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GUEST POST: Bible Reading Guide for Students

We have a supply of Bibles that we give out to students. Recently, I was thinking that simply handing a student a Bible isn’t really setting them up to win. Unless they have parents or older siblings who are Scripture savvy, it’s going to be difficult for a teen or pre-teen to know where to start diving into God’s Word.

Last week, we created a brief “reading guide” for students who want to get into the Bible for the first time. We printed them out, laminated them, and then stuck one in each of the Bibles in our supply. From now on, when students receive a Bible, they will also get this guide to help them get started.

After it was printed, an idea popped into my head to print the text of these guides on bookmarks— that way, students will have a reason to keep them and a place to put them. We will put this into effect in our second edition of our Bible reading guides.

Below is the exact text of the guide. Feel free to steal it or make it better for your ministry context.

What you hold in your hands is more than just a book.

It’s a group of 66 writings, written by more than 40 authors over a period of 1,500 years, that all tell one story!

It’s a story about God, people, and God’s relationship with people. It’s a story that begins with the creation of the universe and still continues today.

For thousands of years, the words of The Bible have guided, inspired, encouraged, and empowered billions of people just like you! Do you want God’s Word to impact your life, too?

Reading The Bible can be intimidating at first. After all, it’s really long, the writing is kind of small, and there are big, hard-to-pronounce names like Nebuchadnezzar (say that five times fast). Luckily, this LIVE Bible is designed specifically for middle school and high school students, with all kinds of descriptions, explanations, illustrations, photos, and more that will help God’s Word make sense to you as you read it.

Still, you might be asking, where do I begin? That’s a great question! Many people have attempted to read the entire Bible cover-to-cover, beginning-to-end, but very few make it all the way through. Instead, what we suggest is to begin at one of the following Starting Points. Doing so will help you get a good understanding on what God has been up to throughout history, without stressing you out or confusing you. Eventually, it would be awesome for you to read the whole Bible, but don’t feel pressured to complete it in the next year or even the next five years. Begin at a Starting Point and see where God takes you from there!

Starting Points – Open to the Table of Contents and look for the following books:

  1. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – These four books, also known as the Gospels, describe the life of Jesus, the central person of The Bible. Each Gospel gives a different perspective of Jesus’ incredible life. For any Christian or for anyone who is curious about Christianity, the Gospels are without a doubt the best place to start.
  1. Acts – Directly following the four Gospels, Acts tells the story of the first Christians and how God used regular people like us to spread the Good News of Jesus around the world.
  1. Psalms – Ever wondered how to pray? The book of Psalms (pronounced Salms; the ‘P’ is silent), at the center of the Bible, is a collection of prayers and songs written directly to God and about God. In Psalms, you’ll discover what God is like and what it means to trust him with everything.
  1. Proverbs – Proverbs is a book of wisdom, mostly written by King Solomon, the wisest person who has ever lived. There are 31 chapters in Proverbs. A popular technique for getting into the Bible is to read one chapter of Proverbs every day for a month. (For example, if it’s September 1, read Proverbs chapter 1, and so on).
  1. Genesis – The history of the first humans, beginning with how God created the universe. It’s the first book in the Bible, so why is it the number 5 Starting Point? When you read the Gospels and understand why Jesus came to the Earth and died for us, the events recorded in Genesis make more sense.

We pray that your new journey into The Bible will transform your life, changing the way you think, the way you feel, and the way you act for the better. If you ever get stuck or have any questions about what you’re reading, feel free to send us an email at thewire@southwestchurch.com!

Taylor Bird is the Middle School Pastor at Southwest Church in Indian Wells, CA. He has been serving in youth ministry for five years.

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GUEST POST: Explaining the Difference Between Catholicism and Protestant Christianity to Students

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When ranking subjects according to their complexity, Church history is probably right up there with rocket science and quantum physics. So I’m guessing I’m not the only youth worker who has been asked this question, or a variant of it, by students: “What’s the difference between Christians and Catholics?”

This is an important answer to get right, as the majority of the students in your youth group have friends, family members, and other acquaintances who identify as Catholic. Or, if you work in a Catholic youth group, your students inevitably rub shoulders on a daily basis with people who attend Protestant churches.

