The secret to connect with any student

top secret
top secret

Who are the students you naturally connect with? Chances are they are students who share similar stories, experiences, or interests. If you expand the circle even larger, I bet that most of the people in your life are also people who share similar stories, experiences, or interests. This is just part of the human condition. There are people that we just naturally click with. We get used to hanging out and joking with people like us, which is great for building friendship among our peers, but means that we are a little out of practice when it comes to getting to know new people, especially people who we have nothing in common with. Because we are out of practice, it can be really intimidating to try and connect with students who are nothing like you. For me, it often feels like the less I have in common, the harder it is to connect. But I think the inverse of this rule might actually be true. The less you have in common with students, the better chance you have to make a genuine connection.

The awful reality is that students don't really care about us adults, about our stories, about our likes or dislikes. They could care less what music we like or teams we cheer for. We get so used to sharing our story and thinking that students like to hear from us that we miss the most important truth.

The Truth: Students want to share their stories, their passions, and they want us to respond with love and acceptance.

Having nothing in common with students is actually the best starting point we could have. Everyone loves talking about themselves. This is for sure true for us adults, but even more true for students. When we have nothing in common, we are forced to do what we should be doing all along, asking questions. The less you know or understand a student, the more questions you will have and the more questions you have the more the student is going to have an opportunity to share their story and to be seen and heard by a loving adult.

It is difficult to get our heads around the idea that our stories, jokes, and interests are of little concern or value to students. But what we have to offer them with our questions and our genuine interest is of so much more value. We get to be adults who actually see students, to love them for who they are and where they are at. It isn't helpful when students feel the pressure to fit in and perform in one more setting.

Asking questions and getting to know students is our number one task as volunteers and youth staff. It is only when students feel seen that they can then feel cared for, and it is only after they feel cared for will they be willing to wrestle with the deeper things of life and faith with you.

It is normal and natural for people to collect themselves around common stories, experiences, and interests. Students do this naturally, and we do to. But as adult youth staff our job is to connect with all of our students, even the ones we have nothing in common with. Instead of this being an intimidating or scary task, it actually gets to be a great reminder that it is not about us at all, it is about them and their stories. And the secret with connecting with any student is to simply ask questions.

How are you managing the 3 P's of power politics in your student ministry?

How are you managing the 3 P's of power politics in your student ministry?

While student ministry may be an incredible job and an even more incredible calling, there are so many hidden land mines that have caused untold damage to the life, heart, and even careers of some of the most gifted youth workers I know.

At the same time, with the right tools, (i.e. mine detector) one can learn to not only navigate these dangerous terrain, but actually thrive.  

What are the land mines?  What is the mine detector?  I am glad you asked.  

POWER is the hidden land mines, and your position relative to that power is your greatest tool in surviving and thriving in ministry. 

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A spiritual formation plan for our students

A spiritual formation plan for our students

I think we are in agreement that the world of behavior management is the Church is coming to an end.  For too long the Church has sent out a rubric of behaviors that would be indicators for the rest of the Church and would qualify people for full inclusion and even leadership.  This rubric included our language, music, politics, modesty, abstaining from alcohol, sexuality, and sexual activity.  

But as our students are becoming more and more amoral (or maybe they have always been, but are now free to express that in public) a behavior rubric doesn't seem to be a good fit for the faith development of our students.  

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Inviting students into the Family of God

Inviting students into the Family of God

Yesterday was Easter and part of our Easter message was to have an invitation, an invitation for people who are not that familiar with Scripture and for sure, don't speak Christianese.  I had the challenge, and honor to do that part of the service.  This was my attempt:

(I would also love to know how you do this in your context.  What do you expect people to know or understand when you have an invitation.  What are you inviting them into, what level of commitment are you expecting?  You know, the usual debrief sort of questions.)

Ok, here is my stab at it:

EASTER MEANS YOU ARE NOT ALONE.  BECAUSE JESUS IS ALIVE YOU HAVE FULL ACCESS TO GOD AND ARE INVITED TO BE PART OF HIS FAMILY

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2 more years

2 more years

"How much longer can you keep doing this?"

It seems like I have been getting this question a lot lately.  And by lately, I mean the last ten years.  As someone in their early 20's, student ministry was a great fit.  As I rounded the corner into my 30's I became a respected veteran and expert.  Now that I am in my 40's it just feels a bit awkward to me, and apparently to others.  So, with regular frequency, when I meet with parents, the questions always seems to come up.

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Who is holding up your hands?

Who is holding up your hands?

I love, love, love student ministry.  But if I am honest, it has got to be the hardest and most difficult thing I have ever done.  Not the tasks, not the actual job that I get evaluated for, but that subjective, spiritual, unspoken work of pouring your entire being into the life of students.  

Most people love to "invest" in the lives of students.  

But to be honest, most of this investment seems like the Farmer who is not only scattering seeds, but wasting good seed on miles of path.

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Top 10 ways to stay hip and relevant

Top 10 ways to stay hip and relevant

The number one question I get asked by people young and old is, “Ben, how do you stay so hip and relevant?”  People look at me and watch me in action and they can not believe a man in his early 40’s is so cool and has such a bead on the youth culture.  Just to prove it, I downloaded Rebecca Black’s song from iTunes way back, when there were less than  1,000,000 hits on youtube.

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March Madness: the top 5 reasons you should participate

March Madness: the top 5 reasons you should participate

March Madness is one of my favorite times of year. I love betting, I love being together, and I love basketball. Here is a post that seems timely every March! Whether or not you know anything about college basketball, March Madness is an amazing ministry tool. 

