News Flash: Teenagers use social media. A lot. 96% of Canadians ages 15-24 are using social media. Youth workers know that the overuse of social media is a problem among students. As a society, we are becoming increasingly aware of the negative affects of addiction to social media. Thankfully, there are some great resources available to help assess and address our compulsion need to monitor our feed.
However, while youth workers should continue doing our best to pry our students attention away from their snap story…let’s not miss out on the opportunity to leverage social media for good.
The reality is, our students are engaging with social media on a daily basis, and that means our youth ministries have an opportunity to speak into their lives.
Consider this – most youth ministries have the attention of our students for 2-3 hours each week. In that window of time we are hoping to communicate a message that will impact the lives of our students throughout the rest of their week.
What if we saw social media as a platform to reinforce those messages?
This is an opportunity to encourage students to live differently around their friends while they are actually in their school. We can nudge them to spend some time in scripture as they get their day started. We can remind them that God is always with them as they go about their everyday lives.
The bottom line is simple: youth workers have an opportunity to leverage social media to spark spiritual growth in students. Here are two ways to make that happen:
1 – Reinforce the messages from your gatherings Your gatherings are memorable. Your messages are impactful. Social media gives you an opportunity to echo the big ideas and help them stick in the hearts and minds of your students.
2 – Prompt spiritual habits If your youth ministry has identified some basic discipleship habits for your students, use social media as a way to prompt your students to live those out. In our youth ministry, we’ve identified 4 areas of discipleship that we want our students to grow in: #LoveGod #KnowGod #FollowGod #LoveOthers. We talk about these discipleship areas in our gatherings, but we really want our students to grow in these areas throughout the week. We reinforce this idea with the tagline: #LakeviewOnTheGo. We want our students to understand that these are important areas of our spiritual journey that happen between our gatherings.
If you haven’t identified discipleship habits in your youth ministry…maybe now is a good time to try.
Like it or love it…social media is major part of the world our students are immersed in. Let’s embrace the opportunity to leverage social media for something good, because there is a great opportunity to fuel the spiritual growth of our students. Go claim it!
PS: Using an app like Word Swag makes it easy to create beautiful images that will grab your students’ attention and prompt them to embody those spiritual habits. For other tips on productivity apps, make sure to check out this post from Jeremy MacDonald.
I’m a tools junkie. I love when new apps come available that might help me do my job more efficiently. I’ve compiled my favourites–take a look and see if you might benefit from these tools too! If you have any other suggestions, drop them in the comments.
Wunderlist: There’s an enormous amount of options when it comes to task or project management. Wunderlist is a great place to start, as it gives you scalable options (attaching files, sharing lists) while keeping things simple.
How I Use It: I have shared lists with anyone I’m doing a one-on-one with. Both of us can add items to the agenda. I also keep a grocery list shared with my wife.
Right Inbox: Have you ever emailed someone and then forgot to follow up with them when they didn’t respond? Have you used your inbox as a to-do list to the point that it has gotten overwhelming? Have you ever thought of emailing someone, but it’s at a weird hour of the day and you’d rather send the email at a different time? You need Right Inbox (Boomerang or Gmelius are similar tools).
How I Use It: If I’m sending an email that I expect a response on, I add a reminder that will return the email to me if I don’t get a response (the time allotted for a response is customizeable). No more trying to remember who has gotten back to me already. I’ll also schedule regular emails that I want to send (program night details, followup for immediately after the retreat, etc.). This way I can plan to have a note go out at precisely the right time.
Remind: Remind is the definitive texting platform that you need to be on. It’s free, it has an app, it has options for leaders, parents, and students. Our needs have expanded beyond Youth Ministry and so we’re now using textinchurch.com, but Remind is definitely the place to start.
How I Use It: Set up your ministry as a class and put opt-in instructions on social media, on screens during your program, and in emails to parents through the week. As people sign up you’ll have the ability to text them directly with info, last minute changes, and promotion.
You Need A Budget: After our honeymoon, my wife and I read a Dave Ramsey book and decided to start budgeting. A few years later we can’t imagine where we’d be without this critical tool keeping our sanity around finances. At the same time, I’ve now realized that I likely have mistakenly donated an enormous amount of money to my previous church because I had no idea where my money was going and if I didn’t have the receipt at the end of the month I wouldn’t claim the expense.
