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.

Embracing the New Normal

taking attendance in youth ministry

Carey Nieuwhof is a name many of you might recognize. If you don’t recognize his name, check out his new leadership podcast, it’s great! In his first episode, Andy Stanley makes a statement that kind of shook my existing paradigm as it relates to student ministry.

“A regular church attender is someone who goes to church about 12 times a year, not every week…as we looked at our children’s attendance patterns, the truth is that people, a regular attender, somebody that says, ‘Oh that’s my church, I love Andy or I love Carey or I love my church,” they’re going to go 12-15 times a year and consider themselves ‘churched.’  …they haven’t left.”

TWELVE TIMES? Growing up, my mom was on staff at a major church. From my perspective as a kid, the thought that we would even miss 12 Sundays a year was foreign, much less only attend 12 Sundays a year. So whether or not that statistic plays out to be true in your context, from a general point of view, there is a notable culture shift among church attendance. I would argue that there is a new normal. (Keep in mind, “new” is relative. For some contexts, this normal may have existed for years and years, and in other contexts, it may not be there at all).

Let’s assume, for a second, that this is the case and that it plays out to be true for students, as well. How does that impact how we cast vision for our students? How does that impact processes for pastoral care? How does that impact how we might view different circles of “core” vs. fringe? How does that impact how we script our series and our small group/Sunday school curriculum? We could talk for decades about how to increase involvement to an “acceptable level”, whatever that is…but let’s resist that temptation.

Instead of trying to FIX the problem, how can we do better at working within the framework we’re given? How can we be better leaders, pastors, and shepherds under the assumption that this statistic, to some degree, is true?


I don’t have all the answers…but I can think of plenty of questions.

PASTORAL CARE. When a tragedy happens in my town, my tendency is to use our D Group ministry structure as a conduit for pastoral care: visiting groups, checking in with group leaders, and meeting with students that were directly effected. If a student only attends 12x a year but considers you their pastor, seeing no reason why you would consider them a “regular visitor,” how are we shepherding students we only see once a month?

FOLLOW UP. When a core student, who may miss one meeting a month, misses for a couple weeks, there is cause to follow up. But if Jim only comes once a month to his home youth group, what’s the best way to follow up? The same way you’d approach a student there every week, or more like a student who has come with a friend a couple times?

SERIES DEVELOPMENT. I’m writing this 3 and a half hours before preaching the first message in a series on times when God feels silent. I feel like this series will hit home with many of our students who struggle with connecting with God. But if Jim comes 1 time every 4 weeks, he may not know the series is happening until it’s over. Do we have ways our students can stay plugged in and fed if they’re not there? Do we drag out series? Do we need to over-communicate when a series approaches that we think is particularly honed into where our students are?

Those are my first thoughts as I process the incredible implications should this statement be true, but I would love to hear how this perception or knowledge impacts the way you do student ministry, and if you think it plays out in your context.

Don’t Kill Yourself – Volunteers are Key

youth pastor volunteer

Volunteers… We don’t always have them but we need them.

I have been in Youth Ministry for a little over 4 years now and for about the first 3 years I thought that everything was my responsibility. I did three lessons a week, scheduled a meal sign up sheet and made contact with whoever was signed up for the current week, spent as much time as I could with the students (which wasn’t much). I led parent meetings, did lock-ins, 30 Hour Famines, Camps, Mission Trips and all of the fundraisers that our program needed. I had parents come and volunteer their time but I never appreciated their help fully until about 6 months ago. I started in a new church about a year and a half ago and for the first year I continued my devastating trend of not allowing anyone to help me. I was exhausted, I was depressed, I didn’t feel like I belonged in ministry anymore.

The past 4-6 months I have truly begun to understand the need for allowing adults to help in student ministry. I need to be in the front leading the group in the direction we are going but that doesn’t mean that I have to be pulling the entire group behind me. Now, I have a group of 4-6 adults that are absolutely invested in this ministry. I bounce ideas off of them, I ask them to do stuff for the ministry (instead of me doing it all) and I do my best to be there whenever I have a leader that has a question or idea for the program. Believe it or not, I am not stressed anymore. I don’t worry about how I am going to tackle certain tasks now, because I have a team that I know can help me and is behind me 110%. Whether that task is little or daunting, my team works together with me and we accomplish it.

A question arises though… Where can I get the leaders that I need to do this?

