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Youth Ministry Panel Discussion: Iron on Iron 2019

Panel Members:

Joseph Tucker, Steve Brooks, Ricky Smith, Jason Salyer, and Rob Conti

Moderator: Spencer Davis

How do you approach discipling students outside of teaching and programming?

Joseph Tucker:

Well, that’s a really easy answer. You just invite them to Snowbird. But honestly, that’s one of the ways to do that outside of the walls of the church is we bring our kids anytime we can, whether it’s Fall SWO, Winter SWO, summer camp, because you’re creating opportunities for them that are social gathering. So I feel like true student ministry happens like on the bus or on the van, and when you have those raw conversations, when you’re traveling with people, when you’re building those relationships and the relational connection happens outside of the small group setting, outside of the preaching setting. But as I was thinking about this, one of the things that our church has done over the years is we have this thing called an I-3 strategy, and just like any good Baptist, solid alliteration. And so it’s invest, intercede, invite, and that is really an evangelistic strategy. But as I was thinking about it, it’s a discipleship strategy as well, because we intentionally do that, we want to intentionally invest into people’s lives. So we intentionally invest in the students’ lives, we’re intentionally building relationships with them—getting to know them.

It’s amazing when you remember a kid’s name. And I’m terrible with names. I can remember your face all day long, but I’m really bad with names. But when you remember the kid’s name, they’re like, “Oh, you remember my name.” If you remember something about them, and that’s a whole another level, whether it’s their favorite candy bar or whatever. And so you spending time on their turf is huge. So you showing up at a ball game, you going to a recital, no matter how boring these things might be, you’re spending time there. Even if you can’t stay for the long haul, you take a picture, and then text it to them later. Or I’ve been to middle school basketball game before, and the parent’s like, years later be like, “I can’t tell you how much it meant for us to see you at that game to support Alex or whatever. That’s awesome.” So intentionally investing in them, intentionally interceding for them, letting them know that you are praying for them. Because how many people, honestly, if they don’t have godly parents, are actually praying for them? And letting them know that, but also doing it for them right there, saying like “How can I pray for you?” and then answering the question, getting further down than, “Our dog’s sick,” or whatever, but “How can I really pray for you? What’s going on with you?”

One thing that I encourage our leaders to do is a solid acronym is ESPN, when you’re engaging with a student.

E is for encourage them. They don’t get a lot of encouragement. Share Scripture with them is the S. We wanna share truth with them always when we engage with them. And then the P is pray for them, so we’re interceding for them, right then right there, do that. And then provide them with the next step. So ESPN, encourage them, share Scripture with them, pray with them, and then provide them with the next step. And then the last one is invite. And so invite them into relationship. One thing that we found that is solid is inviting them into our home. So one thing that we’ve done really, practically speaking, outside of the teaching programming is we have this thing called Breakfast at Tucker’s, and we invite students to come to our house on Friday morning for breakfast, and before school, and the whole purpose of that is just to provide them with a nice meal, but to pray with them before they go to school. And that provides an opportunity for us to connect with them in the home to be in a healthy environment. A lot of the students don’t come from a healthy environment. And so spending time on their turf outside of the four walls of the church, knowing the old adage, they don’t care about how much you know until they know how much you care, that’s really true.

And so I did ask one last thing. We graduated probably the most solid students we have ever graduated this past summer, and I asked those leaders, “What did you do that made that class so strong over the past two years for discipling them?” and they said this, they said “We were heavy on truth and exceptionally high on love. We invested in them with time and money. We knew them, what they liked, what they didn’t like, what their favorite coffee was, their favorite snack. We gave them a place to belong that was safe. We were prayerful, intentional, truthful, trustworthy, and interested in their lives. We were relevant. We held them accountable and we let them know that we were not done with them when they made a mistake and when they messed up. And so we spoke truth but we showed them a lot of grace.” So I know that’s a lot, but that’s as succinct as that could be.

What wisdom/encouragement would you give to those who are first-time youth pastors/ are new to student ministry?

Steve Brooks:

Well, the number one thing we say is, obviously, God doesn’t necessarily call the qualified, he qualifies the called.

I love that, but it’s so true. When you look at “calling” like it’s been talked about this weekend, he will equip you to provide what he’s calling you into, and many times it’s with fear and trepidation. One way you know you’re ready to work with students or to be in ministry when you don’t feel worthy or good enough to do it, ’cause if you do, then you’re gonna step in with pride. So there’s a point where, “Okay, I need you God and if you don’t come through, this is not gonna work.” So that’s a positive thing. But the biggest thing is what we tell our leaders stepping in, or even myself, I was told “love God and love others, love students.”

Students simply wanna know, “Do you really love the Lord? And do you care about me? Or are you just making a paycheck, however it is, or if you’re doing this for whatever reason?” But like it was said earlier, students can smell authenticity or inauthenticity. And the point is, do you really love God? And are you spending time with God? So that’s the number one thing that’s where we always start with leaders, everything, are you developing a relationship with Jesus? Do you really know him? And are you serving Him? And then, do you care about them?

