This has become so real to me in the last year.
I’ve taught kids the Ten Commandments multiple times in my 30 years of ministry. And I have always reconciled that idols are anything that we put importance on in front of God. I use example of money, material objects, popularity, friends, sports, and video games. But all the while, I forgot that there were things that I didn’t see as idols, but they very much crept in the way of my love and worship for God.
As an adult, who was a father, husband, and minister, I have realized 3 areas that I wasn’t careful to keep from being idols in my life. And maybe you are dealing with this too.
As a father of 5 boys, you can imagine that I spend quite a bit of time participating in their activities! I’ve coached football and wrestling, put in parties for birthdays, taken them swimming or sledding, done outdoor activities such as camping and hiking, not to mention the school programs and meetings. Yes, I stay busy, because I want to be the greatest father in the world. But I failed in fathering my children too. I didn’t spend enough time in God’s word with them.
But they became an idol. I spent so much of my time making sure that I attended their activities, that I forgot the importance of spending time to pray for them daily. I’m not saying that I never prayed for my kids. But I certainly could have prayed more. I could have been praying daily that they be covered in the Armor of God. That’s huge, by the way. In the last 4 months, I pray almost daily that they would be clothed in God’s armor, because there is a battle that is raging for them.
I have also started praying that they begin to see themselves as created in the image of God. Something I never did before. It is so important that they find their identity in Jesus rather than the things around them.
For years, I spent my time making my spouse an idol. God really brought that to my attention last year. My pastor was preaching on the Ten Commandments. He drew my attention to the fact that my spouse could be an idol. I thought I was simply trying to love my wife and be the best husband I could be. But I often left God out of that equation. I failed to make Him the center of our relationship.
I was so worried about losing my spouse and being alone, that I forgot to put God first. I found myself worshipping her rather than my creator. I gave in to things I normally wouldn’t have. I chose to ignore behaviors that were pleasing to God. Far too often. And rather than spending time with her in the word, I spent time with her watching TV.
Do not allow this to happen to you; it will only carry on for so long before there become real problems. Keep God as the center of it all, and do not make an idol out of your spouse.
This one can hit home for all of us. Some of you reading this, don’t have a spouse or kids, but you are most likely involved in ministry in some way, shape, or form.
After 22 years in full-time ministry, and another 8 being a volunteer, I began to realize that I found my identity in being a pastor. In fact, I often was so busy doing ministry, that I didn't take time for personal study and devotions. I simply tried to allow my study for ministry be enough. I even knew this was a bad idea, but did it all too often.
As I was stepping away from full-time church ministry into a different capacity, my wife said something that really jarred me . . .
“Jeff, you are finding your identity in being a pastor, rather than finding your identity in Christ. You focus on what you can DO for God too much. We are human beings, not human doings.”
It was so true. As I have continued to participate in ministry, I have begun making sure that I spend time with God just for personal growth. And I have seen God do even more amazing things since then. We’ve seen the Holy Spirit move in a couple camps this last year. And I believe that between me staying closer to God, and the district being spiritually prepared, God was willing to pour out His Spirit in those places. (He could have done that without me, but He chose to use me.)
Are there other hidden idols in your life? Things that seem like a good thing, but you let get in the way of being close to Jesus? Things that are keeping you from making Him your first love?
Take some time to evaluate where you are, and if you find that you are struggling to make God your first priority, contact a friend who can help hold you accountable to this. Or, contact me if you need to. I’ve been there, and I understand.
Don’t allow things to get in the way! Your spouse, your kids, and your church will thank you in the long run!
Hey! So I have been in the district since 2014 but many of you may not recognize my face. And that is okay! Why?? Because I am bi-vocational and those that are also bi-vocational, understand that there are times you just can’t make it to a lot of things. It is just par for the course. I recently was surprised to find out that over half of the pastors that will receive this in the SD Next Gen family are also bi-vocational!!! Though this is becoming more and more common in rural America, it can often feel like a lonely place. You do not get to see your fellow colleagues often, you feel like you are missing yet again another event because of your other obligations, feeling like you are always rushing around, not able to give ministry stuff as much time and energy as you hoped. Maybe you feel “less than” others because of this. Some days it feels like it gets just the leftover scraps of you. The list goes on.