Here is how I have answered the question for students. Please note that this is a simplified answer that doesn’t quite capture the full complexity of the topic, but students aren’t typically looking for a detailed explanation.

First of all, it’s important to emphasize that Catholicism is not “different” than Christianity. Catholicism is simply a type of Christianity. When most people say they are “Christian instead of Catholic,” what they mean is that they identify with a Protestant Christian church. Protestant Christian churches include Baptist churches, Methodist churches, Lutheran churches, Presbyterian churches, and several others.

If Christianity is a tree, Catholic Christianity and Protestant Christianity are branches of the tree. There is a third major branch called Orthodox Christianity. All three branches are part of the same tree.

As long as someone has genuinely accepted Jesus as their savior, who died on the cross for their sins and then rose from the dead, that person is a Christian. All three major types of Christianity generally agree with that.

The main differences between Catholic Christians and Protestant Christians are the ways in which they express and practice their faith in Jesus. That’s why a Catholic church service looks very different than a Baptist church service. People in both services are worshipping the same God and following the same Jesus— but how they go about doing that is different.

That’s one of the beautiful things about Christianity: that it includes members from so many different cultures, traditions, and backgrounds, and all are part of the Body of Christ. Unfortunately, many Christians choose to focus on how they are different from other types of Christians.

This is why it’s so important for youth leaders to emphasize the ways in which all Christians are similar and unified. A smart bearded guy once said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

Taylor Bird is the Middle School Pastor at Southwest Church in Indian Wells, CA. He has been serving in youth ministry for five years.

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GUEST POST: Making the Most of Camp Cabin Times

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Cabin times: confusing and frustrating youth workers since 1847*. We are told that cabin times are where the “real” ministry happens at camp: the band and the speaker will get students pumped for Jesus, but those late-night group discussions with their counselors will seal the deal.

*This statistic is not supported by science.

This kind of thinking is based in a lot of truth, but it can also create anxiety, undue pressure, and feelings of inadequacy for the counselor when his or her cabin time falls short of powerful expectations.

We just returned from middle school summer camp, where I was reminded again of the challenges of leading a “successful” cabin time. (In a minute I’ll explain why I put successful in quotes.) Thankfully, we brought along some incredible volunteers who were able to share their cabin time experiences and teach me a thing or two about making the most of group discussions at camp.

Here are some of the tips and trips I picked up last week and in previous years while reflecting on my cabin time successes and failures.

  1. Remember that there is no definition of a successful cabin time. You may find yourself frustrated more often than inspired during your cabin time. That’s OK. Even Jesus had trouble getting his group of twelve to focus, and he was spending time with them 24/7. Remember the words of Jesus: “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them” (Matt. 18:20). Jesus is working in the hearts of your students, even if you can’t see it. Therefore, enter cabin time with a sincere and prayerful heart and great stuff will happen— it just might be more subtle than an outburst of repressed emotion or a student giving his or her life to Christ.
  1. It’s not about you. It really isn’t. It’s about God using you and a bunch of other people to bring students closer to him. Even if a student doesn’t open up to you in cabin time, there are so many other opportunities for them to really experience God at camp. And just because they don’t open up doesn’t mean they aren’t getting anything from the cabin time discussion. So ask God to help you take the pressure off yourself. On the day before camp, pray something like, “God, let your impact in my cabin group be as if I weren’t even there.” Take yourself out of the equation so that God may bring you into his process in ways you would never expect or imagine.
  1. Share your story. This was something my co-leader and I tried last week at camp. During our second evening cabin time, he opened the discussion by sharing his testimony, and there was an immediate change in the temperament of the group. Suddenly, our students’ perception of him went from a leader who had everything figured out to a fellow human being who was struggling through his journey with Christ along with them. Before I could share my story, a student raised his hand and asked if he could share his. After he went, another asked to share. And then another. Suddenly, students were opening up about their past and their family life. I had never seen anything like it. By the end of the week, almost all of our cabin students had shared their stories with the group. And it all started when one of their leaders, a high school senior, opened up about his life.
  1. Let them lead. A few years ago, I led a cabin group of eight high school juniors who had been following Jesus since they were kids. It was like pulling teeth getting them to talk about anything. On the final night of camp, I tried something different. It may have been a Hail Mary after three days of silence; I don’t quite remember what was going on in my mind. But I opened up cabin time by saying, “Tonight, you guys will be leading the discussion. I’m going to stay with you and participate, but I’m not going to ask any questions.” A few awkward seconds passed. Then, one of the juniors turned to the others and said, “OK. What did you guys get out of tonight’s message?” What followed was the best cabin time we had had all week long, even though it was the one I had guided the least. This tactic of letting them lead might not work with a younger group, but don’t be afraid to delegate leadership to your students.
  1. Remember that cabin time isn’t everything. Sure, some of the most powerful stuff at camp can happen during cabin times. But the buck doesn’t stop there. You may find that an impromptu, one-on-one discussion with a student during free time is just the interaction they needed. Maybe you’ll have a couple students who don’t especially connect with you throughout the week, but they really connect with the camp speaker’s messages and experience true life change during chapel. Understand the importance of cabin time but don’t exaggerate it. Keep a humble heart, ask God for excess amounts of patience, and trust that Jesus is there among you, guiding each and every student exactly where he or she needs to go.