How I Use It: We use ynab.com, however since Dave Ramsey released his free budgeting software, if I were to start over today I’d probably check out everydollar.com. Here’s the key–every transaction must be accounted for and put into a budget category. This way you can guarantee that all those Starbucks visits are accounted for come expense report time.
Evernote/Scannable: Knowing that you took someone out to coffee for ministry purposes every other day last month doesn’t change the fact that you are staring into the eyes of an angry accountant, empty handed for the fourth month in a row. Be their hero, be responsible, and do yourself a favor by downloading Evernote and Scannable.
How I Use It: If it’s a ministry receipt, as soon as it’s in my hands I scan it into Scannable. I now have a copy to print at the end of the month.
Spotify: I loved TobyMac’s latest release, but after playing it on repeat for a few months, I realized it was making our program feel a little stale. That’s when I realized that instead of spending money on new music every month, I really needed to just bite the bullet and switch over to a streaming service.
How I Use It: I follow a couple playlists that have active users updating the music. No more overly repeated music.
Overcast: Podcasts are a great way to add value to mundane tasks that don’t take a lot of brain power (driving solo, yard work, exercise, etc). Overcast is the best podcast player for three simple reasons:
- Voice Boost — “Boost and normalize volume so every show is loud, clear, and at the same volume.”
- Smart Speed — Magically shortens natural silences in shows and ends up saving you hours over the long haul.
- Adjustable Speed — Increasing the speed of a show can help you cruise through lots of good content in a short period of time.
How I Use It: I subscribe to my favorite podcasts (The Carey Nieuwhof Leadership Podcast, unSeminary, Freakonomics Radio, Revisionist History), increase the speed until it’s at the fastest speed I can handle, and play them during my 40 minute commute.
As the last student trickles out of the house Cara lingers, waiting to see if we can talk. Cara has been one of our most committed and passionate followers of Christ and I always enjoy hearing what Jesus is doing in her life. Today is different. With hot tears pouring down her face, Cara articulates her disillusionment with Jesus. “I want to know Jesus and I’ve been working so hard to spend time with him, but when I am with him my mind races with other things, my body grows restless and my soul doesn’t spark like it used too. I can feel my relationship with Jesus slipping into a lifeless routine and I don’t know what to do.”
Cara is experiencing a slow drift, once alive and overflowing in her relationship with Christ to now finding herself lonely and wandering through a spiritual desert. In reality she is not alone, she is joined by many Christ-followers who find themselves in similar spiritual deserts, thirsting for living water and longing to experience God’s presence once again.
So – how do we find bread and water to survive during these desert seasons?
Remember Your Story. In the book of Revelation, Jesus rebukes the church of Ephesus for being forgetful. “Yet I hold this against you: you have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you a fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first”.
Over and over again through the Scripture, God reminds his people to remember how he has saved them. These memories are meant to be sustenance for us when we are starving and hungry in the desert. These memories are the morsels that keep us alive when we are feeling disillusioned, distant and struggling. So remember!
- Where have you seen God at work in the past?
- When is the last time you heard his voice? What did he say?
Remembering your story will sustain you in the desert.
Pursue those who have gone before. One of the main characteristics that keeps us in the desert is apathy. You know that numbing feeling you get, when it feels as if your heart has gone cold? When we become apathetic, we are no longer hungry or thirsty and have lost motivation to seek, search and find a way out of the desert. In this space we need something to jump start our cold heart. We need to fall in love with Jesus again. In these deserts we need the stories of saints that have gone before us. Reading biographies of men and women who witnessed and experienced the transforming power of Jesus Christ can create a spark in our hearts and make us hungry and thirsty for the same in our own lives.
- Live in the mud hut with Don Richardson as he shares Christ with the indigenous in Africa.
- Take the flight with Bruce Olsen to bring peace to aboriginals in South America.
- Fight the darkness with Jackie Pullinger as she uses the gospel to transform the addicted.
- Sit down with an old saint, someone who has journeyed with Jesus for a long time, and ask them to share their story with you over coffee. (your treat!)
I pray that as we remember Jesus in the desert seasons and as we seek to find Him in other people that the Holy Spirit will use these tools to quench our thirst and fill our stomachs and sustain us for the journey ahead.
Caring for Rockstars (aka Volunteers)
Volunteers are rockstars. As point youth workers, we couldn’t do what we do without them. They are the ones who journey alongside students and do life with them, encourage them, challenge them, and live out what it looks like to love and follow Jesus.
Caring for volunteers is one of the most important things we can do for the health of our ministries… to reach students with the love of Jesus and to see lives transformed.
