This is keeping your spouse’s health, dreams, and desires completely honored as you do your ministry that God has called you too. I would say this is even a higher calling than the ministry itself.
I love being discipled by my wife. She responds quickly to God’s voice, prays & fasts, travels long distances to attend prayer meetings, and she will stay up late into the night to worship. I tell her often times she is like the ark of the covenant, where she is, there God is, a light and blessing to so many. She is full of wisdom and joy. When I see her thrive I know my family is healthy. I cannot over exaggerate how important it is to make the health of your spouse first as a priority to discover the will of God. It’s not to give her what she wants, it has more to do with always advocating and never accusing. When I am in the wrong she will let me know, but she will advocate for me. The difference being the confrontation has hope of restoration as its foundation not the need to be right. When your spouse is healthy in spirit, soul, and body, it honors God and it also enables you to respond to life in power instead of react to life’s pressures. You can be mighty for God by yourself but when you take your spouse with you (keeping them healthy and pouring into them), God is so blessed by your honor for your spouse His grace abounds in every area of life. If you’re married, honor for your spouse is truly a secret to success in the kingdom of God.
To me, whatever job I decided to take mattered very little. Yes, I take it to God but God cares more about our hearts than job/promotions. What matters most is if you are staying white hot for Jesus, and are you loving people well? If you’re married, are you loving your spouse and kids as an advocate? If you’re not married, your parents, siblings, friends, and authorities? Are you all in? Are you committed? Love covers a multitude of wrong doings. You can mess up many times if you learn to love well. Your family will stand in your corner advocating for you and in turn you will do the same. This results in regions taken over by God’s kingdom. Give us grace, God, as we learn to stay committed to the people you have called us to and to care more about individuals than the ministry.
Continuing our theme of communication from the last two weeks, I want to clarify our channels of communication here at SD NextGen. This will help you, as leaders, to stay connected and also to contribute to the conversation as we do ministry together.
-SD NextGen Facebook Page & Instagram:
Communication Type: Social
Purpose: Audience engagement around event & cause promotion
This is our "billboard" to the world. For anyone who wants to stay connected and informed about all things SD Nextgen - leaders, parents, students, pastors, anyone. Our SD Fine Arts Festival page functions in the same way, but with a specific focus on FAF and students using their gifts and passions.
-NextGen Weekly newsletter:
Audience: All leaders of SD NextGen; written with the ministry leader in mind.
Communication Type: One-way
Purpose: Inform Leaders
This is our best effort at communicating TO you. Dates, deadlines, thoughts from me, and coaching from guest posts. This is your go-to spot for the most updated info, delivered to your inbox every Tuesday.
Audience: Key leader in each SDAG church's youth & kid's ministries
Communication Type: Two-way
Purpose: create community through discussions on ministry and life
If you aren't aware, we have a private Children's Pastors group and a private Youth Pastors group. These groups allow the key leader from those ministries in each church to connect with their ministry peers for encouragement, resourcing, and advice. Feel free to share your ideas, your ministry struggles, your request for prayer, or a great resource you've found. These forums are for your benefit. This is also where I post updated information on upcoming events or ask for your input on future plans. Please stay connected AND engaged in these groups.
Audience: Team members of SD NextGen
Communication Type: Two-Way
Purpose: Organize & Facilitate Teamwork on Projects & Events
Slack is a great app that you can download for free on any device. Once added to the SD NextGen workspace, you will have access to multiple conversation channels. Each channel represents a team or project (Camp, conference, kid's conference, etc). Some of the channels are open to anyone, while other channels are locked as invite only. When you participate on a SD NextGen team, you will be added to these channels to help us work together in one place across the distance. We are developing and growing our teams to be more efficient with our personnel and to get everyone into their sweet spot. We are also expanding our teams to include non-youth/kids pastors who can help us make SD NextGen better. If you are not on Slack, you can sign up and join our workspace today so you're ready to join a team when you are a part of one. To Join: https://join.slack.com/t/sdnextgen/shared_invite/zt-ejogj83p-SAPGNLqBbruQB3ZAY1zvRA
Planning Center Online:
Communication Type: Two-Way
Purpose: Event Registration & Giving (additional tools used by our office or certain SD NextGen teams)
As many churches do, we utilize Planning Center Online to host registration for all our events. We also use this for online giving and text-to-give. Most times you will access this from a link we have shared. Optional: PCO has an app called "Church Center". If you log into it, you have quick access to event registration and giving.