Taylor Bird is the Middle School Pastor at Southwest Church in Indian Wells, CA. He has been serving in youth ministry for five years.

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GUEST POST: Campus Lunch Visits Done Well

If you are a youth worker then you understand the weight of importance for having a relational ministry outside of the context of your program. Over the years, one of my favorite ways to do this is by visiting my students at their lunch. Recently this has become a problem with some of our local campuses. Many schools now have a “closed campus” policy that no longer allows youth workers or other guests to visit students at lunches. This is done as a measure of protection for the students, which I totally understand and respect.

I am also suspect that these measures have been happening more and more because schools don’t want youth workers preaching within campus walls. DYM even posted a blog article here documenting a story not far from where I am located. Some of these schools have opened their doors and welcomed youth workers in the past and may have been burned because rules were not followed on this issue and trust was broken.

So what about the campuses that still allow for us to volunteer or do campus lunch visits? This makes it even more important that we leave a good impression with our local schools, and in order to do so I suggest the following:

1. Always connect with the front office first. Make sure you are following the correct steps in order to be a guest on campus. This will help you have credibility and show that you respect the office staff and the rules that the school has in place for safety. (The students you are there to see are not the only ones who you are doing ministry with. It is important you leave a trail of respect for you and the church your represent.)

2. Let your students know when you plan on visiting. One of the first questions I am often asked is who am I here to visit and do they know I am showing up. When you are on campus you are on the students turf so it’s best to not always have surprises.

3. Allow the student that you are visiting to introduce you to others. At a recent campus visit my wife and I brought lunch to a student and she walked us around and introduced us to others. Eventually someone asked her, “How do you know these two?” My first response was not to blurt out everything about me being her youth pastor and how they should come to youth group, rather I looked at the student and let her answer the question however she felt comfortable. She started telling people we were friends from church but as others got more comfortable with us, she began introducing us as the “youth pastor and his wife – they’re pretty chill”, and it came from her, and that is very important. Had she said we were family friends that would have been fine too, but we left that up to her.

4. If it’s okay with the school, ALWAYS BRING FOOD! Bringing food is always a win. I love food, probably too much, but students ALWAYS love food. I brought a few pizzas to my last campus visit and we walked around offering pizza to students – a great conversation starter! The only mistake I made was not having a veggie option for the vegetarian students!

So what if you are not able to do campus visits at any of your schools?

Continue to find other ways to support your students on their turf, like after school sports, band & choir concerts, art shows, etc

What are some other ideas for campus visits that you might have? Please share your thoughts below!

Kevin Klas has been in youth ministry for 10 years. He is currently the director of student ministries at Lake City Community Church in Lakewood, WA.