Recently, I was at a mentorship event for ministers and there was a moment that helped me with this constant internal battle and I wish to pass it along in hopes that it will help fill your cup with a little encouragement. At this event, the main speaker took a moment and asked, “Who in here is bi-vocational?” After many raised their hands, she had us stand up. She looked at each of us and said “YOU are the true heroes.” Many of us reacted the same, with a look of “Whaaaat???” I found myself baffled at this. In my mind, I was running through a list like the one above and came up with many reasons that statement was false. She then addressed the rest of the room with a simple, “I am acknowledging the fact that not all are in the position to where time and energy is solely in their church ministries. But they too are following in obedience the call that the One has placed on their lives.”
That breathed so much life into me. Ministry is hard. Period. It is even harder when you feel constantly divided in time and energy, especially out of necessity. Even if your "other job” strategically places you in a place to reach others, it still has the same affect on you eventually. This friend of mine was right, there is a call on each of our lives and that can be so easy to lose sight of in the hustle and bustle. In the moments when you feel like "if only if..” know that God is pleased that you are simply being obedient and He is taking care of all the rest. None of us answered this call for any other reason. Many of us have been divinely placed into communities that are not for the faint of heart to reach students. And we often choose to stay for the one: for the one student that this may be the only safe space… for the one student that is struggling with their own mind games… for the one student that is ready to call it quits. This is why we often choose to sacrifice what is needed in order to make it happen. This is the reason we give when others may ask us “Well, why do you not just go to another church that can pay.” YES, read that AGAIN. None of us get into ministry for the money, but the reality is that many of us are doing it without getting a dime for our time. But we choose to stay for that one student that needs Jesus the most; who needs someone in their life to bring that hope.
So for the one who is struggling, who continues to ask themselves “Why am I doing this?” or “Why do I not just go somewhere so I do not have to be divided so much?” know you are not alone. I personally have asked myself that question a billion times over the last couple years and have been asked that by several people in and outside of ministry. (And if we ever cross paths, feel free to ask me about this. I do not want to digress too much but it's a big part of my ministry story.) Remember that calling. Remember that one student from the past, in the present, and in the future that is going to need someone. And they will find “someone” to be the answers for them, no matter what the cost will be. God makes it clear when it is time to move and to go somewhere else, but there are always common signs and things surrounding those seasons to where you will KNOW (that is a whole other topic I could write endlessly on). So, unless that is not the case for you at the present moment, then be still. Know you are doing more than most by following in obedience. Draw from the example of the early disciples. Even Paul made tents in order to have an income at times to continue in his ministry.
For the one that may be struggling even more so than what I just described, know that there is no shame in taking respite. I am a huge advocate for self-care, which by definition looks differently for everyone and for every season. You are not alone. Reach out. There are many resources as an AG pastor available and we have an AMAZING and supportive district. For you to be able to be there for the one student, you need to be in a healthy spot. To the Father, that is also what is more important. We sometimes flip that around and our heart gets misaligned.
“We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.”- 1 Thess. 1:3
We’ve all been here before. You see someone you know at church, at the grocery store, or the gas station and the conversation goes something like this:
“Hey, how’s it going?”
“Good, how are you?”
“Doing great, good to see you”
“Good to see you, too!”
…and then you go your separate ways
It’s funny how we’ve replaced “Hi” with “How are you doing?” or “How’s it going?” in our conversations. “How are you doing?” seems to show that we care about that person more than a simple hello. But the question I have is, do we really mean it? Do we truly care how that person is doing or are we just trying to be nice?
Personally, I’ve failed at this more times than I care to admit. I have a friend that any time I greet him with a “How’s it going?” proceeds to take the next 5 minutes to give me every detail of his life. To be honest, at first, I was so annoyed that he spent so much time talking about himself, I had things to do and places to be. But then I realized the only person to be annoyed with was myself. After all, I was the one who asked him how he was doing. I can’t ask that and not mean it.
This week I was reminded how important it is to be sincere with our words because you never know what is really going on in a person’s life. They may look like they have it all together on the outside, they may say that everything is fine but on the inside their world is falling apart.
