5 key ingredients for a thriving student ministry

5 key ingredients for a thriving student ministry

Youth ministry is actually the best and easiest job on the planet!

I know many of you singed up for this gig because you love students and you desperately want them to love Jesus.  And while this initial passion will get you started down the road of student ministry, there are some other essential ingredients that are vital for a long term, sustained ministry.  Here are the 5 basic pillars for a sound infrastructure for your student ministry.  And when you put these in place, you can get back to the thing you were called to do! LOVE KIDS AND HELP THEM LOVE JESUS!

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Two things every parent should know about their kids and technology

I am blown away at the amount of resources that are available to parents to help them navigate the technological world that their kids live in.  It seems that the more that is out there, the less equipped our parents are to deal with the never ending onslaught of new technology and clever ways around old technology. There are many opportunities for youth workers to communicate with parents and educate them on this subject.  But every year that goes by the technological gap between parents and kids seems to grow exponentially.    As an older youth worker, I am starting to feel the effects of the distance.

For the longest time, it seems that the approach of concerned parents and youth workers was to simply protect our kids from the darker parts of technology.  This worked well when we only had tv and video games to worry about.  Now there is the online component to video games, and those video games involve graphic violence and sex.  Add to the mix every and all social media platforms and it starts to get scary.  And that ipod you bought your kids, that is a thoroughfare of unregulated technology.

Obviously protectionism alone can not solve this problem.  There is too much and too many ways around it for parents to adequately control it all.  So what is a parent to do?  I think the answer begins with understanding two fundamental truths:


Many parents I talk to are really impressed with how much they are with it. For some reason 50 year old parents haven't gotten the memo that they are 50.  While they are way cooler than their parents and are now on facebook and listen to music on their iphones, they are still parents and totally unaware of their kids' world.

The amount of technology that is available to our kids is overwhelming. From the time they were born they have had access to technology. Instead of being raised on tv, they were raised on the internet.   Technology is so much part of their DNA, it is like breathing.  This means that they are fully comfortable in this world and use it in ways that we don't understand.

Many parents would be shocked with how much information is on the internet about their children.  From facebook to twitter to youtube, to sites that I have no idea about because I am part of the old skool, their lives are open and exposed to the entire world.  Privacy is becoming a thing of the past, and the definition of friendship is undergoing a transformation.

Keeping up with all this information is impossible.  It is in students very nature to rebel from the dominate adult culture.  And even through the dominant adult culture is a youth culture, students will always find a world beneath to inhabit and live.   We are lying to ourselves if we think we are keeping up with our kids' technological appetites.

Recognizing this truth allows us to actually begin to walk with kids through the abyss of the internet.


With all the technology available to students, they are actually becoming more and more dumb.  We live in a world that values data and access to it.  But data is not what makes people smart.  Data is the first step.  Data needs to be organized so that it can be used as information.  Information needs to be implemented to grow knowledge.  And knowledge needs to be tested to grow wisdom.

We are raising a generation of data consumers who have little to no wisdom.  We celebrate and lift up google and the ability to answer any question that might arise.  But data alone does not help our students develop character and wisdom.  The process from data, to information, to knowledge, to wisdom takes time and effort.  It can only happen in the context of relationship with real people.  Community is where data gets worked out and will lead towards wisdom.

Many parents unintentionally think that because their child is taller than them, harrier than them, and can even drive that they are basically adults.  While they may be biologically adults, mentally they are far from it.  Parents must engage with their children and help them navigate this technological world their kids live in.  Because of their still developmental stage, they have no ability to process all this data.  They experience chat, violence, sex, gossip, music, all at the same time.  How are they going to know what boxes to put each of these experiences?  Parents must walk through this perilous and confusing world alongside their children to help them process all this information and give them the tools so they can one day navigate it themselves.

Without you, unlimited data and disconnection from actual human community will continue to lead to a self-absorbed generation with little to no regard or empathy for their fellow humans.  This is an issue that is overwhelming for sure.  But we can not put our heads in the sand.  If we can own that we are already behind and that our kids need our help to navigate this world, then we are at the correct starting point for some action.


  • GET ACCESS: You should be aware of what your kids are up to online.  For middle schoolers through the beginning of high school, I think that parents should have unlimited access and control over their kids online world.  Computers, smart phones, ipods all have access to the internet, and therefore you should have access.  This is not a privacy issue or even a rights issue.  Especially if you have paid for all of this access, you should re-claim your rights.  WIthout this sort of access you will have no way to know what is going on.  Of course there are ways around it and what they experience on their friends' phone while at school can not be protected against, having clear boundaries at homes begins to create appropriate boxes for your kids to place these experiences.
  • GET INFORMED: Because all adults are behind the ball when it comes to technology, this becomes an opportunity to reengage with your kids.  Ask questions?  You will be amazed at how much your kids will want to talk when it is about something they are interested in.  It is a full time job to understand this technological world kids today travel in.  Think of all the time and effort that gets put into researching good schools and colleges.  We put time and effort into the things that we think are valuable.  We need to reawaken to the value of character development for our children.  This is no small task, but our kids have to be worth it.
  • GET TALKING: Your kids still need you.  I know they come off like they don't, but that is a facade.  It is the adults in their world that must help them process all this data so that they gain wisdom.  Shutting down all the technology we can is not the answer.   Living in fear or denial won't help them develop into the godly women and man God designed them to be.  Walking with them through their life, pointing out pitfalls, processing disasters and heartbreak, affirming good choices, helping them connect cause and effect, this is how students take data and turn it into information.  Having access, discovering their world and helping them shape their experiences then allows our kids to take the information and turn it into knowledge.  My prayer for the students I work with and for my own kids is that this growing knowledge will ultimately turn into wisdom.
This is an overwhelming topic and there are a million helpful resources out there.  Would you be willing to share them?