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GUEST POST: When Small Groups Aren’t Working

I love small groups! In fact, the church I serve at also loves small groups so much that they say we are not a church that does small groups; we are a church OF small groups. Small groups are a very important piece of the discipleship ministry in our student ministries department and as we are ready to end our small group season for the summer, I am already brainstorming for next year. In my planning I began to think, what happens when they don’t work? I say this because I have found that for some of our students, especially high school guys, small groups isn’t always something that they are willing to jump into. Of course this is always difficult for me because if I had it my way everyone would be involved in a small group ministry. So, what is the reason for pushback towards small groups? For some they may still not be at a place to make that commitment, or perhaps there is a lack of trust with a smaller community, perhaps they just don’t like small groups or maybe they are just comfortable showing up to our weekly outreach programs and leaving it at that. But here is the problem, if you are like me and the main piece of your discipleship ministry is small groups, then I think we would all be missing out if we just simply left these students in a place where discipleship is not happening because they are not showing up to a small group ministry.

So what can we do in this situation?

Here are a few thoughts:

Create different avenues for discipleship to happen
Don’t just rely on small groups to be the only option for discipleship to happen in your ministry. Create some different ways for students to connect in a discipleship context. Remember, everyone is wired differently. We are currently working on a 3 to 1 mentor/discipleship ministry where every youth worker is a mentor to 3 students. When we run out of team members to assign to students we line them up with mentors in the church. This may not work best in your context but continue to think outside the box to reach those who are missing out on discipleship.

Ask students what is keeping them from joining a small group
In my first two years of youth ministry I worked so hard to best serve students without ever asking them how I could better serve them. Sometimes we need to just sit down for coffee or lunch or go for a walk and ask students what is keeping them from joining. Maybe they are uncomfortable with small groups, but perhaps it’s scheduling, or the lack of transportation. Be sure to understand why a student is not getting more involved if they are at the point you think they should be committing more. Remember, ministry is relational; we cannot just guess and assume we know everything. And, if you’re going to be honest in your asking, allow room for the students to be honest in answering and prepare yourself to hear something you might not want to hear.

Pray
When something doesn’t work, no matter how many times God has proven faithful, I’m human and I still often panic rather than bringing the situation to God. If your small group ministry is not going like you hoped, perhaps it’s time to amp up your prayer for guidance in your leadership but also in the hearts of the students. We need to continue to pray for our students and for their hearts toward God.

Continue to over promote
You can say something 7 times to a group of people 7 different ways and many of them will still miss out. Be sure to always over communicate small groups, how to sign up, who the leaders are, where they are held, why they are important. If you really believe small group ministry is important than over communicate that importance.

As I start planning for next year I am hoping that we can find everyone where they are at and provide ways to encourage them to grow closer to Christ. These are just some of my ideas. What are some suggestions or ideas that you have to help with small groups when they are not working as planned? Please share below!

Kevin Klas has been in youth ministry for 10 years. He is currently the director of student ministries at Lake City Community Church in Lakewood, WA.

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GUEST POST: A New Season Ahead

It’s official! I’m starting a new season today.

I’ve blogged every week here on the weekends for the last 2 years. I’ve been leading children’s church with Josh and this experience has brought growth, encouragement, insight, and many inspiring relationships into my life, all of which have been life-changing and absolutely unforgettable. But as we all know, seasons come and seasons go and this season has come to an end. God is bringing me to a fresh, new chapter in my life where I will focus on career goals, family life and making myself available to where God wants to position me in ministry by clearing out my schedule of all other activities.

God is about to move big here and I am ready! I’m ready for His power to overtake me as I stand in awe of His greatness. All I have to do is take the step of faith that He has given me, all YOU have to do is take that step of faith that He has given you and He will take care of the rest. It’s amazing, when I first spoke out that I was moving a year ago, God has handled every detail since. He is lining up the perfect roommate for my son and I, which church we should go to, my career path, It is all falling perfectly together. Not because I have done anything right, but because He is doing everything all right. All I had to do is make myself available to His blessings.

This reminds me of when I first moved to Sulphur Springs and what a breakthrough I experienced. In Dallas I was a party-a-holic, my life was a mess, I was in a downward spiral. I didn’t experience breakthrough until I let go. I made myself available to what God wanted to do in my life and breakthrough was the result. Well I am believing in yet another breakthrough! A new season is in order!

Are you believing in breakthrough? Where is God calling you right now? GO! Take that first step and watch doors open for you.

Ashley Fordinal is the Children’s Church volunteer at Family Life Church in Sulphur Springs, TX.