A student who had only been coming to youth group for a few weeks came up to me after service and asked if she could share her testimony. Now I had talked with her only a few times and I felt like I had a good read on her. From what I could tell she was a typical happy teenage girl who loved her family and was excited to be at youth group. I thought she was just another normal teenager until she began to tell me her story…
She was raised in a Christian home. She went to church and loved Jesus. But then her parents divorced and things started going downhill. They stopped going to church and her mom became an alcoholic. Life at home got rough, then in school kids started bullying her and calling her names. So to deal with the pain she began harming herself. Eventually the pain grew so great she attempted suicide. After a failed attempt she went to get treatment which worked for a while but eventually when the pain grew too great again she attempted suicide for a second time. More treatment. She got back on her feet and things were going well until she kept getting bullied at school. Her third attempt at suicide landed her in the ICU for many days and she was moments away from death. More treatment. But this time it was different, this time she gave her life back to God and she thought everything would be ok and life would be good for her. She started making friends again and everything was looking up. Until one day one of her “friends” raped her. Her world started spiraling again…
And this was when I met her, smile on her face…
“Hey, good to see you, how are you doing?”
“Doing great, how are you?”
“I’m good too.”
This was the conversation that played out several times over the next few weeks, never knowing the pain she was actually going through!
I am reminded that no matter how together someone looks you never know what’s really going on in their life. Like this girl, they may be going through unimaginable pain. In this season, God is teaching me to be sincere in all my conversations and be sensitive to the Holy Spirit.
1 Peter 1:22 says that we need to have a sincere brotherly love and “love one another earnestly from a pure heart.” To do that we need to go beyond the superficial and take a moment to slow down and care for the people around us because you never know what someone is going through. The next time I ask someone “How are you doing?” I’m going to mean it.
The rest of the story…this girl attended Youth Conference and God did an amazing work in her life! God showed her that He was with her through all of the pain and every dark moment in her life. God spoke to her that he was going to use her testimony to help others who have experienced similar pain and situations in their life. And last week she was courageous enough to share her testimony with the entire youth group, people she had only met a month ago! God is amazing, He takes our greatest struggles and turns them into victories!
Lord, help us to see people the way You see them. You don’t view outward appearances but You look all the way to the soul. Help us to see every person as someone who needs a Savior.
Have you thought of leading a Girls Ministries in your church? What is the importance of Girls Ministries? Over the last few years, God has stirred inside me the need to have godly women come alongside girls to show each girl how to have a deep relationship with Jesus. Also, to realize their importance and potential in the kingdom of God. Over the years, churches have changed their approach to discipleship to ensure that kids are not just hearing the Bible's stories, but allowing the Holy Spirit to transform them from the inside out. Isn't this information right here so exciting to hear about the church?
I am a mom, and I can tell you that countless times I see my daughter and son couldn't be more different from each other. Have you encountered the differences between boys and girls? My son will be running ahead in a grocery store to get the job done (get his toy) without a care in the world, while my daughter is right next to me talking about the many different unicorns she thinks are beautiful, she just read in a book. We know that the Bible said that when God made man and women, He called it "very good," fully comprehending the differences and uniqueness about them. Yes, boys and girls are different, isn't it amazing to think that God intentionally designed them that way? Leaders and parents need to understand that it is ok to disciple and mentor girls differently than boys. One of the best ways to do that is having times where boys and girls are separated will provide the necessary opportunities to meet their specific needs. For instance: girls need to feel confident to openly share their feelings because they tend to process things verbally. Girls love to talk! Talking helps them connect at the heart. If you are a guy, you may understand that your form of connection is not through talking.
I guess the reality I am trying to share is girls are facing hard things today. Some of the statistics help prove hardship:
- Girls are more likely to experience depression than boys
- 40% of date rape victims are between the ages of 14 and 17
- Eating disorders are now the third most chronic illness in adolescent girls
- 1 in 3 girls has had sex by the age of 16, and 2 out of 3 by the age of 18
(all information from these facts found here and through Barna surveys https://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2019/02/20/most-u-s-teens-see-anxiety-and-depression-as-a-major-problem-among-their-peers/)
These statistics are proof that girls today are struggling. They need godly women who are willing to pour into them. They need to see the love of Jesus and to know that it doesn't have to be this way. God can change the course of the world!
Back to the needs girls are facing; ultimately, that they need love and acceptance. How can you create a place for them to get love and acceptance? Create a safe place for them to express themselves. Provide opportunities for them to know they are loved and accepted by God. I get that you may not have girls that fit the "mold" of what some think a "church girl" should look like, but if they get a godly woman who reaches their heart, God will impact their mind and soul through your mentorship. Don't forget that girls need to talk, so be sure to allow girls to process verbally. Mindless chatter among girls can be beneficial as they build relationships. Don't be afraid to talk about the challenging issues, and use wisdom as you discover or learn details about something that is really hurting one of your girls.