Now that the brackets have been chosen, it is time to round up any group you want to build some unity with and place your bets. It doesn’t matter if it is with your church staff, volunteer leaders, or small group, as long as it is a group of people that you like and you want to bond with, then this is the month for you.

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Irreducible Complexity in Student Ministry

Irreducible Complexity in Student Ministry

There are so many great things we do in student ministry.  But so much of what we do are simply add ons to what is truly the fundamental core values of student ministry.  The challenge is separate out what is the irreducible complexity in student ministry and what are simply the add ons.

Now, don't get me wrong, it is the add ons, the amenities, and the style points that are what makes your ministry uniquely yours.  These are probably what you are known for and affirmed for in your ministry.  But if we are not careful, we lose focus and make the amenities the main things.  What we really want to do is firmly understand the core values of student ministry and from that foundation we can build what every stylized and culturally appropriate ministry we have been dreaming about!

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How old do you have to be to start cussing?

How old do you have to be to start cussing?

This was the question that was posed to me by my 10 year old son.  It was actually a really sweet moment that tested my theology, my own convictions, and my parenting.  

A couple of weeks ago, I was reading a book on my bed  and my son climbed into bed and asked this question, "How old do you have to be to start cussing?"  I immediately went on a witch hunt to find out what dirty friend of his was poisoning his mind.  But before I could get too far down that road, my own life and actions betrayed me.  For I have been known to use colorful language from time to time.  And now, my loose lips are sinking ships.  Well, they may not be sinking ships, but they are setting up some moral dissonance for my kid and forced a gut check for me.

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04 | What do do when you are in a rut.

04 | What do do when you are in a rut.

Welcome to the Thursday Morning Debrief with Ben and Ryan.  

This is a podcast where we seek to leverage our friendship to maintain a soft heart towards Jesus and towards our ministry.

In this weeks episode:

  • What sort of circumstances get us in a rut
  • A reminder that ministry is for our students and not for us
  • Some go-to ideas to pull out of the rut and enjoy the rest of the year.
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The need to create a unique culture within your youth ministry

The need to create a unique culture within your youth ministry

It is easy to think about student ministry priorities in terms of numbers, biblical knowledge, or behavior modification. Yes, spiritual formation is the goal, but often these priorities are the lens in which we evaluate this process. 

In an era where our kids are fully post-moderns, and increasingly post-Christian, there is a ministry priority that I think should out rank the first three as a tool for spiritual formation. And that is creating a culture.  

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Why I surf

Why I surf

I little over year ago I started a new hobby, surfing.  Surfing is a really strange activity.  Unlike running, biking, hiking, swimming, surfing brings all sorts of epic connotations.  It is beautiful, elegant, cool, and elite.  I mean, very few people in the world even have access to the sport.  

And it was for some of these reasons that I decided to try my hand.  A group of my friends have been going out surfing Thursday morning for years, and have been inviting me, to no avail.  It was too early, it is too cold, and I hate feeling like an idiot trying new things in front of people.  But last fall, I got over myself and did it.  And it has been life changing.

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Why are we letting big churches dump their baggage on the rest of us?

Why are we letting big churches dump their baggage on the rest of us?

I love youth ministry.  I mean, I really love  it.  I love doing it, talking about it, reading about it, writing about it, and learning from my "industry" leaders about upcoming trends and practical helps.  

But what I have found to be disconcerting after learning from the "experts" for quite some time, is that I am not really sure that they are the "experts."  The talking heads and leader authors and presenters in youth ministry circles are good looking, successful, high capacity youth ministry leaders of some of the largest youth ministries in our country.  But they reason for their huge numbers are because they are part of huge churches.  

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The most important question regarding the future impact of your ministry:

The most important question regarding the future impact of your ministry:

A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending our denomination's annual Youth Worker's Conference.  This is the highlight of my year as it is a chance to get away from my current context of ministry, be with dear friends, and be encouraged and inspired in my faith and in my ministry.

And while all of the speakers were incredible, and while the break out seminars were challenging and interesting, I kept wondering what was missing.  In the midst of all this great programing and fellowship, my heart was still longing for something more.  

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Maybe it's not spiritual warfare, but simply poor leadership

Maybe it's not spiritual warfare, but simply poor leadership

Leadership is a challenging calling.  Being the point of the spear always looks great on paper.  In fact, whenever I talk with my colleagues in youth ministry, they are always itching to lead.  They read the books, they swing for the fences, and they take full advantage of the positional authority they have been given.  

But when the pushback comes, I am horrified that the go to culprit of the people's rebellion is spiritual warfare.  A spirit of rebellion, a lack of trust in God and in their leaders.  Or when the decision is having awful unintended consequences that are difficult to explain, then the only option for explanation is a spiritual one.  

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Why "christian" movies suck and how they reflect our poor tone in evangelism.

Why "christian" movies suck and how they reflect our poor tone in evangelism.

Not long ago I watched the movie, Unbroken, the story of Louis Zamperini.  It was the best Christian movie I think I have ever seen.  And the more I reflected on that statement, I began to wonder, how in the world did Angelina Jolie, who isn't a Christian, craft a movie that gave the best and most artistic version of Christianity seen on film ever, or at least in my lifetime.  

While I loved Unbroken as saw it as an incredible gift to the Christian community, many of my peers though that Angelina Jolie didn't do adequate service to the faith and convictions of Louis Zamperini.  But the truth is, that Unbroken gave us Christians a beautiful way forward in our desire to share our faith with others, and there is much to learn from Jolie as to how to do this.

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