Wisdom for Rookie Youth Pastors: Keeping Up On Bible Studies

youth ministry lesson calendar

When I was a teenager, I remember thinking during my Pastor’s and Youth Pastor’s sermons, “How in the world can these guys preach a new message from the Bible every single Sunday and Wednesday?” Fast forward a few years later, and I was now that guy. To be honest, the idea of coming up with new Bible studies week after week terrified me. I will also admit there were a few times I pulled out Bible studies on the spot, and yes, they were not my best.

My opinion is that no minister should EVER not know what they will be speaking on, and the way you avoid that is by preparing properly and developing Bible lessons in advance.

My rule of thumb is this: if you are in full-time youth ministry and have a designated time where you are speaking, then you should be creating your own lessons.

When it comes to your designated small group / Sunday school times, your leaders need to have a pre-written curriculum. If you’re a part-time or volunteer youth pastor, your time constraints mean you may not have the time to develop your own Bible studies, so using a curriculum is totally understandable. However, if you can develop your own, go for it!

On that note, here are 3 practices you can do to stay on top of your Bible lessons:

Start with book-to-book studies

The idea behind going through books of the Bible is getting you used to developing Bible studies. Since all books of the Bible have a logical progression, you will already know what you will be preaching on the next week, because the next paragraph / chapter will be the lesson.

Now, you don’t have to have each lesson already written out, but you have to at least know if you are going to read all of the chapter, or only a passage from it, and you should also develop your main idea. Once you do this, you’ll have your passage and main idea for each week to come, and then you can focus on building the lesson for the current week. When you feel comfortable enough with planning out Bible studies, then you can begin stretching out and developing topical studies.

Look at the calendar

Your calendar is your friend and can be a major aid to you when you are developing your Bible studies. God has built a rhythm to life through seasons, and with each season comes with its own themes and holidays. Moreover, looking at the calendar allows you to see what you have scheduled for your teens. So if you know you have a retreat coming up, you can plan a special study to help your students prepare for it. Or if you know of a special event or holiday that is going to happen during a study that you’re preparing for, you can take a small break from the study to focus on that. Furthermore, don’t forget about the liturgical calendar! This is a fantastic way to add another layer of theology to your planning.

Prepare for crisis of faith studies

We live in a broken world, and our students are dramatically affected by it. They will experience joy, death, love, and heartache. One of the best things we can do is prepare studies around crisis situations for those “why God” questions that will happen. The Bible doesn’t shy away from the brokenness sin has caused, and there’s no reason for us to miss those opportunities. Make some Bible studies for it, and file them away for when you need it.

Finally, when you do prepare your Bible studies, bathe them in prayer. Only the Spirit of God has the ability to speak into the lives of every single one of our students. We are only the messengers, but are given the amazing opportunity to prepare the message with Christ. The only way we’ll know what God is wanting to share is if we stay in constant dialogue with him. Don’t overlook the role prayer plays in declaring God’s Word.

Which method do you believe is good for rookies? Book-to-book or topical?

What are some other practices you have used to help you prepare for Bible lessons?

Intern 101: Hiring an Intern

Mentoring and pouring into an intern can be one of the most challenging and rewarding aspects of youth ministry. As I write this post, I find myself preparing for my eight intern during my 13-year tenure at Hazelwood Christian church.  I absolutely love the opportunity to invest in students and future ministry leaders, and I value the friendships that I have forged through internships even to this day. As I have experienced the highs and lows of internships, I have learned a few tips that may be helpful to you as you seek to invest in interns as well.

This first post will focus on the steps leading up to the internship, including the hiring process. Subsequent posts will talk about what to do during the internship and even how to be a mentor after the internship is over.
1. Convince your church leaders of the value of internships.
The first step is to make sure that your church leaders are on board with the idea of having an intern. While every church is different, I would recommend waiting until you have been at the church for at least a couple years before requesting an intern. That gives you time to learn the culture and the people and get your stride before bringing in an intern.  As you approach your church leadership about hosting an intern, here are a few of the benefits you might want to point out to them.

  • Having interns is a great way for your church to invest in future ministry. Your church can play a major part in the next generation of ministry.  I currently have 6 former interns serving in local ministry, and that brings me great joy.
  • Interns are cheap and helpful. Interns typically work over 40 hours a week for very little pay. While I think you should take good care of your intern (more about this in the second post), your church leaders should know that this is very inexpensive help.
  • We expect other churches to do this for OUR students. We encourage students to enter full time Christian ministry, and we assume that other churches are going to provide a great internship for them. We should be doing the same for others.

Once your church leaders are on board with the idea of an intern, it’s time to begin the hiring process. The next few steps deal with how to do that well.