And so when you’re stepping in, that needs to be just, “Hey, do you love God?” “Yes.” “Do you love the students?” “Yes.” If either of those is no, don’t be in ministry. But if both of those, then God’s like, “Okay, I got plenty to work with here.” Now, the big part is, when you step in, authenticity is used, we can’t step into a ministry or leadership if we need something from them. See, that’s a big red flag. That’s a red flag. When I stepped in, I was a volunteer when I first got started in youth ministry, and I remember stepping in and I needed affirmation, and all of a sudden, I was in youth group off and on when I was in high school, but I stepped into being one of the leaders at 23-years-old, all of a sudden it’s like, “Oh, this is cool. I am now the center of attention. I am now getting what I didn’t get when I was in high school.” Right? They’re coming to me like, “Oh my gosh,” and it was feeding my need to be needed. And that was a huge red flag. So if you’re stepping in and you need that affirmation or you need to be their buddy, we’re not in the youth ministry to be buddies, students don’t need another buddy, they have plenty of buddies.

They’re looking for adults who like to be around students. That’s what charges their batteries.

They’re like, “Why would this adult… ” So I even correct people. They say, “Oh, Steve, you’re just a big kid,” ‘Cause I like to have fun, I like to scare people in the bathroom… When you scream through the crack in the door, it’s like you’re in the room with them, it freaks them out. It’s like a passion of mine. Right, Liz Anne? Yeah, and it also helps them go to the bathroom better. So then you can say, “You’re welcome, you’re welcome.” But then people say, “Oh, you’re just a big kid,” and I will always correct them, and I’ll say “No, I’m an adult that enjoys having fun and likes being with students.” That’s a big difference. And if you are a big kid, they don’t want a big kid, they want an adult who has maturity that loves the Lord and cares about them, because that means a whole lot more. Because if you need to be needed and you need to be affirmed and you need them to like you, you’re losing, because you’re gonna cower, you’re gonna bend to what will please them or appease them, and they don’t want that. And over time, they will disrespect you, and they’ll say they’re not authentic and there’s not a maturity. They need to see somebody with the maturity that can call hard shots, that we are not dependent on them liking us, and getting our identity from being a youth minister or being even a good one.

It’s like, “No, we’re faithful to the Lord. We’re spending time with him and we’re getting our affirmation from him so that we can go serve them.” And so let that be a red flag for you, or if you have any leaders in your ministry, point this out. You can read through that. And one thing that I have, I’ve made a couple of copies which afterward, I’ll lay it over there and you can take a picture of it. It’s upfront in the back. But this is big in youth ministry, and this is not for just new youth ministers or have work with students, it’s for us up now, because it’s a point. Are we coming from an orphan spirit where we’re trying to perform and get our needs met because we’re not getting our needs met, so we’re trying to perform and be good enough, or are we coming from being an adopted child of God? What this whole summer was about, The Father Heart of God, and realizing “He loves me and I matter to him, I’m gonna serve him, and I’m gonna get my needs met from him, then we’re free to love the students in a way that they respect and they care and yet they may not like it, but over time, they’ll respect it and the church will respect you for who you are.”

So this is just something to walk through, an orphan-type spirit coming from a spirit of performance, you can look through the whole list and say, “Okay, am I this way, this way?” and then a child of God responds in these ways. That helps with maturity and it’s a good scale of looking at, “Okay, am I doing this right?” And it’s what needs to be done. And it’s okay not to know the answers to questions in the Bible. Like literally, just say, “I don’t… ” And be honest. If you’re honest and authentic, they respect that. In fact, that is a really good question. Don’t come out with an answer because you feel like you should. Again, that’s performance-driven. “I gotta have it right, I gotta… ” No. Say, “You know what? I don’t know, let’s look in the Bible. Let’s see what it… ” And then you can even work with them, it’s another way of ministry outside… It’s like, “Let’s look at this together,” or “Let’s both look it up and then come back and deal with this.

Why is it valuable to build partnerships with other student pastors and student ministries?

Ricky Smith:

That’s a great question, one that I’m passionate about, and I think it really connects well with what Steve just said. To bridge his statement with what I wanna say, I would recommend a book to you. Chris Trent, who is the student pastor at Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, wrote a book called Consider This: A Student Minister’s Guide to Longevity. And for those of you that are just kinda starting out in your first few years of it, there are some foundational principles that if you can get it right on the front end, can equip you for the long haul. Because we need more student ministry that expresses longevity and a commitment over time. So to connect with that, I think the orphan spirit thing that you just said, I think is beautiful. I think it connects to this idea of networking or building relationships and partnerships with others. First of all, let’s look at why. Biblical principles, there are many references that we can use. I would point you to Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, “How much better is it if we have someone,” and it ends verse 12, “That a cord of three strands is not easily broken.”

