Tips for Having “The Talk” With Your Students

Tips for Talking About Sex with Students

This Fall, our student ministry tackled the “gods at war” series from Kyle Idleman. The series identifies false gods that war for our affection. From the moment we chose the series, I circled the date on my calendar when I would be teaching on the “gods of love, sex, and romance.”

Every youth minister knows the sweaty palms and the lump in the throat that come along with speaking to students about sex and purity. As youth ministers who care deeply for students, we know that this topic is of the utmost importance. We know that the average age a student sees pornography for the first time is around 11. We know that by the time a student graduates, 92% of the guys and 63% of the girls will have viewed pornographic images. And, frankly, that is only one of the battlefronts as students are also dealing with questions about their sexuality and their gender and being pressured from all sides to be sexually active.

As I thought more and more about sharing with students about this difficult topic, I thought it might be beneficial to communicate some lessons I have learned along the way about giving “The talk” to your students. While some of these lessons were learned the hard way, I hope that they are all beneficial as you approach this topic with your students.

Everything in moderation 
It seems some youth ministers talk about sex almost every week. Honestly, with students facing this topic at every turn, speaking about sex at every youth meeting is a real temptation. But remember, sexual sin is just a symptom of the larger disease. I would encourage you to spend most of your teaching opportunities focusing on the bigger picture of being a disciple and a lifelong follower of Christ. Speaking about sex every week is too one-dimensional and misses the point.

Sound the alarm
I am convinced that one of the best things you can possibly do prior to having “the talk” in youth group is to communicate the details with parents and your leaders. Whether you send a letter in the mail, communicate in a weekly email blast, send a text message, or all of the above, you need to give parents and leaders a heads up. Not only does this communication help keep everyone on the same page, it also helps parents to prepare mentally for the conversation that will most likely happen after youth group. I invited our elders to sit in on our youth group that evening so that there would be no question about what I had said or the tone in which I said it. Communicate like crazy. You will be happy that you did.

Be bold
Once you have set the stage by communicating with parents and leaders and you have prepped well, it is time to be bold. The world is screaming from every direction about sex and romance, and it is high time that the church speaks with holy boldness on the subject. Don’t be afraid to attack certain angles of this topic head on. Talk with your students directly about pornography, sexual promiscuity, movies, television, cohabitation, and whatever else you feel God leading you toward. You know your students and the pressures they are facing in their context. Don’t pull any punches.

Avoid slang 
One of the mistakes I made the first few times I spoke on sex with my group was utilizing slang terms. Every student has a different level of understanding about sex, so using slang terms ended up causing more difficulty than I anticipated. Students spent time during my lesson whispering back and forth trying to figure out what that term I just used meant. For some, the use of slang terms created more curiosity and confusion. I’m not suggesting you give a doctoral thesis and only use medical terminology, but stick to the basics so that your students are sure to understand and can continue to track with you instead of laughing about the term you just used. Parents will also appreciate the deliberate avoidance of slang terms so that they don’t have to define crazy terms to their student after youth group.

Trust the Truth
God’s Word has lots to say on the topic of sex and purity. Students are hearing the world’s view on sexuality from magazines, movies, television, and even their friends in the locker room. But God is the Creator, and He is the one who created us as sexual beings. Trust in His Word, and confidently share that truth with your students. Many times, the Bible will stand in stark contrast to the world on this topic, but you can trust in it and communicate it without fear. Be ready to answer questions after youth group, but know that the Bible is trustworthy.  In turn, you should deliver its Truth confidently.

Give grace
I can’t tell you how many lessons on sexual purity I’ve heard that have been very heavy-handed, guilt-ridden, and condemning in nature.  Honestly, I’ve been guilty of delivering a few of these in the past.  But what I realized is that students who are struggling with lust, pornography, and sexual sin are already dealing with the weight of guilt and shame.  They certainly don’t need me to add to their guilt by bashing them over the head with the Word.  I fully believe that it is possible to encourage students to sexual purity while extending the incredible and glorious grace of Jesus.  When I am confronted in my sin, I prefer it to be filled with grace. So, I have started approaching this subject with my students the same way.