2.  Get really good information from applicants.
Most times, colleges will have an online database of internships and job openings. You can use this resource to invite students to apply for your internship. Once they contact you, make sure you get really good information from them so that you can learn a little bit about who they are and what their talents may be. Make sure you have an application that asks some good questions right from the start. Also, be sure to include some questions about their spiritual background, their previous experiences, references, and why they desire to go into ministry. Do the hard work and contact references, professors, previous employers, and even other contacts that you might just share a connection with. Doing the hard work here may save you heartache later.

3.  Don’t underestimate the importance of chemistry.
Through the application process, you will probably encounter a number of very talented and qualified individuals. But not all of these individuals are going to fit well with your personality, your context, your philosophy of ministry, or your staff. Chemistry is an intangible element in this process, but it is also the most important in my opinion. Make sure you speak regularly with your potential intern, do online hangouts so that you can see them face to face, and meet them personally whenever it is possible. Whenever I have multiple applicants that are talented and equally qualified, I always go with my gut in terms of chemistry.

4.  Communicate regularly.
One of the most common things I hear from people seeking employment with churches is that the communication is rare and usually unclear. Break the mold! Communicate with your applicants regularly, letting them know where you are in the process and what the next steps will be. Also, communicate your expectations and guidelines as well as any compensation packages early on so that everyone has the information that they need to pray and make a wise decision.

5.  Involve others in the process.
Sometimes, God uses others to speak into our lives. Make sure that you involve others in this process. I typically do all of the hard work when it comes to references and interviews. However, as I narrow my search, I invite our senior minister to sit in on an interview. It is always helpful to get another opinion from someone you respect.

6.  Make your decision and offer a clear invitation
Once you have decided which young person you are going to mentor, make sure to call them and let them know the good news. Don’t allow any room for confusion. Make your invitation clear, and make sure that they clearly accept the position so that you can move forward together. Once you have all of this confirmed, make sure to call the other applicants and let them down easy. Be honest, but be encouraging.

Internships can be a formative and life-changing experience both for you and the intern.  Make the most of the hiring process, and you will be blessed throughout.  What has been your experience with interns?  Is there anything you would add to the hiring process that I missed?

Hold Onto Your Butts: Wisdom for Rookie Youth Pastors

Jurassic Park is one of my all time favorite movies. If you have not watched Jurassic Park yet, please feel free to stop reading this post and go watch it now! If you have seen it and want to watch it (because you know how awesome it is), feel free to stop reading as well. I don’t mind, Jurassic Park is that good!

Did you watch it? Great! Now we can move on. Not only is Jurassic Park awesome, but it gives us one of the most famous lines ever, declared by none other than Nick Fury, I mean Samuel L. Jackson.

The scene. Dinosaurs have taken over the park. Dr. Grant and the kids are trying to survive, while the rest of the gang are trying to figure out how to stop the dinosaurs. Finally, an idea is declared. The crew could implement the Lysine contingency, which will kill all of the dinosaurs after seven days. The catch? All the power in the park will be shut down, leaving all the survivors in even more danger. A decision is made, and they tell Ray Arnold, played by Samuel L. Jackson, to shut the system down. Ray’s response, “Hold onto your butts!”

So what does Jurassic Park have to do with being rookie youth pastors? Well, probably not a whole lot, but I believe this scene describes a feeling all rookie youth pastors will go through. Think about it. You’ve worked hard studying your butt off at college, while you’ve interned at a church. You finally graduate and it’s your first day in the office. There comes a moment of clarity where you finally realize all the hard work and dreaming have finally come to pass. You’ve finally made it! Mission accomplished! God is good!

And then it gets real. Reality sets in and you realize you’re the person in charge. No longer do you have a safety net to catch you when you fall. Now, you ARE the net, and you catch all the good and bad that comes with being a youth pastor. You are now in for the ride of your life, and it can either be the best ride ever or a complete terror that leaves you broken and burned.

I know this feeling, because I’ve been there before and have made all the blundering mistakes that come with it. Yet, my folly is your gain, and if you’re willing to listen, then you’ll save yourself a ton of grief that could cause you to leave ministry for good.

So for the next few months I’ll be writing a series of posts to help you rookies out! Here’s a preview for what you get to look forward to:

If you are a rookie youth pastor, then I want you to consider these blog posts as an open dialogue. Feel free to share your thoughts, concerns, and even ideas that could be added to the series. Remember, there are no dumb questions. Finally, as a word of encouragement, I am thankful for your willingness to accept the high calling God has placed on your life to minister to teenagers. God does not give this calling to everyone, which means he believes you can accomplish this task through his power and love. Enjoy the ride and know you are not alone. See you in the trenches!

If you have started, or are on the verge of starting, your first youth pastor position, what excites you the most?

If you are a veteran youth pastor, what nuggets of wisdom would you give to rookies?