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GUEST POST: Get a “Real” Job

For me one of the hardest things in youth ministry is the notion that youth ministry is only a stepping stone to a “real” pastoral job.  Many people think that just because you minister to students you’re simply testing the waters or honing your skills so you’re prepared to take on the responsibilities of a “real” pastor when the time is right.  Can I just say, a youth pastor IS a real pastor.

Youth Ministry is a messy, unpredictable, chaotic, emotional journey filled with twists and turns and bumps in the road.  Youth Pastors journey through life with students that are constantly in a state of physical, emotional, hormonal change and everything in between.  Not only do youth pastors journey with these students, but they also journey with parents (a whole different ministry entirely).  Sometimes parents are supportive of the ministry and sometimes they are not.  Sometimes both parents are still together and sometimes they are not.  Sometimes the parents are involved in the student’s life and sometimes they are not.  Each and all of these situations bring a new dynamic to ministering to the students and their parents.

If you are a youth pastor and you feel a bit underappreciated and devalued allow me to say that I appreciate all you do!  I know what you put into your ministry and how challenging it truly is so THANK YOU for all your sacrifices.  There is nothing more REAL about your “job” than when that student you’ve been praying for and walking closely with finally “gets it”!  You are making a difference in the lives of the students God has placed before you – keep focused on Jesus and He’ll work out all the other details.

The reality of your “job” is that it’s not a job at all…it’s a calling!  Thanks for answering the call!

Nate Eckert is the youth pastor at Flora United Methodist Church in Flora, IN.

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GUEST POST: Pressure Has Lost its Sting

In the Spring, my son plays soccer on a coed team, and as I sit back every Saturday morning and watch them play, I often hear other parents talking about the pressure coming from our coach onto his daughter to make the right move at just the right time. I hear lots of “poor girl”, and “a little girl can only take so much.” These parents are looking at this situation one-sided, with a narrow perspective. You know, I believe if we say…if we speak it out that she will eventually break and just give up, she will begin to see breaking as the only option and will eventually quit.

But if we begin to say that from all this pressure will come a beautiful well-developed soccer player, then do you know what she will begin to see? She will know that even after all of the pain, sweat, and tears that beauty will follow. She will flourish and thrive as a soccer player! So even as we sit on the sidelines cheering our little ones on, we should watch what we speak. Even when we don’t think the coach or his daughter can hear, other ears do and those words echo in the minds and out of the mouths of others.

Want to make pressure lose its sting? Speak about the beauty that comes from pressure. Growth, character, strength, humility, patience…All of these come from pressure! If the kids we minister to knew what beauty pressure brings, I don’t think they’d be so afraid of it and crack when it does come. I honestly believe they would begin to embrace it and let it take its course. There would be less quitting and more growing. Less fear and more acceptance. Then we can truly say, pressure has lost its sting!!

How has pressure pushed you to become a better you? Comment below!

Ashley Fordinal is the Children’s Church volunteer at Family Life Church in Sulphur Springs, TX.

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GUEST POST: Spontaneous Student Leadership

Sometimes in ministry there are things that happen spontaneously, and then there are times when we are intentional about what we do.

When I was in my first youth ministry job I began gathering students in my living room once a week. We would spend the time planning the next night’s service. From games to skits to videos, we did it all. We also spent time calling other students and inviting them to come to youth group. This was before cell phones, so we had to pass around the cordless phone one at a time and make calls. Looking back on it, this was probably the development of an unintentional student leadership team.

Years later, and in a new context, I received some teaching and challenge to purposefully begin developing students into leaders. In 1999 I pulled about 15 students together and began to invest in their lives. In turn, I have learned by trial and error over the years a strategy for developing and leading a leadership team.

Then, in 2008, we attended our first Student Leadership Conference hosted by Doug Fields. It was the perfect compliment to what we were doing to develop students.

Each year the conference speaks into the lives of each of our students in a way that encourages them to lead. They are reminded they are not only the church of tomorrow, but they are an active participant in building God’s kingdom now.

This is one reason why we continue to come back. Another reason we attend is that we have a chance to get away somewhere fun and reflect on where our ministry is, and where God may be leading us for the next school year. Finally, we continue to attend SLC because it creates practical experiences for students to lead. From water walks to IJM interactive experiences, it is a highlight of our summer. I encourage you to be intentional and come to SLC this summer.