1. Talk to People

There are many people in the church that don’t do anything and are not invested because they have never been asked to do anything. Invite them out for lunch one day, give your vision for the ministry, ask where they can see themselves helping out and give them the reasoning on why you chose them. Most of my volunteers have stepped up because I have asked them or talked to them about the ministry.

2. Broadcast Your Ministry to the Church

Make sure your church knows that they actually have a student ministry.  And make sure they know that the student ministry is doing everything in its power to equip the students with the faith and the biblical understanding that they need to be able to tackle the challenges that are waiting on them when they leave to go to college. Your students are your best promotional opportunity, so get your students to stand up in church and make announcements for the youth program. When you go on a mission trip or go to church camp, get up in front of the church and let the students share how God moved in their lives during the event. Adults love to hear how the students are tackling the difficult concepts of faith early in their lives and more than likely would love to help out.

3. Make Sure Your Ministry is Inviting

This is something that really took some effort and practice on my part. In all my time as a Youth Pastor, I had never truly worked on being open and inviting to criticism and being open to people trying to help out. I honestly believe that I have had some great volunteers run through the ranks of my ministries and I have burned bridges by not listening to ideas and critiques. Make sure that you are welcoming to volunteers when they have questions or concerns. Discuss their thoughts (neutrally), find solutions to the problems and move on with implementing the solutions. Burning bridges because someone gave you a critique that you didn’t like will only make it harder for you in the long run. Be humble and be wise. You do not always have the right answers, neither do your volunteers. That’s why it is best to work as a team.


Please don’t kill yourself like I did for close to 3 years… It’s not worth it. Find some volunteers that share your vision and love on them as much as possible. Give them tasks to accomplish, get their opinions on things that are happening and get out there and love students with everything you have.

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?

What would happen to your Youth Ministry if you left?

Yesterday, one of our contributors, Frank Gil, posted this

He’s not alone, and I know many Youth Pastors are planning beyond their Fall Calendars and are thinking about the entire ministry year that lays ahead of us, and if you haven’t started that process yet, you should.

Last year around this time, I was coming home from our annual vacation at the end of the ministry year and starting that process, and laid out a ton of great plans, from what topics we would cover in our sermon series to our Middle School small group curriculum and High School bible studies, and the events we would plan. Quite honestly, this is one of my favorite things about Youth Ministry, planning out where we hope our students will be after a year of ministry and how we can actually get them there.

Proverbs 19:21 tells us that

Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will prevail.

Last July, I laid out plans for our 2013-2014 school year and felt it was going to be an incredible year in our ministry, and after the awesome spring semester and Middle School camp we had just had, I was so pumped for what was coming. But then in January I had a conversation with my Sr. Pastor that concluded with the resolution that my wife and I would be leaving by June 1st, if we didn’t find a new ministry sooner. I could go on and on about that experience, and may do that in other posts, but the short of it is this:

In all my planning for the ministry year, I never planned that in 12 months I wouldn’t be leading that ministry.

But no one ever really does, do they? God acts swiftly and decisively, and though it may sometimes take longer than we want for him to work, we don’t know what he is going to do over the next 12 hours  let alone the next 12 months. But through this experience I got to go through, I was fortunate enough to have that long of a timeline to work with, knowing where our students were, where our leaders were, and what would be coming after I left. Though there was a lot more I wish I could have accomplished in my time at Trinity, and there were many more things I could have done in even my last 6 months, I enjoyed the challenge of being able to plan for sustainable health and success in the ministry without me in it.

Ultimately, I think that should be one of our tasks every year as we plan out our ministry calendars. Youth Pastors aren’t planning on leaving, you may be praying about something, God may be doing something with you over the next few weeks and/or months, but Youth Pastors rarely plan to leave 12 months out. But this summer, as you make your plans for the next year, challenge yourself to plan a ministry that you aren’t involved with.

If you knew that in 12 months you would be leaving your ministry and they would be without a “Youth Pastor,” what would you change about the way you operated in your ministry during that time? What training would you give to your volunteers? What lessons would you discuss in your small groups to ensure the students had a foundation that wasn’t reliant on one teacher? What would you pass off to volunteers to coach them in to be able to do without you there?

I hope you see my heart behind these questions. I don’t mean them to create an egotistical view of yourself in Youth Ministry, of all the things you are needed for, and I don’t mean to encourage you to leave your ministry. But wouldn’t you like to know that if God does change your plans this year, you’ve cultivated a ministry that doesn’t rely on you? With the added bonus that if you are still there 12 months from now, you’ve got a much deeper volunteer base, as well.