And so, we know this, culture knows this, Corporate America knows this, networking is common even in the corporate world. It should be embraced and even celebrated in our community of faith. So it’s just better to work together. It’s the way God designed the body of Christ to work, 1 Corinthians 12, 13 and 14. We can’t escape the power of the team and the body of Christ really expressing itself. And I would say in your local community, typically it is the student ministry that exhibits the beauty of this the best. It’s usually in most communities, it’s the youth pastors that are quick to cross over denominational lines, and it’s the youth pastors that tend to be more prone to work together. And so you’re in a position to not just model in your ministry, but for the benefit of your whole city to see the body of Christ cooperating together; networking is huge. So I would say that’s why it’s important. What we tend to do in this orphan spirit, maybe it’s pride, ego, insecurity, whatever may motivate us to be a lone ranger.

Lone Ranger was a Great Western TV show in the ’50s, but in ministry, I call being a lone ranger “being an idiot”. Get over yourself, okay? You cannot do it alone. You’re better together. So how can you do this? Well, I’ll give you four things:

One, initiate. Be proactive. What does Proverbs 18:24 tell us? “A man that has friends must show himself friendly.” If you’re new to a church, you’re new to ministry, you’re new to a community, don’t sit around and wait on somebody to call you, you be proactive and you initiate that contact. “Hey, I wanna go to lunch, I wanna go grab coffee, I wanna talk more, I wanna learn more about your ministry.” So you initiate that contact. And if you may in that initiation, you may find that there’s an existing network, or you may find the opportunity to start one, either way, that’s a win-win. So be proactive.

And then secondly, seek it out. I think here’s the difference, all those two, they could sound synonymous. I’m initiating contact, but I’m seeking it out like that jewel to be discovered, and I’m gonna keep initiating contact until I find it or until I create it. And recognize you may need help to do this. I would say this is where your denominational support is tremendously beneficial.

If you are a part of the Baptist denomination, call your local association or missionary, or call your state convention missionary and say, “Help me connect to others,” or if you’re a Methodist, call your district or call your conference, call somebody who may have connections to help you make those connections, that’s the second.

Third one is this, engage early, here’s what I mean by this. Most of the time, we equate networking with, I need people to show up to my events so my numbers look better. Don’t plan an event, produce all the flyers and then show up at the table and say, “Hey, why don’t you come to my event.” Engage early and actually collaborate with people, “Hey, I got this idea. How could we do this together?” Get ownership and collaboration on the front end, engage others, then you get buy-in, then you truly see teamwork, then you truly see networking happen.

And the fourth thing, and I’m out of time, follow through with relationships. So if you hear of maybe another youth pastor in your community, maybe they had a baby, they’ve gone through a tragedy, they’re in a dispute and conflict in their church, follow through, text, phone call, email.

In fact, I would make it part of your daily, at least weekly, practice to proactively connect with other youth pastors in your area. Find out how things are going. When can we get together? Be purposeful with it, and you will watch your community flourish and grow and be amazed at how the benefits start to flow out of that.

How do you equip students to remain faithful in a culture that’s increasingly more hostile to Christianity?

Jason Salyer:

Great question, and I think it’s one that we’re thinking about more often these days because of the changing climate we see and the culture around us. I would say however, that it’s important that we distinguish this. You’ll have those folks in your church that say to your kids, or if they find out you’re a youth pastor, “Oh, I couldn’t imagine raising a kid in today’s world,” or “I would never wanna bring a kid into a world like this,” and I’m thinking, “Really?” So when the book of Romans was written and read to that church, the families had to hold their kids’ hands and walk past Coliseums where Uncle Tommy, probably wasn’t named Tommy, but was killed by lions. They had to walk by and cover their eyes from temple prostitutes and things like that.

We’re not the first culture to face these kinds of challenges, so I think there are a lot of things that we can learn from the Scripture to be equipped to do so. I would say three brief things:

Equip Them Apologetically

Number one, equip them apologetically, but also convictionally. I think sometimes we err on one side or the other, there’s a big movement now to equip students apologetically, which I think is great. Give them a reason for the hope that is within them, that they can give an answer. Also, many of our college students, young adults that are criticizing the faith that they grew up in are saying because no one was willing to answer their questions, so I think getting to an apologetics study is very valuable, but if all you do is learn apologetically, that you’re missing the other side of the coin, and that is equipping convictionally meaning what I was talking about earlier, aim for the heart, give them opportunities to practice what it is that they’re doing. We have a dangerous disposition in the church today where we just heap knowledge on top of knowledge. All we’re doing is making smarter sinners, and instead, I think we need to be making opportunities for them to do what James says, be doers of the word, not hearers only. So equip apologetically, convictionally.

Help Them Connect with the Church

Number two, help them connect with the church, pretty simple, but what I mean by that is not just connect with the church, connect with the church, instead of just the student ministry. If someone were to ask the teenagers in your group, where do you belong to? Where do you go? If they name the student ministry, not the church, you’ve got a problem on your hands, because they need a community of believers intergenerational to help them, that same community will drive them either to endure, to remain faithful or to back away from the faith all together. I see this all the time, in college students going in that freshman year, the stereotypical Christian movies and songs and the stories that people tell is always about that one atheistic professor that just comes in and wrecks the faith of thousands of teenagers, all the stuff. That may happen to a few, but most of the teenagers that I’ve known that have walked away from the faith is because they got involved with the group of friends that started doing things that they wanted to do, and then they had to change their theology and their conviction to match their actions. So if we’re going to curb that, it means that we need to connect them with a larger community that’s going to help them to stand strong.