Far too often, we get “too busy” keeping up with event details, prepping to teach, and hanging out with kids ourselves, that we “run out of time” to pour into, care for and equip our volunteers effectively. Our ministries suffer as a result.
While it may seem counter-intuitive as a youth pastor to spend more hours with our adult volunteers than with our youth – it is actually the best investment we can make as we steward the time and resources God has given us as we lead! This is more and more crucial as our ministries grow.
So how can we care for our amazing volunteers?!
Here are 6 simple, meaningful ways.
1. Get to know them. (Actually!) Learn as much as you can about your volunteers (Yes, beyond discovering just enough information to let you know they’d be a great fit for that role you’ve been hoping to fill.)
- Take them for coffee
- Listen to their story
- Ask about their family, friends, work, and life outside of their job and church involvement (if you’re like me, you’ll likely want to write these things down afterwards so you can be sure to remember them!)
- Discover why they’re involved in youth ministry
- Ask what makes them tick?
- What are their gifts?
- Hopes for the future?
2. Ask for feedback. Don’t just take them for coffee once to convince them to volunteer and then forget about them until they stop showing up. Connecting regularly should be an ongoing part of your care for volunteers. Asking for (and listening to) their feedback helps you learn, and communicates how much you value them and their voice in your ministry.
Questions to ask:
- What do you think is working well?
- Where do you see opportunities to improve our ministry?
- Is there anything you’re unclear about?
- How have you seen God at work?
3. Set them up to win. Paint a vision of what you’re working towards together as a team and how you plan to get there. Even better, invite them into the process! Make sure everyone is clear about both the why and how. Be clear with the expectations of their volunteer role:
- Attendance at weekly program, events and retreats?
- Connections with youth outside of program nights?
- Any prep that’s expected prior to youth nights, etc.?
- Lifestyle agreement/commitment?
4. Encourage. Encourage. Encourage! I would argue that this might be the single most important way to practically care for and retain volunteers. Just like any of us, our volunteers want to know that they’re known, valued, and that they’re doing a good job. So…
- Encourage often.
- Write a card. Yes, pick up a pen, find a card, write nice things in it, and send it to your volunteers. Trust me, it goes a long way!
- Send a text. “Hey – saw you chatting with Johnny’s new friend tonight – thanks for introducing him to the rest of the group!” “Great job leading the game tonight – so appreciate you Zach!” “Abbie, thanks for sharing your story tonight, it set everyone up for such amazing conversations in small groups!”
- Pick up the phone. On your way home from youth, call a volunteer or two just to thank them and tell them you appreciate them.
- Encourage genuinely and specifically. Avoid offering encouragement that is insincere or that may come across as too generic. Look for opportunities where you can authentically affirm your volunteers for who they are and how you see God at work in and through them.
5. Care consistently and practically. Care enough to ask how they’re doing, and stop long enough to actually listen. Care enough to follow up. How did that big work meeting went that they told you about at coffee last week? I’m praying for your midterms. Text to see how they’re doing if they were sick and missed youth last night.
Ask how they’re doing spiritually. Are they involved in a small group? How’s that going? Where are they being fed spiritually? What is God teaching them these days? How can you support them in their own faith and walk with God?
6. Pray for them. Ask your leaders how you can be praying for them. Pray for them in person. (Even if you’re going out for coffee and it feels a bit strange, take the opportunity at the end of your time together to pray for them about the things they’ve shared.) Pray together with your volunteers for your students, families and ministry. Commit to praying for one or two of your leaders specifically each week. Text them to let them know you’re praying for them.
Caring well for our volunteers doesn’t need to be difficult or complicated, but it needs to be intentional.
What can you do THIS week to care for the rockstar volunteers who serve and love the students in your ministry?
It was a couple of years ago that I sat with a father, listening to a story of the destructive consequences of porn addiction. What made this moment different from any other conversation I’d had, was it wasn’t the father we were talking about, it was his daughter that was sitting next to him, weeping while she recounted the journey of her first encounter and subsequent enslavement to a force that was destroying her life.
It broke my heart.
It seems that historically, when we speak about porn addiction we have primarily framed it as “just a male problem”. While it has never been “just a male problem”, in ways perhaps like never before, it is now an “everyone problem”. Porn is so prevalent that one wonders if purity really is possible.
In 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5, Paul says, “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God.”