Audience: Key Leader
Communication Type: One-Way
This is a cloud drive (hosted on Dropbox) that contains resources of all kinds: church docs for events, promo materials, media from past events, STL & BGMC projects, fundraisers, and graphics, etc. There is so much on here and I am trying to add value to this drive each week. Keep this drive saved as a bookmark so you can check back often.
I hope this helps you better understand how we communicate here at SD NextGen. Some of these tools require that you stay engaged with them, while others are simply available to you. Thank you for your consistency in staying connected as a leader in SD NextGen. I believe you will be able to lead better because of it, and that WE will each be better because of your engagement with us.
BONUS Communication Tools:
Communication Type: Social
Purpose: Audience engagement around event & cause promotion
If you don't already follow our District page on Facebook, you'll want to. This is a great way to identify with our district and to celebrate, promote, and contribute towards our greater District family.
SDAG Ministers Facebook Group:
Audience: All SDAG credential holders & church staff
Communication Type: create community through discussions on ministry and life
This is a newly created group to help our district to communicate and resource each other. Pastor Steve, our District Superintendent, utilizes this group to engage with you and get feedback from you. Make sure you are an active part of this group.
When I had just started in ministry my lead pastor would call me in his office just to talk. In these conversations, he passed down some truths he learned in ministry over the years. Nine years later and we still have these meetings. These talks usually begin with, “One day when you’re a lead pastor…” These have been so valuable because not only did I receive some timely wisdom but it communicated that he believed in me.
It was in one of these meetings in my first year where I learned something I will never forget. Pastor talked to me about a disease that has knocked several great pastors out of their churches and even some out of ministry. The disease he was referring to was infection from sheep bite.
So, what is sheep bite? Sheep bite happens when the people you invest in, the ones you are called to lead decide to take a bite out of their leader. When you get into ministry you expect the wolves to bite you, not the sheep. You expect those who oppose you to attack. But when the people you invest in turn on you . . . that hurts. The student you have been praying for and spending extra time with decides to leave your youth group. The parent you are ministering to comes into your office and tells you that you don’t know what you’re doing and you’re not cut out for ministry. The volunteer you are discipling and sacrificed family time for gossips about you. That’s sheep bite, those are bites that leave marks.
When a wolf bites we are good about cleaning that wound and going on with our lives, but when a sheep bites we tend to get bitter and not properly treat our wound. A wound not treated is easily infected. And the scary thing is when the infection is not properly cared for it can reach the heart.
Thankfully there is a cure for sheep bite, really more of a vaccine. In my meeting with my pastor he gave me this prayer to treat sheep bite. “God, give me thick skin and a soft heart.” It’s a prayer he prays every day and one that has been added to my prayers as well.
Proverbs 16:32 says, “Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.”
This proverb tells us that it’s better to be in control of our anger than to exert our strength. It’s our human nature when under attack to fight back. It’s survival instinct.
When experiencing sheep bite with that student, parent, or leader; natural instinct would tell you to yell back or remind them of their sinful nature or to win the argument. There have been many times when I wanted to win the argument, drop the mic, and walk out of the room. But in the end even if I won the argument I knew it meant losing the person.
This proverb tells us that you are a better person when you choose to control your feelings and rather than lashing back decide to take the blows and have thick skin. Controlling your anger is better than exerting your power and authority over someone. When you are slow to anger you are stronger than the one trying to beat you up. It’s our choice whether to have thick skin or respond to every attack.
God give me thick skin.
Unfortunately, thick skin is the easy part, the soft heart is the hard part. When you have thick skin and you put up your defenses you naturally tend to harden your heart as well. But in ministry you can’t lead people with a hard heart. You need a soft heart; you need to genuinely care about the people around you. You need to love your neighbor as yourself. A person with a soft heart is willing to expose themselves again even after they have been bit.
If you’ve ever been hurt by someone our natural response is to avoid that person, to not allow them to hurt you again. You touch the stove once and it burns you, so you don’t touch it again. We’re the same way with people. We get burned once and we know better, we don’t touch them again.
But the proverb says “He who rules his spirit is better than he who takes a city.”
When you get hurt a flood of emotions comes in. You experience anger and hurt and everything within you yells, "Attack! Show no mercy!" But this is where ruling our spirit comes into play. What we want and what God wants are in disagreement. I say attack, God says love them. I say win, God says turn the other cheek. So, do you listen to your emotions or God’s Word? It’s a greater feat to win the inward battle than the physical battle. Or, as one commentator puts it… “It is harder, and therefore more glorious, to quash an insurrection at home than to resist an invasion from abroad."