Expose Them to Challenges

Last thing is this, expose them to challenges and tough questions ahead of time. Ask the questions ahead of time, bring up the scenarios ahead of time, if a teenager in your group ask a question, they are ready for an answer. If you put them off and don’t give them an answer, what are they going to do? Well, they’re going to Google it, right? They can find that answer a million other ways, they don’t have to have an adult or a leader or a wise person, so you give them an answer, that doesn’t mean you have to give them every detail of the answer, but you give them an answer. But give them guidance and support and expose them to some of those ideas earlier so that you can shepherd them through processing those ideas and those challenges. And then the last thing I would say is, while doing that, set them alongside a mentor to help them engage the culture and all of this hostility so that they can do it in a way that’s biblically sound, but it’s also kind and loving, because that’s something that’s hard to pick up from a book or a discipleship study, but people that meet those needs and those challenges and stand firm, their faith remain faithful. The ones that are best to emulate are the ones that do so with kindness and love and compassion and conviction, so when they have those relationships in the church, I think it’ll help them go to that next step.

How do you deal with depression and anxiety in ministry? What are some ways to combat these struggles?

Rob Conti:

Yeah, so I’d say one whoever wrote that in, I think it’s encouraging that you’ve identified it, right? ‘Cause I think the first point I’d wanna say to a room full of people is to be honest with yourself, ’cause I think a lot of folks struggle with it and battle it, but they are in denial about calling it what it is, I think, especially guys. I think guys have a hard time admitting weakness and it’s easier to say, Mom just stressed out, because then you’re pointing to I’m just carrying such a heavy burden that that’s wearing on me rather than saying that I’m depressed or I’m anxious. And so being honest about it, I think is a really good step and recognizing and then knowing that, man, we’re not alone in this. We are not alone in that struggle, the reality is, Scripture is not silent on it, and Church history is full of people that we would say are heroes in the faith that dealt with this and talked about it, and they called it different things at different times. My favorite is when they called it melancholy, ’cause that just sounds funny rather than depression.

So yeah, being honest about it, know you’re not alone. I do think a lot of the Psalms were written from the perspective of somebody who’s spiritually depressed and they’re using language to articulate how they feel, but they’re being super real and raw with God on it, and what you see is from that place of spiritual depression is that they cry out to God, even when it doesn’t feel like God is close, even to their senses, their emotions, Man, it doesn’t feel like God loves them. Psalm 88, the Psalm writer literally says, I’m cut off from you. Do you work wonders for those who are in the grave? You say, “Man, I feel spiritually dead,” he talks about feeling like he’s in a pit, and so to be honest with yourself and with God and to be raw and real with those feelings, those thoughts. And then I think to recognize potential causes is helpful to when you evaluate and you’re saying, “Okay, like this isn’t just normal sadness, this has been prolonged depression,” and so, okay, I think it’s helpful to recognize maybe what started it, I don’t necessarily think it’s helpful to stay there and soak in what caused it, but I think it can be helpful to know.

Okay, yeah, this is probably where this is coming from, because maybe it’s something that’s been left unresolved that you can deal with and maybe even over a conversation, but that can be helpful, and then I think it’s helpful to identify triggers. So when you’re honest with yourself about having these issues, then you can begin to examine your life on, Okay, what maybe brings this on, what maybe causes this? Because if it’s something that is not essential to my life, men, cut that out, the weight that Hebrews talks about things that would entangled us that maybe aren’t necessarily evil in and of themselves, but yeah, I can remove that from my life ’cause it’s not necessary, like silly things for me, that I recognize. There’s types of music, there’s types of movies that I don’t watch because it feeds depression in my mind, so I just don’t go there, so recognizing triggers and avoiding them if possible, but I think all that ultimately, and I’m gonna try to be quick, I’ll say this, we did a breakout on this, this past summer dealing with depression and anxiety, I encourage you to go listen to that, and I’ll reference some other tools here in a minute, but ultimately having your identity in Christ versus having your identity as a student pastor or a pastor, or your identity as a husband, a father, wife, mother, and that’s easier said than done.

‘Cause I think if I asked, where should we have our identity? Everybody in the room would say in Jesus, but that takes work. That takes work because our flesh doesn’t naturally go there, and it’s easier to find superficial joy and peace and security and hope, and things that are more tangible at times, than to do the work of surrendering myself and bringing my thoughts into submission to Scripture where I’m truly believing what the Bible says to be true about me, rather than the thoughts that I wake up with that attack me, rather than the thoughts that speak to me non-stop through the day about my failures or my shortcomings.

Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, in his book, Spiritual Depression, said, “You gotta quit listening to yourself and start talking to yourself,” you know, like a crazy person.