What's next for you to build Girls Ministries in your church? Get Excited! Take the passion and purpose behind a gender-specific ministry to girls and talk to your pastor and children's pastor about starting or revitalizing a current ministry. Let me be a resource to you. I am here to help you get started or share ways to equip you and your team to lead your ministry effectively. Then, develop a plan for your ministry and consider the cost that may be associated. Things like curriculum, resources, and events can add to a budget. Next, raise a team; it starts with only one! One godly woman with a heart for girls to begin the process and build your team from there. Share your vision with godly women in your church. Check out the NGM.AG.org website for additional resources. Finally, get started by understanding the purpose, value, and opportunity that lies within such a ministry. Knowing your goal in a gender-aligned ministry will allow the church to invest in girls' lives today and raise up women of faith tomorrow!
In 2018, the church, where I was on staff, decided to put its training dollars into coaching as opposed to sending us on a trip to a conference. The concept was, that for about the same amount of cost, we would get 6 months of ongoing training, where at a conference, the training lasted for a week.
What a concept!
I began to do research on kidmin coaches. There were several on the internet who had established a history of coaching others. This was beginning to be exciting. Ultimately, I chose to hire Jim Wideman, children and family pastor at the Belonging Co church in Nashville, TN. Jim had a long history as a kidmin coach, and an even longer history as a children’s pastor and ministry leader.
Jim has been doing ministry almost 40 years. His experience and expertise seemed unmatchable. I presented my intentions to the staff, and it was approved. In February of 2019, we embarked on a road to change things.
Jim and I embarked on a 6 month journey, where we met via zoom twice a month for 6 months. Throughout this process, Jim helped me evaluate the ministry I was doing at the church, my personal mental health, my personal spiritual health, and my leadership health. He assigned me books to read. Some were business in nature, and some were for personal growth.
The first thing we hit was that I was personally struggling with some things. Jim had me read two books that helped me recognize some interpersonal struggles I was having. This wasn’t the be all end all. There was much more to do. I started a journey to find emotional health. One of the things that I was struggling with, was the balance of my relationship with God, versus my relationship with my wife/family, and my relationship with the church. It’s so easy to allow that to get skewed and miss God’s purpose for us. Remember, we are human beings, not human doings. It is important to take time to simply be in God’s presence, and not get caught up doing things for God.
Beyond the personal, which was my biggest epiphany, we began working on some things at the church. We evaluated personality traits and styles, and we compared them to other staff on my team. Jim began helping me make steps to better communication with the staff.
We also began setting goals. Jim’s book “Stretch” is about taking your ministry from where you are to where you want to go. I began looking at these steps, and setting goals for the ministry where I was serving. We looked at the amount of team members we had, and the amount of team members we needed to run a smooth and successful ministry each Sunday and Wednesday. By laying out this plan, I realized that I needed to recruit many more people to the kids ministry of this church.
One of the gretaest things I learned through this process was that I needed to return to the place where I began. Relationships….. relationships became key over the next few months to growing a team, and setting up for success in the future. I found myself having coffee with current leaders and potential leaders. By spending time with people, I found that recruiting became much easier. It goes back to the old adage, “people don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.” By truly getting to know people, I found that they wanted to be part of what we were doing.
My growth as a minister and leader was greatly effected by the coaching that Jim and I did. The majority of what he did for me was on a personal level. In fact, my first 6 months of coaching really ended up being about me growing as a person more than a kidmin leader. Which is why I ended up hiring him for another 6 months. Only this time, it was my personal dollars that were invested.
The next thing that happened was a realization that my time at that place was coming to an end. Jim walked me step by step through the process of stepping out of ministry in a very healthy way. He helped me to honor those I had worked with, and honor those who would take over. I am ecstatic to see that future of the ministry that I once led.
In the end, it wasn’t the end. It was just the beginning! I am in my second year of coaching with Jim, only now he’s coaching me as I become a coach. He’s walked me along the path that has me helping others. It’s awesome to see what God is doing that is new in my life, and there is great joy in finding a renewed passion for ministry to kids.