These are just a few of the lessons I’ve learned along the way about having the purity talk with my students.  I’d love to hear what has worked for you as well.  Comment below so we can dialogue about this important subject.

5 Simple Ways to Gain Respect from Your Church Leaders

youth pastor sr pastor tension

Having been a youth minister for well over a decade now, I think I have heard all of the ridiculous statements and stereotypes about youth ministers. We are lazy, disorganized, and never take anything seriously. We only work on Sundays. All we do is play games and order pizza. And my personal favorite: when we “grow up,” we might “get our own church.”

While I’m not certain where these stereotypes originated, the crop of youth ministers I interact with regularly just don’t fit that mold. Almost every youth minister I connect with regularly is working hard, giving and sacrificing time, energy, and resources, and thoroughly thinking through ways to improve the ministry God has entrusted them with.

Despite this trend, we constantly see youth ministers in the YouthMin Facebook group that are struggling to gain the respect of church leaders. So we created a list of some simple, fool-proof ways to gain respect from your church leaders. These won’t solve every problem, but they will till the soil so respect and admiration can grow.

1.  Work hard
One of the easiest ways to communicate your passion for youth ministry is to be a workhorse. Show up early, be prepared, go the extra mile, be available, and churn out great content. If people can’t find you during office hours, you are chronically unprepared, and regularly on the golf course, someone WILL question your work ethic. One of the most respected players in any locker room is the guy who shows up first and leaves last. Be that guy!

2.  Communicate…a lot
Leaders generally don’t like to be surprised, especially by an angry parent or concerned member. The best way to endear yourself to your leaders is to keep them informed. When I respond to a parent, I often carbon copy my ministry elder or senior minister. When I have a confrontation at church or an issue arises, I email my elders. When I taught on sex, love, and romance last week, I told the parents ahead of time and made sure to have a couple elders in the room as I spoke. Communication breeds trust.

3.  Be a great teammate
The hallmarks of a great teammate are loyalty, communication, respect, honesty, trust, and commitment. By being a great teammate to your fellow staff members and elders, you will receive respect in return. NEVER put down an elder or staff member to a person in your church. NEVER lie or stretch the truth to your teammates. Hold the nitty gritty details of meetings in the strictest confidence. Be loyal to a fault.

4.  Be consistent
Consistency breeds trust. When you are consistent in your dealings with people, how you plan and execute events, and the ways you communicate, trust will naturally follow. On our staff at Hazelwood, we have a Senior Minister who has led for 35 years. Other staff members have been in their positions for 14 years, 13 years, and 7 years. I can’t tell you how awesome it is to work in an environment where there is so much consistency. We know how our teammates operate, how we respond to criticism, and we know that loyalty is the norm. Consistency pays huge dividends, so make it a priority.

5.  Stick around for a long time
There are so many benefits of longevity that I can’t enumerate all of them here, but trust, respect, and added responsibility are certainly among them. When I came to Hazelwood as a 22-year old youth minister fresh out of college, parents and leaders questioned me a lot…and I don’t blame them. I was young, inexperienced, and learning on the fly. Having been here for 13+ years now, I am often given the benefit of the doubt instead of a barrage of questions. Our staff, elders, parents, and students know I’m here to stay, and that leads to a lot of trust.

As I stated above, this list won’t save you from every difficult situation or tough conversation, but you might be surprised how far they will take you when it comes to gaining the respect of your leaders. What would you add to the list?

Why your Youth Ministry should be more like Apple

youth ministry planning

One of the things I love about Apple, that I believe (because they tell me this to be true) makes their products that much superior, is their patience. They have plenty of ideas for things that could make the iPhone or iPad better, but they don’t rush the product, and until they can make that idea the best idea, they won’t put it in the phone. Read More

Kill The Program Now!

When was the last time your youth ministry program led someone to Christ?

When I was in high school, I didn’t know Jesus.  Actually, up until grade 9 I had never been in a church building.  I was always the skater punk who didn’t want anything to do with religion.  Especially, those weird Christians.  I knew about Christians, but I never really knew about the God they followed.  I knew all the rules of things I couldn’t do, but I never really heard about Christ.