But we all do it. Just the crazy person does it out loud. So inside here, quit listening to yourself, and if you’re crazy, I’m sorry, that’s a different… I think Joseph has that question. To be honest, I struggle with this, to wake up with accusing thoughts, and it’s me, it’s me talking to me, and I wake up with thoughts like, I hate you, and you’re failing, you’re a bad father, you’re a bad husband, you’re a bad preacher, and those types of thoughts assault me, and I can lay there and passively take it, or I can stand up, metaphorically in my mind, and say, “No, this is true.” And for me, man, my primary weapon that I draw in that fight is Ephesians Chapter 1, and I preach to myself the truth about what God says about me, and I confront those lies with the truth of the gospel, and so that takes work. That takes saturating our mind with Scripture, truly seeking to find our identity in Christ. And I’m only a minute and half over so I’m almost done. You gotta deal with your whole person, there’s more to you than just mind, there’s more than just emotion, than soul, than body, than spirit, like no one person that is an expert in any one of those areas or disciplines understands the complexity that is you.

The way that you are woven together as a human being, only God understands that. And I think sometimes we’re too simplistic, and people in their field of expertise are if you’ll forgive me, maybe a little arrogant only to identify one area and only deal with that area, so I think sometimes it’s really arrogant of a doctor who would hear what’s going on and say, “Well, then you just need this pill,” and that pill can easily become a functional savior and have its own whole world of repercussions, but I equally think it’s dangerous and potentially very arrogant for a pastor to say, “Well, you just need to pray more, you just need to read the Bible more, you don’t need that medication,” and that’s equally dangerous ’cause yeah, that medication very well, might help you to help get your head out of the cloud long enough to be able to understand what Scripture is even saying. And that’s important, and so it’s important to get help from people in these different areas to help understand it and deal with the whole person, and a lot of times, men, we can do a lot for ourselves by taking care of our whole person.

Treat yourself. That’s not what we’re talking about. I’m talking about like you are a whole person and so this hurts, this hurts. I don’t like this part, but it matters how you treat yourself physically, what you eat, how you rest, how you exercise, all that ties, and we can’t just focus on the spiritual and let everything else go and think, Yeah, I’m gonna have a right mindset. I’m gonna feel right, I’m gonna act right. Imma live right. There is profit, there’s value in recognizing, I gotta take care of this whole thing that the Lord has given me called a life. So I went too long. So some resources, Edward Welch, Depression: Looking up From the Stubborn Darkness, that’s helpful. John Piper sermon, Spiritual Depression and the Psalms, very helpful. And then talk to somebody, if you’re a youth pastor and there’s no one in your church that you would trust with that personal information. First, I’m sorry, man, come talk to us, we’d love to have that relationship with you.

Find somebody that you trust that you don’t have to have deep like, “I’m depressed again. Will you listen to me talk about how sad I am.” That’s not always helpful, but if you can say, Hey man, I’m struggling right now, and you have somebody that you trust and love that can just speak truth to you and know what you’re going through, that goes a long way. Alright, I’m done.

How can youth pastors help parents see their responsibility to discipline their own kids? What about parents who are unbelievers?

Joseph Tucker:

I heard great message about that this morning, so. But Jason killed it this morning, and I would say, honestly, we are fighting a culture where… And I grew up in this where parents come, they bring their kids, they drop their kids off and they say, “Hey, y’all work for the church, y’all are professionals, disciple my kid, and then we’ll pick them up, ’cause that’s your job.” And so we’re fighting against that because they do have professionals that they go to for every other thing, whether it’s their travel ball team, whether there’s their AP teachers or whatever it is. And so I think that we have to remind the parents that no one is better equipped to disciple your students, than you are. God has put those students in your family, and no one’s better equipped to disciple them than you are, mom and dad. And so reminding them that they’ve been given a biblical mandate, and the big one is at Deuteronomy 6, just continually remind them of that, and Psalm 78 and Ephesians 6, and when Paul talks about like, raise them up, discipline them, and raise them up in the instruction of the Lord.

And so one of the things that when it comes to students who don’t have a mom and dad who love the Lord, what we’re trying to change the culture in our student ministry is to say, we want to, as a student ministry, equip parents to disciple their students, and to disciple students whose parents won’t. Because we know that there are always gonna be those students in the ministry. But we wanna equip those primarily those parents who are there because that’s gonna go a long way. And if we invest our time in doing that, it’s gonna go a whole lot longer than if we’re just spending time with those students. Because that analogy that Jason used with the track, you’ve probably heard it before, we get one or two hours a week with them and there’s like 168 hours in a week, we’re not gonna be able to disciple them in one or two hours. That’s the role of the family, like the parents.

And so the church was never meant to replace the family, but to enhance it. And so one of the things that we have done practically is once a quarter, we do a thing called Parent Equip Night. And so we know it’s… Everybody’s schedules are crazy. Everybody’s busy. It’s difficult to add. You got the PTA call in and the school call in and the sports practice, extracurricular activities, all this type of stuff. And so adding one more thing to the schedule, that’s nuts. Nobody’s gonna attend that. Okay, well, what can we do? Let’s think about that. And so we were like, “Let’s do Parent Equip Nights simultaneously while students are meeting.” Our parents are already coming to the church to drop their kids off, why don’t we provide something for them as well?” Because sometimes we heard that they were just sitting in the parking lot reading a book. It’s like, let’s equip them. Or maybe they’re going on a date night, that’s great too.

