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

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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?

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Planning a Mission Trip: Devil's in the Details

Let’s face it, youth ministers aren’t always known as the best planners. Sometimes, we do a great job of casting the overall vision of our ministry while neglecting the smaller details. A mission trip is not the time to miss the small stuff. Sometimes, missing a minor detail can result in major problems. As you set the wheels in motion for your next mission trip, here are some steps you can take to ensure that you don’t miss the details.

1. Have a great local contact
No matter where you are going, there will always be someone who knows the area better than you. Make sure that you have a great contact at your destination who can help out with the details, with accommodations, with local transportation, and can also be available in an emergency.

2. Pre-trip or no pre-trip?
If you are unfamiliar with the area where you are going, or don’t know your local contact very well, it might be a good idea to take a pre-trip to check out your destination. It might cost some money, but consider it an investment to save you a lot of headaches in the future. While on the pre-trip, make sure to see all of the work projects, where you will sleep, the kitchen where food will be prepared, and get the lay of the land. Make sure to meet up with your contacts and have them around to answer all of your questions.

3. Plan with a team
You’ve probably heard the old saying that “two heads are better than one.” This is totally true when it comes to planning a mission trip. Throughout the planning process, I will have conversations with all of the key players, including my local contact, my kitchen guru, my work project coordinator, and those who are driving the buses. Since all of these people are coming at the trip from a different perspective, they can often ask a question or point something out that I had never before considered. You might even consider running the details of the trip by some parents just to see what questions they ask. This will help prepare you for the parent meeting later on.

4. Day by day
The last advice I will share is to go through each day of your mission trip on a piece of paper and write down exactly what you think it will look like from breakfast to lights out. As you process each day individually, it will help you formulate the questions that have not yet been answered. I often make a phone call about a week or two prior to the mission trip to seek answers to these questions and confirm that everything is still smooth sailing.

I hope this has been insightful, and can help you as you plan the details and logistics of your next mission trip. Don’t be afraid to ask the hard questions, and make sure that every t is crossed and every i is dotted. In the end, planning ahead will allow you to be a better youth minister on the trip.

What has been the most helpful bit of advice you have ever received when it comes to planning a trip? What questions might you add to my list? Have you ever been burned because you failed to plan?

Planning a Mission Trip: Picking the Team

Once you have the location picked out and the budget set, the next step is to get the team you want in place. This can be a crucial part of the mission trip planning process. These will be the people that your students will interact with, work with, and learn from throughout the week, so choose wisely. Here are some practical things to think through as you set your team for your upcoming trip.

1. Handpick, don’t Cattle-call.
It can be easy to overreact and panic when it comes to getting your team in place. But this is too important for the standard ministry call-out. Posting the need for adults to go on a mission trip in your weekly bulletin is probably going to lead to some awkward conversations later on. Start planning early enough that you can hand pick the people that you most want on the trip. By asking them early, you will have time to go to Plan B instead of just having to settle for whoever is “available.”

2. Recognize there are certain roles you need to fill with qualified people.
On every trip, there will always be certain jobs that need a face to go with them. For instance, since we drive large buses to all of our destinations, I know that I will need at least 2 to 3 qualified, CDL licensed, passenger-endorsed bus drivers. Typically, you want someone who is very comfortable cooking for large groups to make your meals throughout the week as well. You may also need to identify key people who can help you complete the work projects that you will be doing. Write down the specific people that you need, and go get them!

3. Prioritize the people you want interacting with your students.
Having the right adults on your trip can make a world of difference.  Often, I have more issues dealing with the adults on a trip than I do the students.  Prioritize the people you want to be with you on your mission trip, and go after them. My priority list always starts with my normal adult leaders.  Having these trusted leaders with you can stave off a lot of headaches.  Plus, it will give them great opportunities to connect on a deeper level with students.  Secondly, I go after the skilled leaders I need.  Maybe I need a bus driver, an electrician, a contractor, or someone who has experience with drywall.  Look for people who can meet a need, and make it clear to them that they have the skills you need for this trip.  Usually, when you show them they bring something valuable to the table, they are more likely to go.  Finally, I pursue parents or other great people that I know will do well with our students.  By prioritizing and communicating, you can have a great team in place quickly, which can help you avoid awkward conversations with people you don’t really want to come along.

4.  Don’t fear parents.
I know parents can sometimes be a drain, and sometimes they can be very critical, but most parents want the exact same thing you do.  Most parents want their student’s life to be changed by the message of Christ.  If you truly want to partner with parents in ministry, consider taking a few of them along with you on your next trip.  It might be good to set a few guidelines before the trip, but with some clear communication, you might gain some great allies by bringing them along and letting them see your ministry up close.

5.  What “new” people is God putting before you?
Sometimes, before a trip, I will be approached by someone I would have NEVER considered as a potential mission trip leader.  Before I turn them away, I commit to pray over it and think about how they might fit.  Sometimes, God may lay someone at your feet that you would have never picked on your own, but they end up being a great fit.  So don’t forget to be open to the Lord’s movement when it comes to picking your team.

Setting the team can be one of the most important parts of planning a mission trip.  What challenges have you faced when getting your adult leaders in place?  What does your priority list look like?  Who do you seek out first?