I guarantee you won’t be disappointed… neither will your students. 

Nick Steinloski is the Student Ministries Pastor at Bethany Community Church in Seattle, Washington.

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GUEST POST: Developing Students Into Leaders

One of my favorite things about student ministries is being a part of developing students into leaders. I love it when students own a ministry that God is calling them to. God gives them a burden and they take initiative to lead others in accomplishing great things for Him. For the past two summers we have taken student leaders to Student Leadership Conference.

Our students love the Student Leadership Conference (SLC) and, as their Pastor, I think I love it even more than they do. Here’s why:

Ownership
Every year after SLC our students grab ahold of ministry like they never have before. They become less dependent on me and their other leaders to run the ministry and they take the responsibility on themselves. SLC communicates this not only through the speakers, but through modeling student leadership and ownership throughout the conference.

Maturity
I love the spiritual challenge that my students have received from SLC. They not only get practical knowledge of how to lead and what to do as a leader, but they also get challenged to look at their spiritual lives and who they are becoming as a leader. This sets students up for success because they are building a solid foundation of character as an individuals, so that ministry can flow out of a genuine heart that is devoted to God.

Confidence
Some of my students come to SLC with a confidence to step up and lead their piers. But there are many others who I see with great leadership gifting that are hesitant to step up. I have loved watching those quieter students step up and grow in their confidence through some of the interactive learning times and group projects that they have been involved with at SLC. God believes in them as a leader, I believe in them as leader, and SLC gives them a safe environment to step up and experience success in leading a team of their peers.

I am looking forward to another great year at SLC and we are so excited to be hosting. I hope to see you there!

Jared Sorber is the Family Ministries Pastor at Bridgeway Community Church.

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GUEST POST: Invalid Entry

Every weekday morning (okay – almost every), I head to the gym to do a little of that crazy thing called exercise. Today was no different. I woke up, ate breakfast, took my daughters to school and then headed to the gym. Parked in my usual spot. Walked into the gym and proceeded to scan my card. Here’s where it gets a bit interesting – the display on the card reader was reading “invalid card”. Thinking the scanner misread my card I scanned it again and I got the same response from the card reader. A few thoughts started to pop into my head, “did I pay my membership?”, “have I been kicked out of the gym?”, and the ever popular “3rd time’s a charm – scan it again!” – so I did. Same response – “invalid card”! Then I noticed the reason…I was scanning a supermarket key tag instead of my gym key tag…oops!

This little lesson this morning reminded me that we can be doing all the right things and not getting the results we expect because we’re using the wrong tools. So often in ministry we fight hard to build a ministry or even a great program so students will want to come to our church and/or programs. Once they’re there we’ll talk to them about what God has done and how awesome Jesus is – hoping they come back.

That’s totally different to the way Jesus did ministry. Jesus went to the people and talked with them not to them. When He met with people, He helped them experience the love and grace of God. John 1:14 says, “The Word became flesh and moved into the neighborhood.” (The Message) NOT “The Word became flesh and waited for everyone to come see Him”. If we put our energies into “us going” instead of “them coming” we just might get the opportunity to show more students the love of Jesus.

Maybe during the weekend take a cooler full of ice and water and some of your youth group to the park to give water to the kids playing basketball. Head to the high school with a few pizzas and invite students to join you for lunch

Doing little things like this show them that you are willing to “move into their neighborhoods” and live life with them. You never know what a simple act of love will do to someone – they just may meet that Jesus you keep talking about!

Nate Eckert is the youth pastor at Flora United Methodist Church in Flora, IN.

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GUEST POST: Plans Change, Goals Remain

Making goals and setting plans to achieve those goals is a valuable task for anyone who wants to learn and grow to become a better them. But an important part of making goals is being open to a different road toward achieving those goals. Plans do not always work out as planned, life happens and sometimes God sees a better direction for you to get there and plans fail.