will you help me understand twitter?


I Need Some Help:   For the past 6 months I have been trying to understand twitter.  And I am sad to say that I feel like I have fallen off the back of a cruise ship and am being left behind.  It is apparent to me that twitter is becoming, or already is, the new medium for social networking and communication, but I don't get it.  Would you be willing to take 5 minutes out of your day and help me understand how you use twitter?  How you use it for ministry?  How you use #'s and @'s?  Can you make a case for why I need to swim hard and catch up to the cruise ship and embrace twitter as a top tier social media tool?

Thank you for your willingness to help and your grace for the technologically challenged.

An open letter to my pastor

Dear Pastor, I am writing you because I am dying. I know it probably doesn’t look like it but I am alone and withering on the vine.

I came to this job excited about starting in this new ministry position. I showed up on a spiritual high and with high expectations of all the ways that God was going to move in this ministry, and things have been going great. But as these months have started to add up, I have been noticing that things aren’t quite right in my soul.

My initial excitement was great and spurred me to work hard and work with expectations. It pushed me into new relationships and these relationships have been great. I feel like I connect well with students and their parents seem to respect me. But there is still this void.

What I have been realizing is that although I appear to be in the middle of community, I actually have no community. I meet regularly with the youth workers in our area, but there seems to always be turnover and one or two new people show up every meeting, so we are always getting to know each other. I meet regularly students, but I am their pastor. I have good relationships with their parents, but it is within the context of their children. I have gotten to know many people at the church and even have developed some good friendships, but there always seems to be a barrier with them. I am on staff at this church and whether I like it or not, my relationship with people is affected by this fact.

My closest friend at the church has bottomed out in their marriage and all of the sudden I became not just their friend, but also their pastor. The dynamics of our friendship have now changed dramatically. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am truly honored to be welcomed into the darkest parts of people lives and humbled to play a part of the healing process. But this friendship is not community, it is work.

Ministry is a lonely profession. And I know I don’t need to tell you this. You have been a pastor longer than I have been alive. You have seen more tragedy and broken relationships than I could ever imagine. Of all people at our church, I would think that you would feel even more isolated from community than me. Our church is your heard of sheep. You carry emotional and spiritual responsibility for the well being of your flock. How do you do it alone?

I have only been doing this ministry thing for a short amount of time and I am already dying. That is why I am writing this letter.

As I have been reading though the gospels I have noticed again, for the first time how often Jesus left the crowds and his disciples to be alone. Or at least that is what I always thought. He went to spend time in prayer, spend time with the Father. But as I have been thinking about this more and more, he withdrew because the crowds and even the disciples were not his community. They were his ministry. His community is being a part of the Trinity, being united to the Father and the Spirit. It is the community of the Trinity where Jesus received all he needed to continue his ministry on earth. The Trinity at the core of its being is united in love and purpose.

Now not to take this illustration too far, but I think we as a staff could learn something from the Trinity. Our church is not our community, it is our ministry. But we are called to be in community. And what I am proposing is that our community needs to be with each other. We are both working at this church and we both want God’s best for this place, and we are both alone in this job. Bur for this to work, we need to be able to share vision for this church.

I confess that I have probably been more of a thorn in your side than a partner in ministry. It is so easy for me to get excited and be pushy about things I know little about, or to get frustrated when thing move slowly in the larger church, or acknowledge your style of worship is different than mine. I am sorry. I know that we have different ministry styles and probably even different visions for the direction of the church. But God has not called me to be the pastor of this church, he has called you to be. My job is to be your partner in ministry and bring the youth ministry alongside your vision for ministry in this place.

I am willing to submit to your authority and vision for the church. And at the same time I want to be your partner in ministry. But even more than that, I want us to be friends, to be community, to share our joys, our struggles, to complain about those frustrating people at church, to weep for those who have fallen away in their faith, and celebrate the return of the prodigal. I want to be a blessing to you and you to me.

I know this sounds strange, but I am willing to take a stab at it. I know for this to work, I need to be a blessing to you and not a person that you go and complain to your pastor buddies about. Here I am, take me under your wing, and let’s go, let’s do the great things God has for this place, and let’s do it together.


Your partner, fan, friend