So once a quarter, Wednesday nights, we will just have a Parent Equip Night and we choose different topics that we cover. And so for example, in the past few years, we’ve done parenting in a pornographic culture, praying the Bible for your teens. We’ve covered family worship, how to lead spiritually in your home, how to come alongside teenagers and understand their culture and love them with the gospel, and Christ-centered parenting. And so we’ve done a ton of research, and every time we do one of these things, we provide… We have a table set up or two where we provide resources for them. But one of the things we do is we remind them every single time… I mean I’m 32 years old. I’ve got toddlers. I don’t have teenagers. So it’s like, “Who are you to talk about how to raise teenagers?” And we remind them, I’m not trying to teach you how to raise your teenagers. I am trying to come alongside of you and equip you to disciple them, because that’s what the church has been called to do. And so we say, we can do that, we can resource them, we can teach them.

And one thing we’ve learned is that some of these parents don’t understand their student’s culture, and they don’t know… We’ve done one on technology before and told them… We’ve thrown up on the screen, like acronyms, we were like, “Have you ever heard your students say this? Do you know what it means?” They’re like, “I have no idea.” And so teach them the lingo. You know the little app on the phone that looks like a calculator? That’s an app where you can hide secret pictures, and the parents think it’s just a calculator. So inform them about these things. We did the one on parenting in a pornographic culture and teaching them so that they’re not ignorant about the fact that students are learning or seeing pornography as early as seven years old. And so, one mom called me that night and said, “Thank you so much for doing this.” She was in tears, she’s like, “This is a crisis mode. We’ve been focusing on our 14, 15-year-old boys, and we were totally overlooking our 11-year-old daughter. And because you told us to go look at all their devices,” she said, “we found pornography all over her iPad, and she’s been addicted to pornography for two years.”

And so we got to walk with that family through that. But if we would have never done anything like that before, we would never be able to come alongside of them and to help them walk through that situation. And praying the Bible for your teenagers, it starts with them. We can’t expect these parents… We can’t expect the students to do what we’re not doing as parents. If we’re not loving the Lord in worship, if we’re not growing in our own personal walk of fire, kids don’t see us in the word or see us praying with our spouses or praying with them, then why would we expect them to do that? Right? And so we’re teaching them… Like a lot of people don’t know how to pray through the Bible, how to pray the Psalms, and how to use those that God has given us. And so it’s like you’re teaching them, but you’re also equipping them at the same time.

I’ve been bringing in people as well. One of my buddies wrote a book called “Alongside: Loving Teenagers With the Gospel”, highly encourage it, one of the best books I’ve ever read on student ministry, and it’s really new, and he’s extremely practical, will have you laughing and will have you crying. But there are practical things for parents in the book, and then for youth leaders or people who just work in youth ministry. It’s just very simple, very down-to-earth. So highly recommend that.

And then Russell Moore and some guys in the ERLC put together Christ-Centered Parenting, which is dealing with complex cultural issues, and that book is incredible. Whether you’re in kids’ ministry or student ministry, really any season of life ministry, highly encourage you to pick that up; great resource, very, very practical… “Hey, this is how you have a conversation with a kid at this age. This is what you can ask them. This is what you can expect.” And so those are just a few different things. I think that’s it.

How can student pastors get the church to buy into the vision of the student ministry?

Jason Salyer

That’s a great point, because when you’re in a church, what you’re trying to change the culture, it’s different than when you come in and they have that expectation. If you’re in a church and you have a certain job description, you start saying some of the things that we’ve been talking about, then it would be very easy for some of the people in that church to say, “Isn’t that what we pay you for?” Right? But that’s more than just a job description, it’s more than just pragmatism. I wanna tackle this on a couple of different areas, but I’ll deal with the first couple very quickly for time’s sake.

It starts with The Senior Pastor, need to go through it and have conversations with him, a great resource, Richard Ross’s The Senior Pastor and the Reformation of Student Ministry. It’s a great book that if you were to say, “Pastor, I respect your leadership and you swing a big bat in this congregation, now I know I’m never going to be able to out-champion anything than you and I wouldn’t wanna try. So I really want us to have a shared vision here. Would you consider going through this book with me over the course of several months and just discussing it together? That way you knot your hearts a ministry for that. As a staff, Family Ministry Field Guide by Timothy Paul Jones, deals with the issue of breaking down silos, children’s ministry silo, youth ministry silo, college ministry silo, to everyone kind of peeks out of their silo once a week to say, “Do we have any conflicts on the calendar? Great. Alright, let’s go back to our silo.”