I highly recommend that you find someone to coach you. One of the greatest benefits to coaching is the outside perspective that a coach has. He/She is looking in from the outside, and they have the ability to see things that you may miss, being on the inside. There is something to the saying “Can’t see the forest for the trees.” It’s easy to get caught up in the small picture of your day to day and miss the big picture of what God has called you to. A coach can help you do that.
God has designed us for relationships, first and foremost with Him. But he has given us mentors and coaches who can help us stay focused and grow in the ministry we have been charged with. These relationships are some of the most important relationships we can have. And if you can find yourself in a coaching relationship, I believe you will find yourself in a position to grow! And that’s what we all want anyway! So find a coach, and GROW!
Culture is an ever changing machine that the church plays a great role in. So many times we can get caught up in the idea that we are to fight against the culture we currently see. The fact is, the church isn’t called to fight against culture, the church is called to change the culture.
I spent a better part of 15 years as a student pastor. I did all I could to adapt to the culture of my students, but the idea that I could actually change the culture was foreign to me. As I sit in the role of Lead Pastor now, God has helped me see things differently. He has helped me realize that culture is something that will always be. When I think about the generation we are in now and the next generation to come, I can’t help but experience dual emotions. On one hand, I’m nervous because of the world we live in and the continual epidemic of violence and hatred that our culture is becoming. On the other hand, there is an excitement for what could happen if we teach these upcoming generations well. If we lead them well. If we disciple them well.
I believe there is an outpouring of the Spirit of God coming, but I also believe that unless we understand that cultures don’t morph into what we want them to be without us creating that change in behavior by setting the example of the change we want to take place. Culture is behavior. Simple as that.
Leaders today within the church can’t just look at our surroundings and be fearful, we have to understand the concept of cultivation. For example, culture in America has been cultivated by groups or individual leaders who are good at implanting ideals or convictions into our society, and people follow. That is creating a culture. It’s no different with the church. We create culture within our church due to the behavior in which we conduct ourselves. Again, behavior will always cultivate behavior. What does this mean? Our individual or group behavior will impact that which is new, so it cultivates that which is newly planted to behave a certain way.
Our mission as the Church is to engage the culture in which we live in. We have to recognize that we are a part of the culture, even when we don’t agree with what is going on. And today, more than ever, we have an opportunity to engage and impact culture. Throughout history, Christians have been known to, at times, resist culture and try to create order out of chaos. Think about this: Culture characterizes our calling here on earth. Yes, Jesus has called us to minister to those who are lost, who are hurting, and who are in need, but He has also called us to be aware of our surroundings.
If I’ve learned anything in ministry and if I’ve learned anything about generations it is that they are always changing and we should be too. No, we should not change our mission, that will always remain the same, but our methods, our vision, those things are ever changing. The same method used 40 years ago will not work today because the culture has changed. I love Romans 12:2 which says, “Do not conform any longer to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…” The patterns spoken of are behaviors. We are not called to conform, but we are called to keep up. To engage. To allow the spiritual renewal that we have experienced through the Holy Spirit to change a culture.
Our students today and the generations to come need an example that is life changing. Just after Jesus laid out the Beatitudes in Matthew 5, he began speaking about cultural engagement. Think about it, we cannot be a “living sacrifice” or “salt and light” or a “city on a hill” if we separate ourselves from culture. So in essence, Jesus was challenging His listeners to change the culture in which they live.
I believe we are at a crossroads right now as the Church. We can either sit back and allow culture to continually change without us and then find ourselves scrambling to figure out where we stand, or we can engage our modern culture with the power of God to bring change that will impact generations to come. It’s our calling. It’s our challenge. It’s our choice. Let's choose wisely. God bless.
DFAC, first of all, is just a quick way to say District Fine Arts Coordinator for our SD NextGen. I not only thoroughly savored my student years participating in Fine Arts Festival, volunteering for two years at the national festival, and helping our last two DYDs and two DFACS with Fine Arts Festival the last 11 years, but I’ve also loved the experience of being co-DFAC with Kym under our current DYD for the last two years.
I often hear adults, children, and teenagers alike saying, “I’m not creative. None of us in our group are creative.” I think - this is just for you then! Because Fine Arts isn’t about you being creative, it’s about getting creative in our approach. I love that our SD Next Gen programs & events are about more than just what’s advertised. I would say there’s three components to each. 1. The Advertised Element 2. The God Element 3. The Lasting Element.