According to Paul, purity is taking our sexual desires and functioning with a high regard for the holiness of God, (submitting to His good plan for sex, and imaging forth purity and faithfulness with our desires and actions towards others), and a passion for the honour of others (not objectifying others, but rather sacrificially protecting and caring for their physical, social, emotional and spiritual wellbeing).
This is the antithesis of a pornographic worldview.
So the question becomes, how should we respond? (and we must respond) I would suggest that if you do not wish to deal with the issue of pornography, if you do not wish to respond, perhaps youth ministry is not your calling. As we’ve already shown, there are few issues more prevalent in youth culture than pornography.
My friend Sarah and I have created a resource for you that I pray will help you shepherd your students away from pornography and towards Jesus Christ. This year at CYWC Critical Concerns, we will teach you how to use it, and make sure you have access to all seven sessions (learn more and register here). This is not a professional/clinical response, this is a pastoral/shepherding response, and much of it we have learned from wiser men and women than us.
About 8 months after meeting with that father and his daughter, I unexpectedly ran into the young lady again. She was a completely different person. Instead of tears of sadness and shame, there was joy and freedom. Her journey was far from over, but instead of despair she now had hope…at least for a time. It was amazing. It gave me hope that the Kingdom reality of purity really is possible. I am praying God would allow us to be part of more and more stories like that.
For 15 years my family and I have spent our summers travelling and speaking at various camps across our country. I thought I understood what it meant to be a “camp youth worker”. Last summer my eyes were opened in a new way. My wife became the Program Director at Green Bay Bible Camp. I have a new appreciation for full time camp workers. I never really knew what it looked like to work 60 days in a row (I do now). I never really knew what it felt like to constantly carry the weight of responsibility for the safety of 200 guests that have been placed in your care (I still don’t, but I’ve watched my wife do it). I never really knew what it was like to laugh, cry, direct, support and hold accountable, a young staff functioning on little sleep in what may the most effective/important missional environment our country currently has…but I’ve prayed for my wife as she has…and I stand amazed. Amazed at the radical Kingdom commitment my wife, and you my friends, have made for the sake of the Gospel. Thank you. I can’t imagine what the spiritual climate of our country would be, without the work you do. Thank you.
I also can’t imagine how tired you are. How overwhelmed you might feel. How difficult it is to work through evaluations. The emotional highs and lows you may be experiencing. For some of you, how you wonder if you can do it again.
I believe you can. But first, you may need to recover.
As I’ve watched my wife this fall, I’ve been reminded of the story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal. Elijah just finished being a part of an incredible spiritual victory…and he was tired, and he was depressed, and he wondered if he could do it again…he could have been in camp ministry. I love how God responded to him. He was crazy practical.
1 Kings 19:4-9
4 But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he asked that he might die, saying, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” 5 And he lay down and slept under a broom tree. And behold, an angel touched him and said to him, “Arise and eat.” 6 And he looked, and behold, there was at his head a cake baked on hot stones and a jar of water. And he ate and drank and lay down again. 7 And the angel of the Lord came again a second time and touched him and said, “Arise and eat, for the journey is too great for you.” 8 And he arose and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mount of God.
God’s advice to Elijah for his recovery wasn’t overtly “spiritual”, it was practical, it was physical, it was human.
Let me give you six practical ideas that may help you recover after a long summer.
1. Sleep. Get lots of sleep. Go to sleep early. Ditch your friends in the evening to crash. Take naps during the day. Give yourself permission to sleep. That’s what God did with Elijah. He put him to sleep.
2. Spend a little money on some good food. Fruits, vegetables, protein. Put away the camp food for awhile if possible…especially the junk food. I know there are leftovers in the tuck shop. Give it to your guests…or your kids (you will look like a hero). You go after the good stuff.
3. After sleep and food, start a little exercise program, something physical that you enjoy. Maybe it’s walking, running or climbing. Maybe it’s joining a rec league in your community. Do something that makes you breathe again.
4. Spend some time with friends that fill you up. You have spent the summer “giving” relationally. It’s OK to receive as well. Find some friends that understand your journey and want to invest in you…especially ones that make you laugh!
5. Get away. Go somewhere different. Many of you haven’t been off campus for 2 months. It’s time to remember that there is a world beyond camp. Sometimes taking a break from camp with your body, helps you take a break from camp with your mind.
6. Finally, spend some quiet time with the Father. Create space to hear the Father say, “This is my child, with whom I am well pleased.” Rest on His arms, knowing He loves you not because of what you have done, but because of who’s you are. You belong to the King.