Rather than seeing church ministry holistically to the next generation, that’s a great resource. But just… I’m sorry? It’s Family Ministry Field Guide by Timothy Paul Jones. Yep. If you wanna change the culture, just a couple of quick thoughts, I mentioned this to someone earlier, and we take a deep and wide approach, deep meaning that a small rudder can steer a large ship, right? So if you invest in one, two, three families that are getting it and really invest in them. I mean, give them resources, make them your guinea pigs for things, then let them be your spokespeople to the rest of the church, let them be the ones that stay in and give testimony about how this resource or this activity or this process, faith process that they did with their kids change their family dynamics. Antennas are gonna go up all over your congregation when that happens in a way that would never happen if you and I are up there pounding on the podium like it Dwight Schrute trying to get people to listen, right?

Alright, second thing… I had to throw one Office reference in there. Second thing is wide, and this is… I’m gonna give you two very practical ideas. The wide is that you begin what I would call a discovery team process. Try to find a way during church meeting times, Sunday night, Wednesday night or whatever, get with your senior pastor or your church leadership, say, “I need four to six weeks,” depending on how you wanna approach this, but discovery team is that you get together youth workers, children’s workers, parents of youth, parents of children in the same room and you answer one question, “How would we do youth and children’s ministry at this church if all we had was the Bible?” You go through a process… I will leave my They’re just getting into God’s word and discovering it. You’ll have to hold some of them back unless they get a hold of God’s word in there. So that’s the deep and wide approach. The last thing I would say, here’s the softball. I’d thrown so many grenades at you. So here’s one softball I’ll leave you with. Begin with prayer. Tomorrow morning at my church, we’re gonna have the ninth annual Pray For Me Sunday, where adults in the church commit to praying for a specific teenager, they’re in families, groups of adults paired with groups of students, same gender, all that stuff, but they pray for them throughout the whole school year. After that, they can re-up with that same student or they can kind of re-enter and pray for a different student if they want, if they hadn’t really connected or whatever. But that is the biggest softball I could give you. Because what happens when you start praying for someone consistently? Your heart goes out for them, right? And if you start with mentoring, who wants to mentor that skater kid that’s coming in, that kind of smells like pot and everything on Wednesday nights and everything?

“Anybody wanna come up and mentor him?” Your church just kind of studies their shoe laces. But if you say “Who could pray for him?” Hands up all over the place. The more you pray, the more your heart goes out for them. I’ve seen relationships changed. I’ve seen long-term relationships… One of our original students that was prayed for, that was lost when he started off, was just a pallbearer at the funeral of the spouse of the person that began praying for them eight years ago. That happened about six months ago. God works in those relationships. Begin with prayer and see what God does from there. My email will be up here though. I’ll make sure we have it here at Snowbird. If I can be of any encouragement to you doing those resources, email me, our church website at There are dozens of resources on there for parents, not a single one of them have our church name on it, and the reason for that is ’cause I want every church to be able to pick that up and use it with their own logo and their own stuff on it. And if I can be of any help, let me know.

What role, and how much of a role should media have in student ministry?

Ricky Smith

It just depends. So I don’t say that jokingly. There are gonna be varying philosophies related to social media throughout the room, so it kinda just depends on your personal philosophy, on your church’s philosophy, and on your ministry context. So to help you filter through that, I would give you some processes I would recommend you consider. First is you have to determine your rules of engagement. I think you gotta determine this for yourself personally, and you have to determine this for your ministry. There’s three that I see, three possible answers you can give here.

One, I’m gonna retreat from it, and this applies to culture in general, but in social, I could retreat from it, it’s of the devil, I’m not gonna use it at all because it’s all bad. That’s an option that I could consider. I’m gonna immerse myself in it. Just go all-in, use it, abuse it, no filters, no rules, no restrictions. Or the more logical response I think maybe to consider, how do I engage with it? What boundaries do I put in place? How can I use it? What should I use, what should I not use? But you have to determine for you, and secondarily for your church, what are your rules for engagement? Retreat, immerse or engage? Now, let’s just make an assumption, just for the sake of conversation, that you’ve chosen to engage, and now we’ve gotta figure out, “Okay, what do we do with it and what role does it play?”

The first thing I would say then is you have to establish some boundaries, some of those boundaries must be established for you personally, I’ll tell you here’s one boundary I establish for me personally, not saying you have to do this, I never accepted a friend request from a kid, I just didn’t do it. I would accept a friend request from their parent, but I never accepted a friend request from a kid. When they graduated, I would consider doing it. That was just… That was a boundary for me. You’ve got to determine what those boundaries are for you even more so you as your church. This is where a senior pastor’s gotta come in, what are gonna be the boundaries for us as a ministry, this would factor into your child protection policy, this would factor into your social media guidelines for your paid staff and for your volunteers, what are the boundaries that we’re gonna put in place to help you both personally and professionally, and if you wanna talk off-line about what recommendations on those can be, I’m more than happy to help you think through those things or even share some resources with you, but in the sake of time, I think we could move on that.

Secondly though, in this element of engaged, I’m gonna establish some boundaries regardless of what your level of personal engagement would be research culture, if you send an IMB missionary to name the foreign field, they are taught to learn that culture before they really engage deeply. So your kids are using it. So you need to be aware, even to the recommendations in terms of helping parents be aware, be a cultural missionary, research the culture, be aware, and they’re used… They’re not just using Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram. Do you know what After School is, do you know what TikTok is, on now the line, just be aware of what those things are, and then be intentional. Be intentional on how you use it. If you’re gonna choose to use it, obviously, based upon what are those boundaries that are there, do it well. If you’re gonna use it to promote your ministry, if you’re gonna use it as a marketing tool or a communication tool, do it right, we in honoring God, we need to do all things with excellence. So if you’re gonna do it, do it well and less is more.

