How NOT to Give Advice to a Student

This post was inspired by a Tim Schmoyer post over at studentministry.org.  I'm tackling #85 today.

If you're in ministry any length of time it's bound to happen...a student comes to you seeking advice.  This is an honor and a GREAT display of trust so it shouldn't be taken lightly.  So here's a quick list of 4 things to NOT do in this situation (side note: in the interest of transparency, I think I've done ALL of these things)

  1. Assume you have all the answers.  This is such an easy trap to fall into.  It plays to so many insecurities that plague most youth workers.  Be up front with your students and let them know that although you might not know all the answers, you will help them find the answers through the Bible, prayer, and other believers.  Not only does this show some honesty on your part, but it actually builds credibility for you when you DO have an answer.
  2. Assume growing up now is JUST like what you experienced.  I had a rough go with this one.  I started in full-time student ministry when I was the ripe, old age of 22.  Not an internship, a full-time student pastor so it was easy to relate to students (especially high schoolers) since I was fresh out of grade school.  BUT now, I've been out of high school for almost 13 years.  I'm married with a 2 year old and another child on the way.  Somewhere in the last 8 years I started relating less and less with my student's daily lives and more and more with their PARENT'S lives.  That means that no matter how hard I try to relate to everything my students are going through, I just can't.  The game has changed.  Of course there is another assumption we can't make that's on the other end of this spectrum...
  3. Assume EVERYTHING has changed since you were a teen.  Clothes, hair, trends, and music constantly change, but you know what doesn't change?  Growing up is all about figuring out your place in the world.  The path to adulthood might look a lot different now, but there are a lot of underlying themes that EVERYONE faces during and after adolescents.  Fitting in, peer pressure, relationships, gossip, bullying, the list goes on and on of issues that you probably faced (and still face) that are common to teenagers even today.  So don't focus on the fact that your brother stole your cassette tapes and you had to wind them all back up.  Instead focus on how it felt that something was taken from you and you wanted justice and revenge.
  4. Assume once you'll only have to deal with the issue once and move on.  If only life were as simple as Boy Meets World (which I can't BELIEVE is getting a comeback), one episode and Corey never had to deal with cheating again.  Life doesn't work that way.  That conversation you're having with a high school guy about his porn addiction is probably going to happen more than once (or more than a dozen times).  Don't get discouraged.  Remind yourself of how many times you've confessed that pet sin of yours to God.  How many times you've swore you wouldn't do it again.  How many times you thought the problem was over only to relive the same fall, guilt, shame, and forgiveness again.

What would you add to the list?  Have you ever failed miserably with a piece of advice?

Fail

If you teach for any amount of time, it's bound to happen...a lesson goes badly!  Sometimes it's lack of preparation (honestly, that's MOST of the time), sometimes it's lack of understanding.  BUT every now and then, it's gonna tank and IT'S NOT YOUR FAULT!

I had this happen to me a few weeks ago.  The culprit?  Outside noise.  We just built a new classroom that shares a wall with the youth room, but wasn't properly soundproofed.  And the kids were using the room.  ALL. OF. THE. KIDS.  So I spend the better part of the night literally shouting over the kids in the upstairs room.  Here's 5 quick tips for what to do when things go south and it's out of your control.

1) Breathe.  There was a brief moment, when I really almost lost my cool and started yelling (not sure who I was gonna yell at, but just...yelling).  In an out-of-character moment, I took a deep breath, got it together and pressed on.

2) Punt.  Looking back on the night, I could've just punted.  We could've gone outside for the lesson, or just scrapped the lesson altogether and saved it for another night.

3) Switch gears. Kind of like punting, but instead of teaching the lesson in a lecture format, I could have switched gears.  This would've meant moving outside as well (there were no other available classrooms), but it still would've accomplished the lesson.

4) Use the distractions as an object lesson.  This could be useful depending on your topic.  Obviously, if you're teaching through the life of Joseph, you could easily rope the distractions into an illustration.  But I could've talked about how it's hard to hear God's voice with all the "noise" around us.  It may sound a little campy, but then again, Jesus used His environment all the time to teach spiritual truth.

5) Evaluate.  Even though I couldn't do anything at the time about the distractions (other than move), it still made me evaluate my teaching and our whole program.  It forced me to think of these ways to react, how to avoid distractions in the future, and even made me question our overall program (should we move to a different, less crowded time?).  Evaluation is almost always helpful no matter what prompts it.

So, have you ever had a lesson fail because of something that was out of your control?  How did you react?

Programs Lie

This post is serving 2 functions, 1) a response/rebuttal to this post by Joshua Becker over at smallchurchyouthministry.com and 2) a reminder to myself to take my own advice.

I'm a large crowd kinda guy.  Put me in a room with 5 or 6 strangers and I'm uncomfortable, awkward, and even shy.  Put me in front of 50-100 people with a microphone and I'll talk about anything.  It's a weird dynamic especially considering I had a fear of public speaking up until college.

So my tendency in ministry is to try to create the largest setting possible and be "the guy" (because if everyone knows me, I don't have to introduce myself and be social).  Because God likes to laugh and answer prayers (Lord, please use me and stretch me), I'm now in a small church (about 130 total) with a small youth group (about 20).  It makes life...challenging for a small group introvert (SGI).

So. That's me.  And what I've been learning lately is how much programs lie.  When you think of any "successful" youth ministry model birthed out of some "successful" church, the natural reaction is to think, "we gotta do THAT!".  Here's where the program lies...

1) You can pull that off.  In some cases I've been smart enough to say, "No, we can't." Sadly, this is more the exception than the rule.  When it comes down to it, a fun sized ministry doesn't have the facility, money, volunteer base, or wait for it....the calling to do that awesome program.

2) This is going to grow our ministry.  Maybe. Maybe not.  And more often than not, the thing that's growing that other ministry isn't really the program, it's something else (a new leader, a new building, a spiritual awakening, a bigger budget, etc.).

3) This will help us build relationships.  You know what builds relationships? Talking.  You know what you can't do well in a big crowd?  Yep, the thing that makes fun sized ministries great is the EXACT thing the larger churches are trying to accomplish!  For more on this, check out Josh's post.

What other lies do you think programming tells us in a small church environment?  Or what kind of programming can really thrive in a small church environment?

Where's the B-Line?

I just finished reading Rick Lawrence's Jesus Centered Youth Ministry so this may be a little rough, but I have to put down some thoughts.

The main thing I got out of the whole book is the absolute necessity to talk about, teach about, sing about, and live about...Christ.  I know that seems as obvious as The Avengers being AMAZING, but it's something that sadly wasn't being done with enough intention in my leading.

So to make things easier for me in my teaching, I chose a teaching series called "When People Meet Jesus" from Simply Youth. 

Read more: Where's the B-Line?