Just recently, I was denied admission to my college of choice. I may have been denied admission, but my ultimate goal has not been denied. This is a time for me to look back at what steps toward that goal have been set and with God’s guidance, tweak them some. For example, I had plans of moving, working and getting established in a new city over the Summer, then start school in the Fall. Although sometimes plans failing means a complete re-evaluation, the plan here hasn’t changed much at all. Still moving, still working over the Summer…only with the new plan, I will reapply until I gain admission, have longer to establish my son and myself in the new city, and work until I receive admission. All of which leads to more cash flow and less of a rush getting established before school!

See, God has a way of working all things together for our good. Even if I did not realize the good in this plan, there is good in every one of God’s plans. God sees life from a unique perspective that we cannot grasp. He sees situations with eternity in mind, not just the here and now. That’s why Jesus was able to bear the cross for our sins. Because He wasn’t looking at the pain, He was looking at the victory to be won! When plans fail, don’t give up on the vision God has given you. Seek God for the new path you should take. “The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty.” (Proverbs 21:5)

What encouragement can you give to someone to keep going after their goal even after their original plans have failed? 

Ashley Fordinal is the Children’s Church volunteer at Family Life Church in Sulphur Springs, TX.

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GUEST POST: Making the Most (of) Mistakes

I don’t have cable.

It’s something my wife and I decided we’d do without over 5 years ago.  Now, before you vote me into sainthood you should know that I do subscribe to Hulu.  And recently I’ve binged on several episodes of “Kitchen Nightmares” with that British chef Gordon Ramsay.  You know what I noticed after several episodes?  This show makes me want to do everything in ministry with excellence.  Weird, right?

But I’ve noticed some other stuff, too.  In case you’ve never seen the show “Kitchen Nightmares”, let me give you the synopsis: there’s a restaurant somewhere that’s teetering on the verge of complete breakdown and shutdown because they can’t seem to get their act together.  Chef Ramsay comes in, insults their food, tells them they’re horrible, tells them truth about their restaurant and how to change it, and helps them restart.  Usually to amazing results.

I’ve made a ton of mistakes in my years of ministry and if this show is about nothing else, it’s about mistakes.  Lots and lots of mistakes.  Maybe that’s why I like it so much.

And I’ve watched enough episodes of this delightfully tense show to have noticed 3 common problems present in every one of the restaurants without exception.  And this is the part where I tell you how they relate to ministry and what you and I can learn from them.

#1:  Denial
In nearly every show I’ve watched there is someone in charge (it’s usually the owner and/or head chef) who’s in complete denial about the quality of the food they’re turning out.  Student ministry leaders are notorious for wearing blinders.  When we see something that could potentially be a problem, we simply pretend it isn’t there or isn’t happening.  And in doing so we remain in denial about something (or even someone) that is in some way holding the flow of ministry back.  Especially when that someone is me.  Denial is typified when we give shallow answers to important questions. Questions like: “How is the student ministry going really?” and “What are you doing to feed your own soul so you lead from passion?” and “Is the stated mission of your ministry being executed clearly?”  When we brush off questions like these with unthoughtful responses, we’re in danger of denial.

#2:  Blame
Another common thread throughout these restaurant catastrophes is the unwillingness on the part of anyone and everyone on the team to take their share of the blame for where they’re at.  How often do you find yourself getting defensive when a criticism arises?  How quickly do you go to a deflection in order to find a scapegoat?  The secret sauce of taking your share of blame is honesty and humility.  Those busy defending are usually defending little more than their own pride and insecurity.  What is it that YOU are responsible for that isn’t being carried out with excellence? Not perfection–excellence.  Meaning your heart is there and you’re relying on God’s power to see things through, from the menial to the monumental.  Face those facts and know that honest humility breeds respect in others for your efforts, even when (and especially when) you make mistakes.

#3:  Communication
Now, if you’ve seen “Kitchen Nightmares”, you know that Gordon Ramsay’s problem is certainly not communication.  But time after time each restaurant he walks into is fraught with dysfunctional communication.  From the wait staff to the kitchen, from the manager to the chef, from the chef to the wait staff, and round and round it goes.  Communication is the gears AND the grease of any healthy organization, the body of Christ notwithstanding.  First of all, we’ve got to be in constant contact with our Lord.  We to Him and Him to us.  Nothing else can substitute that.  Then we’ve got to commit to hyper-communication with our fellow staff (if any), with our senior pastor, with the board (if any), with parents of our students and with our students.  Be known by your helpful, consistent, clear communication.  Don’t know how?  Reach out to someone who does and say “teach me.”  Communication is often the Achilles heel of many youth leaders, but what’s crazier than that is that it’s completely avoidable.