I would say this one thing we know social media is a marketing tool. Agree? Okay, God did not call you to be a marketer, he called you to make disciples, so when you filter through what your boundaries are and you’re gonna choose to use that, do it wisely and with limitations.

How can a youth pastor align the youth ministry’s vision with the overall vision of the church?

Steve Brooks:

Well, I love how Jason said if when the students asked what church you go to? And they say the youth group over the church, but early on in the ministry, that wasn’t a big priority for me, it’s like, well, the church is not… Like the youth ministry, I know with me being in the church, 22 years in one church, we started going deeper and it’s like, Well, the church isn’t going deep, but we are ’cause we’re coming to Snowbird and we have all these rules for our leaders, and we give them profiles to fill out and we interview, and the church isn’t even doing that. So it’s like, well, okay, that’s fine, let the church do its thing and we’ll do our thing.

And then over the course of all these years, it’s like, well, wait a minute, wait a minute, our students were starting to just rise up as far as understanding things of scripture and the Gospel, and now it turned into this adults feeling intimidated by the students, we literally had adults pulling back from being as involved in VBS, ’cause our students were getting there, and there was a literally pulling back of the adults because they began getting intimidated over the fact that these students knew more spiritually, however, students they may know more spiritually, and then they kinda right, and then we have to teach them, no, no, no. You may know more spiritually in one sense, but you still don’t have the wisdom and you need to respect others. So just seeing that dichotomy happen, I started realizing, no, no, no, we need to move as a church, and I need to back up and start saying, how can we unify and not start thinking, “Okay, what’s the vision of the youth ministry? What’s the vision of our church”? And I literally took… And we worked on the vision of our church, and then I took that vision and overlaid it on the youth, and it became our vision and purpose statement.

The churches became our… And so starting to align, and so even moving to the place of celebrating what things are going on in your church with the students, and then I got this advice early on in youth ministry, I know the youth ministry that I was taking over his… He said, one thing I wanna tell you, any leadership meeting you’re in in the church, anything you go on to staff meetings, he says, you always be ready with a word of encouragement, sharing something inspiring that’s happening in the youth ministry with the students, students come into faith or this happening… You share that, and I do that to this day. Leadership counts as, “Hey, I wanna share about the story about this student coming to Christ and how it happened,” because when you share it with the leadership, now they just got involved and now they’re rooting for the youth ministry and they get so encouraged and then they know what’s going on. That’s a great thing.

Always be ready to share something, not taking over time, but give those things out there and be ready to share. The other thing is John 17, Jesus says, “Hey, may they be one. Just as you and I are one father, and so that the world can know that there’s unity,” if there’s division in the church and there’s division in our staff… You know what Im saying? If we’re just saying, “Well, I’m gonna go do my thing and let them do their thing,” that doesn’t reveal unity to the students, and then we were talking about how students are leaving the church, they’re going to… And they’re like, “Well, I’m not a part of the church, ’cause I was a part of the youth ministry, but I’m not a part of the church.” Well then what do they have after that, ’cause there’s not grown up youth ministries, right. It’s like they just have nothing, the church and the more we align with that, we set them up for success, but that’s a place… And then longevity, I could go on a whole thing with that.

The only way you can stay longevity is to encourage what’s going on as a Church. Yeah, this is happening in the youth, but man, did you see what happened to children’s ministry and then this and how this overlaid and inter-connected and talking with the other staff, how can our students help in this and how can we join in this, but to… And be in a place of submission. And this is the thing, put the health of the church, the health of the bride of Christ, put the health of the church in front of everything and literally have a visual where you say, You know what? It’s about the health of this church.

What’s most healthy for this church, not what will bring me more glory or what will bring the youth ministry, it’s what’s healthy for this church, and if we need to back up as a youth ministry and put the halt on and wait and get to where the point where the adults are growing, then we need to do that, and how can we invest in the church, and there’s so much fruit that comes from that and yes, it may be… It’s tough, it’s a tough thing to balance. And there’s also a lot of submission, and it comes back to, again, the identity, orphan spirit versus a child of God, because we’re like, I’m not gonna get celebrated as much or it’s not my way, it’s not about us. What’s healthy for the church? I’ve even asked, I’ve even had times, You know what, Lord, if it’s more healthy for the church that I move, that I don’t stay at this church anymore, 22 years like I love comfort, but if I need to leave for the health of this church and the ministry, show me, I’m ready, I’m ready to go. Because it’s not about me, and when that’s carried on, you’re not guarding your piece of the pie, it’s like us and always celebrating the other ministries, and how can we be involved and encourage and God honors that and he blesses it. He breaks it, multiplies it, blesses it, and He will honor us in that area as a church.

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