When we rule our spirit and when we have a soft heart, we don’t avoid people. Instead we love people, we forgive people, and we give them a second chance.
God, give me a soft heart.
I can’t imagine how hard it was for Jesus when in one night He received two sheep bites from his disciples, his closest friends. Judas betrayed him and Peter denied him. For 3 years Jesus had loved, taught, and cared for these men and now when He needed them most they decided to take a bite out of Him. Yet Jesus responds to both with thick skin and a soft heart. To Judas, in the act of betrayal, Jesus calls him “Friend.” And to Peter, rather than avoid him (like we tend to do when someone hurts us), Jesus goes right up to him and reinstates him and forgives him.
If you want to last in ministry, make this a daily prayer.
God, give me thick skin and a soft heart.
This just in… Relationship is still key!
As we continue to do youth ministry in compliance with CDC and local government restrictions know that our primary objective has not changed! We as youth pastors are called to partner with parents to make disciples. Young men and women who choose to live counter-culture and follow after Christ. Making disciples isn’t about programs and events, it is about relationships!
Many of us are huggers and high-fivers. Seeing a group of students and leaders compels us to interact with some form of touch, fist bump, side hugs, chest bumps, hand shakes, and the like. Today we get to be creative and engage our students and leader in the way they interact with each other: Snapchat, InstaGram, Tik-Tok, text and Face Time.
One of my favorite phrases I’ve heard during this pandemic is that God was asserting Himself to the place we focus, engage, and perhaps are addicted: our phones! I know that even before the pandemic started as a way of getting God’s Word to our students as a daily engagement we started a verse of the day on SC and IG. Our kids will open SC and IG multiple times a day and at least once they will get the opportunity to engage God’s Word.
We can as youth leadership teams engage our students in the same way they are already engaging each other. We encourage our youth leaders to send out text messages to encourage, pray for, and converse with students that they lead in our small groups. The message never changes, the method is adjustable. We are still engaging in discipleship through relationship, allowing students to see our lives and the way we pursue God.
Our students live on their phones! We need to find a way to engage them through their phones. There are many great resources available on their phone but if they don’t open the Bible app, or follow godly accounts on InstaGram, or see snap stories of people who are pursuing God, the phone will do little to encourage their walk with God. Ask yourself: How can our youth ministry be a part of the daily interaction our students have with their phone? A verse, a video, a challenge, how can we be engaging our students in their place of focus, engagement, and perhaps addiction?
Our verse of the day is simply a verse taken from one of the several devotions I personally am doing through the Bible app. Some of the students get the Bible verse more than once because they are joining me in doing the devotional plan on the Bible app. Invite students to join you on your journey. Help them download the Bible app and invite them to do a devo with you. Pick one that focuses on a subject that they are interested in, or something that they are dealing with.
We have a small group that has been meeting on ZOOM outside of our Wednesday night “service”. The small group is using a devotional book and meeting once a week to talk through what they are being challenged in. I DON’T EVEN JOIN THEM!!! I have a youth leader who has a passion for leading small groups and for helping teens engage scripture. She asked permission to start the group, we advertised to the group, and I checked in just to let the students know that I was proud of them… But this group is volunteer led.
How can you engage your student? How can your youth ministry be on the platform of your students’ and leaders’ phone? A generation is living their lives online. We can not dismiss the relationships that can be built in this time under these circumstances.
Online is not the only way to engage your students though. Sending mail is a lost art! I know I’m guilty. Our visitors get a postcard a few days after they come but that is as far as our youth ministry has gone with mail. During the rona we had written cards to each student that we could track an address for. We made them personal… It took time! But the snapchat thank-you’s let us know that the students loved the card! You can also do a drive by delivery! Each week we have a competition online and we have winners, winners get prizes, prizes get delivered!!! It’s fun to show up on the front porch of a student and deliver a treat of their choice.
Don’t let the rona destroy the relationships that are used to engage in discipleship. Take the relationship to the platform of your students. That looks different for each group. Not every kid has a phone… every kid does have an address!
We are called to partner with parents to disciple students let the parents in on your SC or IG so they can see how you are helping them raise men and women of God!
Until the hugs and high-fives are resurrected… Keep the discipleship relationship alive from a safe distance!