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.

The Perfect Youth Pastor office

youth ministry office

If you follow me on Facebook, you might know that I just started out in a new ministry position in Northern Illinois, and I’m super excited about everything that God has in store. One of nice things about my new position is this huge loft we have for the Student Ministries staff, a huge open room with plenty of wall space, high ceilings, and a great view. But it needs some redesigning – fresh paint, better organization and layout, and some great decorations. I know there are ton of awesome Youth Pastors out there with amazing offices, and I’d love it if you wanted to share an image of what your office looks like in the comments below.

I know I already plan on incorporating a few ideas from the great series of posts that Elle Campbell did last year, but I’d also love to hear your ideas for what you would do with this space. Here are some pictures of how it currently looks:

painting your ministry office

We’ve got this big, flat wall that right now is green. I’ve heard that starting at green makes you more creative, but I’m not a fan of this shade.

youth pastor bookshelves

On one of the ends, we’ve got these bookshelves that run the width of the room, plenty of storage for books, just again, thinking I’ll paint to get rid of that green.

youth room painting

We’re over the gym, to an extent, so we’ve got this angled wall thats great for hanging banners/posters.

youth ministry seating space

Fairly big seating area for team meetings, student discussions, etc.

youth ministry office space

The other side of the room, our Jr. High pastors’ desk , the staircase actually goes down to the right to get into the gym.

storage ideas youth ministry

We’ve got this section for storage. I saw some pretty sweet DIY industrial shelves I was thinking about, but want something that can make this not seem so cluttered.

So here’s what I’m asking from you. I’d love to see color scheme ideas for an office that might go well with that brown carpet and couches. I’d love to see some awesome ideas of what to do with the wall space, and I’d love to see some great storage ideas for this section in the last picture. I’ve got plenty of my own ideas that I’ll also be sharing in the comments but wanted to hear from others. Plus, I figure I’m not the only Youth Pastor decorating their office (since we get asked a similar question in the Facebook community what seems like weekly). So share away!

Here are some of the ideas I’ve done in the past in my offices and will probably do again here, at some point:

student ministry decoration youth ministry calendar make custom dry erase boards youth ministry

Finding Peace in the Chaos

networking in youth ministry
For most people in ministry that I have met, vacations and time away from the ministry are often left on the back burner. This is something that, over the past year, I have found to be EXTREMELY hazardous to your spirit as well as your body. We need to have some time to get out and do things that get us out of the 24-hour-a-day mindset that is required in Youth Ministry. For some time now, I have had moments in planning and writing and organizing things for the Youth program to where I have found myself absolutely stressed out over the smallest things. I realized that I wasn’t allowing myself adequate time to “turn off” so to speak.

In order for our hearts and spirits to be able to make a connection we have to allow time for both of them to receive nourishment.

I know I am not the only one out there who struggles with this. There are countless Youth Pastors who seem to struggle with this as well, including the Youth Pastors that are bi-vocational.. In order for our hearts and spirits to be able to make a connection, we have to allow time for both of them to receive nourishment.
Over the past few months, a few friends and I have begun to set out a time block (Thursday mornings at 10am CST) and join each other from all different parts of the United States in a Google Hangout. This has been incredibly refreshing for myself and it is honestly something that I look forward to for the entire week. The conversations have been excellent! We laugh, we discuss, we brainstorm, and most importantly… we pray for each other. There is something so refreshing about receiving prayer from others who are called in the same field of ministry as you are. I leave the hangout every week encouraged and uplifted to take on the next week. This has truly been a time for my spirit to receive nourishment.  Worship, reading and prayer are great additions to this as well. However, something that my heart absolutely strives for is joining in community. It’s who I am. I think this is an important thing for anyone in ministry, because we have so many people who we constantly are in contact with that put on their best appearance and try to be perfect, like we are going to speak badly to Jesus about them or something if they don’t.Something that we often miss is the sense of community. It can be flawed and can have problems.  But we need help and encouragement to tackle what life has thrown at us. I have been extremely encouraged by this and I would absolutely love for anyone in ministry who is reading this to join us in the Google Hangout on Thursdays.Seriously, you will not regret it.

Secondly, we have to find time to allow us to be ourselves. Whatever your hobby is, pursue it in your free time. I have two distinct hobbies that I absolutely enjoy more than any others…golf and graphic design. They both provide me with the opportunity to clear my head and focus on what I am doing. If i get frustrated, you can typically find me on the putting green or behind my computer designing things. This is my getaway, my spot in life to where it’s just me. I can recharge my mind and body within a matter of an hour or so and get back to work.

Hobbies are extremely important, and I would recommend you pick one up or more passionately pursue your hobbies. Students can see through burned out, exhausted, and spiritually dry leadership. They will call you out on it more times than not. But the thing is… THEY ARE RIGHT!

Allow yourself time to recharge and grow this week. I hope that you can discover a hobby that works well for you.

Also, I am sure there are some other techniques that work well for others. Post them in the comments below! I would love to read them.

 

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?

Wacky Words – Group Game

If you’re like me, you are always looking for a great up-front game that is flexible for any group size, easy to use and explain, and fun for everyone.  Sometimes, games like that are hard to come by.  So, we decided to create our own one evening, and Wacky Words was born.

Wacky Words is a crazy game focusing on the definitions of some of the English language’s craziest words, like Gardyloo, Widdershins, Bumfuzzled, and Gubbins.  In our group, we divided the students into teams, and gave them all a piece of paper and a marker.  We then show the slide of the crazy words and they try to come up with what they think the definition actually is for that word.  Once they have done their best to come up with definitions, you can go through the slides and show the definitions.  In the end, the team with the most correct answers wins.

Variations include doing this as a one-on-one sort of up-front game, having sections of the room helping “their” participant.  Or, you could even do it like Balderdash, where groups have to turn in their definition and gain points for every group that picks theirs.

You can purchase “Wacky Words” in the YouthMin Resources store HERE.