It all changed when one summer, a youth worker started to hangout at the skatepark with me and my friends.  This youth worker spend days and nights with us hanging out, drinking slurpees, and having a blast.  Over those months we built a relationship that allowed this youth worker tremendous influence into my life.  Looking back, it was the turning point in my life.  It brought down the walls that held me back from knowing and following Christ.

Looking back on my life, I had to have a relationship with the youth worker before I was willing to check out the program.  This youth worker realized that the program wasn’t the goal, the relationship was.

I often look at my own relationships and wonder if I am emphasizing the program for the relationships.  It is easier to invest time and money into a program; It is difficult to invest in people, especially teenagers.  Teenagers are messy, and crazy, but they need Jesus just like the rest of us.  They also need relationships like the rest of us.

Over the summer, it is a time of reflecting for me, and my youth ministry.  It is a season where we destroy the program.  That means we do no programs!  We hangout with people instead.  There is no hours invested in planning events for students to attend, and what we do is invite students to hangout with us.  We destroy the program and build relationships.

It is a season that always helps clarify the reason why I do youth ministry.

What does your summer look like?

Do you shift gears?  or do you create more programs and more events?

In Matthew 22:36-40, Jesus’ disciples were asking him what was the most important command, and he said this, ”

36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”  

Did you notice he didn’t say build more programs?  He said, “Love God, and Love People”.  Why is it so hard to do these two things?

When I get stuck in the program mode for too long I realize that my ministry has become about me and the numbers that follow a programatic ministry.  When was the last time you shut down the program for an extended period of time?  How did you feel during that time?  How did people respond?

Looking back to when I was a teenager.  I am thankful that someone shut the program down for the summer.  I am thankful that they spent time with me.  I am thankful that they spend time investing into my life to share Jesus with me.  I am thankful that God used that youth worker to change my life.

What is Spiritual Formation in Youth Ministry?

In a recent post, I discussed the current lack of spiritual formation occurring in student ministries. The average student ministry engine is running good with bigger and better events while the hook of church consumerism sets deeper into our students’ throats. No, I am not anti-fun or even anti-event, rather I believe we need a change in emphasis and focus. I am calling for student pastors to center their ministry cycle on the process of spiritual formation.

Spiritual formation is a phrase that gets thrown around a lot, so it’s important you know what I mean when I say ‘spiritual formation.’ Spiritual formation describes the process of a believer’s spiritual maturation through the continual sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit, in which the believer is transformed more and more to the image of Christ (2 Cor. 3:18; Gal. 4:19). This process is not accomplished solely on hard work and due diligence absent of dependence on the Spirit, but rather spiritual formation is the process in which we balance our human responsibility with the Spirit’s promise to continue His work in us (Rom. 8:28-30; Phil. 1:6). The definition used in this research then is that spiritual formation is the Spirit empowered process in which the believer’s life is conformed to that of Christ’s (Rom. 13:14; Gal. 3:27) through the grace-empowered submission of his life to God’s will (Rom. 12:1-2), and in the context of biblical community. The result of spiritual formation should be a life entirely transformed by the reality of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Spiritual formation is the Spirit empowered process in which the believer’s life is conformed to that of Christ’s (Rom. 13:14; Gal. 3:27) through the grace-empowered submission of his life to God’s will (Rom. 12:1-2), and in the context of biblical community.

Spiritual formation is far too often a discussion that leads to strategies, disciplines, or rules on how to effectively take the reins of your own formation. Although these discussions and strategies are not inherently bad, the line between grace-empowered transformation and human ‘hunker-down’ obedience must be walked with a prayerful balance. Therefore, I am not here to propose a 7-part strategy to grow your students quicker and better, rather historically the Church has broken the spiritual formation process down into three practices; corporate worship, doing life together, and serving others. It is when we understand and emphasize these practices in our ministries that we are able to navigate away from the production of church consumers and toward forming mature Christ followers. In the coming days, I’ll expound more on these three important practices.

Can you look back to a season in the past school year where you saw the greatest amount of spiritual growth in students? What created that environment?


This guest post was submitted by Jonathan Holmes believer of the gospel of Jesus Christ, husband to Amber Holmes, student pastor at Wildwood Church, ThM graduate of Dallas Seminary, Co-founder of NYW Hub, collector of books, lover of technology, typer of thoughts