Part-Time Youth Pastor, Full-Time Hero: Final Thoughts

If you have followed this series in its entirety, then I’m sure you’ve come to the conclusion that part-time student ministry is not for the faint of heart. It is hard work that will make you question yourself multiple times a day; yet at the same time, it will be the most refining work you will ever participate in. Christ will grow you in ways you would have never imagined, and you’ll be better off in the long run for it. As this series comes to a close, here are the final thoughts I needed to hear when I was in part-time student ministry.

DON’T BOTHER WITH PURPOSE STATEMENTS

I know, everything you read tells you you need to have some type of purpose statement; but in all honesty, a purpose statement is the last thing a small church, especially a youth group, could care about.  What a small church cares about is if their minsters will love them for who they are, not take them down a vision quest.

It’s okay for you to have a purpose statement and vision where you believe God wants the student ministry to go. It’s even okay to share that with others and brainstorm with your team about it; however, don’t spend a lot of time on it and don’t make it your main purpose for being there. Use your time for better things, like loving your students.

NETWORK, NETWORK, NETWORK!

You have very little resources and you’ll never be able to put on a high-caliber outreach event like the big church down the street. That will always be a problem for you, but you can find a solution to it by partnering with other youth pastors in your area.

Invest your time in building relationships with men and women who are experiencing the exact same thing as you. As a result of these relationships, your ministry will benefit because resources are being pulled together. More importantly, you will benefit because you will have a group of friends to encourage you during your lowest times.

BE HONEST WITH YOUR SITUATION

When I was in part-time student ministry, my pastor always wanted me to do tons of fun events. Moreover, I was expected to put on a Valentine’s banquet that served 100 people. Of course, accomplishing these events would never work accordingly, because I only had six students and only three were guaranteed to show up.  But I would do them anyways because I was too scared of sharing how illogical it was to do these events with only three students.

One of the best things you can do is acknowledge the number situation and help everyone around you to set realistic expectations. Have events, but makes sure everyone understands that they are in line with what your church is capable of, not with the one down the street.

IF YOU BUILD IT, THEY WILL NOT COME.

You have no youth room, no slick flat screen TV’s to present your media, and no one can play a guitar. You may think to yourself, “If only I had (fill in the blank with a bell or whistle),” things would be different. Students would show up.” Well, guess what? They may, for one Wednesday, but then you’re back to square one.

I have never heard a testimony where a student came to know Christ because of a slick media presentation; however, I have heard plenty of testimonies where someone comes to Christ because their friend, parent, church member, or youth pastor loved them enough to share Jesus with them.

Student ministry will always be about relationships, so don’t fall into the trap and believe that your student ministry is inadequate because you don’t have all the bells and whistles.

BELIEVE IN THE CALLING CHRIST LAID ON YOUR LIFE.

There’s nothing like serving in a part-time position to make you question the calling God has laid on your life. You will experience many burns that will make you want to walk away: empty promises, pastors who can’t lead, and church members who like things the way they are.

Yet, with all the craziness you will endure, do not lose faith in God and his calling on you. God didn’t make a mistake when he called you to ministry, and he knows what he is doing with your life. Too many ministers walk away, way before they’ve even reached their potential, because they’ve lost faith in their calling. Don’t be one of those guys.

In the end, I commend you for being a part-time youth pastor. You may not believe it, but you are doing an incredible job, and your willingness to love Christ and students is making a difference.

And as always, if you ever have questions or need feed back, feel free to connect with me anytime! The YouthMin.Org team is here to be a resource for youth pastors like you to help you take your ministry to the next level!

Part-Time Youth Pastor, Full-Time Hero: Final Thoughts

If you have followed this series in its entirety, then I’m sure you’ve come to the conclusion that part-time student ministry is not for the faint of heart. It is hard work that will make you question yourself multiple times a day; yet at the same time, it will be the most refining work you will ever participate in. Christ will grow you in ways you would have never imagined, and you’ll be better off in the long run for it. As this series comes to a close, here are the final thoughts I needed to hear when I was in part-time student ministry.

DON’T BOTHER WITH PURPOSE STATEMENTS

I know, everything you read tells you you need to have some type of purpose statement; but in all honesty, a purpose statement is the last thing a small church, especially a youth group, could care about.  What a small church cares about is if their minsters will love them for who they are, not take them down a vision quest.

It’s okay for you to have a purpose statement and vision where you believe God wants the student ministry to go. It’s even okay to share that with others and brainstorm with your team about it; however, don’t spend a lot of time on it and don’t make it your main purpose for being there. Use your time for better things, like loving your students.

NETWORK, NETWORK, NETWORK!

You have very little resources and you’ll never be able to put on a high-caliber outreach event like the big church down the street. That will always be a problem for you, but you can find a solution to it by partnering with other youth pastors in your area.

