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?

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.

Hang In There!

Over the past few weeks, our YouthMin.org Facebook group has been littered with discouraged and hurting Youth Ministers.  Whether dealing with criticism, divorce, unrealistic expectations, or other sources of discouragement, many of our comrades are struggling to navigate these difficulties.  Questions of identity, purpose, calling, and even value seem to be waging war against many of our brothers and sisters in Christ.  In addition, many are asking the question, “Do I even want to be in Youth Ministry anymore?”

Maybe you’re reading this article right now because you are discouraged, burnt out, tired, or contemplating leaving the ministry or your church.  While I know every context is different, and that sometimes God calls us to different places and new seasons, I want to encourage you to HANG IN THERE!

Sure, ministry is hard.  Sure, people are critical.  Sure, staff conflict can eat away at you every day.  But HANG IN THERE!  To encourage you to stick with it, here are some reasons I think you should HANG IN THERE!

HANG IN THERE because:

  1. You believed at one point that God called you to this, and at your core, you still do.
  2. Watching students come to love Jesus is the greatest thing IN THE WORLD!
  3. The church, while imperfect, is still the Bride of Christ and the vessel He has chosen for changing the world.
  4. This season will pass.  We all go through difficult stretches, but there is a better season coming!
  5. You know these students and these parents – and you can help them grow in Christ.
  6. God has never failed anyone in the past – he’s not going to start today with you.  He’s with you!
  7. You are the only You there is – you have unique gifts that can shape and mold people where you are.
  8. God is the One who changes lives, not you!  Trust in Him and rely on His power to get you through.
  9. God called you here and He can still use you here!
  10. There are TONS of benefits with longevity!  Press on – the good stuff is coming!
  11. Galatians 6:9 – “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.

So, HANG IN THERE!

Hang In There!

Over the past few weeks, our YouthMin.org Facebook group has been littered with discouraged and hurting Youth Ministers.  Whether dealing with criticism, divorce, unrealistic expectations, or other sources of discouragement, many of our comrades are struggling to navigate these difficulties.  Questions of identity, purpose, calling, and even value seem to be waging war against many of our brothers and sisters in Christ.  In addition, many are asking the question, “Do I even want to be in Youth Ministry anymore?”

Maybe you’re reading this article right now because you are discouraged, burnt out, tired, or contemplating leaving the ministry or your church.  While I know every context is different, and that sometimes God calls us to different places and new seasons, I want to encourage you to HANG IN THERE!

Sure, ministry is hard.  Sure, people are critical.  Sure, staff conflict can eat away at you every day.  But HANG IN THERE!  To encourage you to stick with it, here are some reasons I think you should HANG IN THERE!

HANG IN THERE because:

  1. You believed at one point that God called you to this, and at your core, you still do.
  2. Watching students come to love Jesus is the greatest thing IN THE WORLD!
  3. The church, while imperfect, is still the Bride of Christ and the vessel He has chosen for changing the world.
  4. This season will pass.  We all go through difficult stretches, but there is a better season coming!
  5. You know these students and these parents – and you can help them grow in Christ.
  6. God has never failed anyone in the past – he’s not going to start today with you.  He’s with you!
  7. You are the only You there is – you have unique gifts that can shape and mold people where you are.
  8. God is the One who changes lives, not you!  Trust in Him and rely on His power to get you through.
  9. God called you here and He can still use you here!
  10. There are TONS of benefits with longevity!  Press on – the good stuff is coming!
  11. Galatians 6:9 – “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.

So, HANG IN THERE!