Give me a call sometime and I’ll tell you about my latest mistake.  Until then, make the most of the bumps in your ministry road.

Jerry Varner is a husband, dad to 4 and student ministry veteran If you’re ever in the Richmond area, he’s buying lunch. Blogs regularly at jerrythinks.com

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GUEST POST: Just When You Least Expect It

As my son and his friend were attempting to climb a large tree today, I stood back and watched them come up with many different ideas for a way up that tree. First, they tried to climb it with their hands and feet, then they tried jumping up, then they worked together to make a contraption with a hose and a stick. No matter how many times they failed, they never gave up! My son looked at me at one point asking if I knew how they could get up there. My answer was yes! When he asked me to give him a hint, my hint was, I know one way; there are many ways to the top. If one way doesn’t work, try another!

See, if they did not keep on trying; even when it looked as if there was no way, they would have never made it to the top. They would have been stuck down below in the grass, without even trying. You’ve got to try before you can climb. Breakthrough only happens when it is least expected. When you are at your lowest, you are being stretched. You are growing through the hard times.  That’s why it hurts so bad. Through the hurt is when you realize that things cannot stay the same. Becoming so fed up with the way things are, brings about change!

When Jesus went through all the turmoil and abuse years ago, most did not believe He was the Son of God. They believed what they saw, Jesus getting cursed and beaten. That’s it. They did not see someone willingly taking the beating for the ultimate breakthrough. This breakthrough would not have happened if God was content with the way society was. The only way to a breakthrough is through sweat and tears and a realization that things need to change.

Your breakthrough is right around the corner, what changes are you believing for?

Ashley Fordinal is the Children’s Church volunteer at Family Life Church in Sulphur Springs, TX.

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GUEST POST: Put the Baggage Down!

Sometimes a youth pastor, or any pastor for that matter, comes to a new church with excitement on the outside, but on the inside we’re carrying some baggage and nursing all kinds of scars. This baggage and scars may come from the way we were treated as we left our previous church, maybe even some guilt for leaving those who’s lives they spoke into. Whatever the case, the baggage is heavy and the scars are fresh. And that’s exactly where my family and I found ourselves as we came to our new church 365 days ago!

As I started my new ministry position, my excitement for ministry was fading. I tried not to let my ministry “baggage” or scars get in the way of what I felt God wanted me to do here. I took some time to evaluate the programming and tried to gauge the maturity, both spiritual and emotional, of my new group of students. Once I did that, I hit the ground running! Little change here…little tweak there…add this program here…this outing there…ahhh back to “normal”! But as the weeks went on nothing really seemed to be working. Students didn’t seem excited and I know I wasn’t. Then I realized something…the “normal” I had reached was the same “normal” in ministry that gave me the extra baggage and a lot of the scars.

This wasn’t the same church I had come from and these weren’t the same students so why would I think the same programming would work for them? Why was I trying to make myself comfortable with what I was doing instead of trying to help students grab onto and grow into a deep relationship with Jesus? I’ll tell you why…because I still had a death grip on my ministry “baggage”. When we have our hands full with the trauma from our past experiences with old pastors, old churches, old parents, old “jobs”, old anything, we don’t leave our hands free to grab onto what God has planned for us.

It took me a few months after I realized this to finally let go of the baggage; to finally be willing to forgive and ready to grab on to what God has planned for this ministry and for my life. I had to reevaluate everything I did and everything I didn’t do in ministry. It was God’s way of showing me Isaiah 55:8 (don’t worry – I had to look it up too!) Once my hands were free and I took hold of God’s plan; not only did the way I do ministry change, but my life did too. There is excitement again and it is growing!

It took a few hits in the head with the “divine 2X4″ to work through my baggage and scars, but God put away the baggage and healed the scars! I’m so glad God loves us enough to work through the junk of our lives with us. It’s amazing what can happen when we’re willing to put the baggage down.

Nate Eckert is the youth pastor at Flora United Methodist Church in Flora, IN.

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