The Advertised Element is obviously what we promote. In short: Fine Arts (FAF)- develop your talent, JBQ/TBQ - memorize the Word, Kids Conference - teaching & experiencing God.
The God Element is what sets us vastly apart from school/sport activities. Our events aren’t merely reasons to make our calendars busy or boredom-busters for students. The God element is what makes it all worth it. It’s why you, Pastor and Leader, get out of bed in the morning. Even why you wait 5 more minutes for that student who’s always late when you’re departing for an event. You know the student is going to encounter God in a real way that will change their life so you want to make sure they get there! Our events set up the atmosphere, get them away from their normal distractions and present Christ so they have an opportunity to experience His voice for the first time, His grace for the hundredth time, or His unconditional love until they get it’s for them.
These first two may be obvious, but this last aspect is one we can easily forget to realize. The Lasting Element. When we are putting together FAF we ask ourselves, what do we want to be lasting from their experience with this? If they totally bomb on their vocal solo or if a pandemic changes our plans a week before the event . . . then what do we still want the students to get out of this?
Speaking with one of the churches that earned the top awards at National Fine Arts every year for years, their leaders told me in trying to shift the focus to what’s really important, they made Fine Arts an outreach, highlighted especially in one of their human videos. They cast one of their student’s friends as Jesus; depicting dying on the cross, compassion - the whole nine yards. This self-declared atheist at first, loved theater that he delved into asking questions about who Jesus was so he’d know how to play Him. By the end of their FAF year, this student gave his life to Christ from learning who Jesus really is.
This may seem like making a simple thing like FAF way more than it is. But if we can catch this, I think it could make us approach all our events & programs with a deeper motivation to find students who need these chances. Instead of considering not doing Fine Arts this year, “I mean, none of us are creative,” what if you saw the potential in a student to be a Children’s Pastor and said, “She needs this.” What if you didn’t dismiss developing a Junior or Teen Bible Quiz team because, “My students aren’t good at memorizing,” and realize it’s about putting the lasting Word of God in their hearts for a lifetime! Who cares if they don’t win the awards or can’t repeat it verbatim?! Years from now the gist of that verse, God will bring back to their memory in a situation when they need it most! My family and I still quote the JBQ answers we learned as children! What if Kids Conference wasn’t about, “I don’t think we can get the leaders for that. Let’s not go,” & instead the drive to try because, “I want that kid whose home life is a wreck to be able to get away for a few days to just get to be a kid.” It’s not about the cool stage lights, if our attendance numbers are up this year, or if your group can win all the awards. Next to the God Element, it’s about a Lasting Element.
In 2005, I watched a Short Sermon at National Fine Arts that illustrates this. An extremely nervous, sweating boy barely managed to sneak out only a few lines of his sermon before bursting into tears crying, “I just can’t do this,” and ran out of the room. I’ve thought about that moment from time to time & always wondered what happened to him. Fast forward a few years to when I was in leadership school in Nebraska and heard their DYD share the same story! “After the festival was over,” the DYD explained to us, “I looked up his address & mailed him a note saying not to give up. That God has plans for him & to not let one seeming failure get in the way of him going after that. A couple years ago, youth groups were arriving for our summer camp & as one youth pastor got out of the van, he ran over to me with a paper he had grabbed from his visor. He told me he was that young boy who ran off the stage, but now he was a youth pastor. He showed me the piece of paper and it was the note I had mailed him years ago. He said he always keeps it with him to remind himself to never give up. That failures can’t ruin the plans God has for you.”
We invite our Fine Arts students to discover, develop, and deploy the gifts God has given them. Would you take this alliteration to heart as well? Don’t miss the bigger picture of why we do this. Pastor/Leader, would you discover what Lasting Element an event or program can actually have on your students? Do you need more group unity? Do a group category for Fine Arts. The memories built and inside jokes made during group practices will bond them. Develop on purpose the potential you see in a student. Take advantage of the opportunity to teach him how to write a sermon by also voicing the call you see God has on his life. Deploy your students whenever possible. Let them use what’s being cultivated in them now as practice for the rest of their lives. Let the student with some leadership potential who started coming to youth group because she loved FAF Reader’s Theater practice, run the practices next year.
Discover, Develop, Deploy, Pastors and Leaders.
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!