Invest your time in building relationships with men and women who are experiencing the exact same thing as you. As a result of these relationships, your ministry will benefit because resources are being pulled together. More importantly, you will benefit because you will have a group of friends to encourage you during your lowest times.

BE HONEST WITH YOUR SITUATION

When I was in part-time student ministry, my pastor always wanted me to do tons of fun events. Moreover, I was expected to put on a Valentine’s banquet that served 100 people. Of course, accomplishing these events would never work accordingly, because I only had six students and only three were guaranteed to show up.  But I would do them anyways because I was too scared of sharing how illogical it was to do these events with only three students.

One of the best things you can do is acknowledge the number situation and help everyone around you to set realistic expectations. Have events, but makes sure everyone understands that they are in line with what your church is capable of, not with the one down the street.

IF YOU BUILD IT, THEY WILL NOT COME.

You have no youth room, no slick flat screen TV’s to present your media, and no one can play a guitar. You may think to yourself, “If only I had (fill in the blank with a bell or whistle),” things would be different. Students would show up.” Well, guess what? They may, for one Wednesday, but then you’re back to square one.

I have never heard a testimony where a student came to know Christ because of a slick media presentation; however, I have heard plenty of testimonies where someone comes to Christ because their friend, parent, church member, or youth pastor loved them enough to share Jesus with them.

Student ministry will always be about relationships, so don’t fall into the trap and believe that your student ministry is inadequate because you don’t have all the bells and whistles.

BELIEVE IN THE CALLING CHRIST LAID ON YOUR LIFE.

There’s nothing like serving in a part-time position to make you question the calling God has laid on your life. You will experience many burns that will make you want to walk away: empty promises, pastors who can’t lead, and church members who like things the way they are.

Yet, with all the craziness you will endure, do not lose faith in God and his calling on you. God didn’t make a mistake when he called you to ministry, and he knows what he is doing with your life. Too many ministers walk away, way before they’ve even reached their potential, because they’ve lost faith in their calling. Don’t be one of those guys.

In the end, I commend you for being a part-time youth pastor. You may not believe it, but you are doing an incredible job, and your willingness to love Christ and students is making a difference.

And as always, if you ever have questions or need feed back, feel free to connect with me anytime! The YouthMin.Org team is here to be a resource for youth pastors like you to help you take your ministry to the next level!

How To Serve Bad Leaders

We’ve all been there at some time. You may not admit it with the words of the title of this article, but you’ve complained enough about them: bad leaders. Bad leaders come in all different varieties: The Micro-Manager, The Blame-Shifter, The Tyrant, The Vague Communicatior, The One Track Mind, add yours here… At one time, maybe more than once, you have served a bad leader. We’ve been talking this past month about #leadingup, but how are you supposed to lead up when the person “up” is a terrible leader?

Let’s get one thing straight: leading up is on you, not them. Who, what, how they are is not something you can control. And when you are under someone who seems to be terrible at their leadership, it can be incredibly frustrating. You may be reading these articles asking yourself, “how can I change them?” I’m here to tell you, “YOU CAN’T!” All you can control is you.
So, here’s three quick tips / reminders when leading up to a “bad” leader:

1. Work on “You”

It’s tempting to focus on the other person, but you can’t control them, no matter how much you complain to other people about them. Because, let’s face it, you’re probably not complaining to their face, right? I mean, you still have a job under this person… So work on yourself. Do all that you can to support and be a blessing. Since all you can control is yourself, make sure that your righteousness is never tainted, even if you feel self-righteous.

Make it all about “them”, and you will fail or get yourself fired.

2. Remember God Is In Control

Chances are, God knows this person is in leadership, and He probably noticed your frustrations at some point as well. So give it up to Him. Pray for this person regularly, and not the “bolt of lightning” prayer. Ask God to make you an instrument of blessing for that person. Seek divine insight into their process so you can work with that.

Do not start expecting God to remove them “any minute now…”, but treat them as an anointed leader placed by God until He says otherwise. Read 1 Samuel 18 for inspiration.

3. Talk About It . . . With Them!

Have you tried talking it out? I mean really talking it through. Like, ask why they would say “this-thing-that-hurt-me”. Try asking what exactly happened the last time you got on their bad side, and give them a chance to respond without your defensiveness. Seek to know their heart, their motivations. And no matter what you think, you do not know why they do what they do. So you have to ask.

Don’t give up when it doesn’t solve everything right away. Be persistent, in love, and make it known that you want to work at fixing whatever it is you are doing wrong in their eyes. You just may find that not only does this increase your arsenal of ways to work with people, but you might deepen your friendship here (or build a new one) in the process. And best of all, you may lead them to change as they examine their motives and actions and realize the effect they have on you.

Have you tried any of these things? How did it work out for you?
Are you going through some stuff? I’d love to pray with you and for you! Share your experiences in a comment!