Being a Student Pastor in a Money World

A Money World

Let’s be honest (and this may be a new concept to some people) but the world of a student pastor can be quite the juggling experience.  My next 3 posts will be all about the world of the student pastor and the things he or she juggles.  From a student ministry budget, to social media, to just plain business, all these can wreak havoc on the life and effectiveness of a student pastor.

So let’s start with what may be one of the more stressful areas in church life…the student ministry budget.

Here’s my example…My first church was an awesome country church in a small town in West Tennessee.  My memories of the people of that church swell with joy.  My memories of my student ministry budget however, lead me to tears.  Understandably by budget was small, but as we grew our budget did not.  I can clearly remember going into a deacon’s meeting to make a request to purchase pencils for a Wednesday night…PENCILS!!

So how are we supposed to grow and keep up with that growth with a budget (in our minds) that may not meet those needs.  Well…what do you spend your budget on?  Where does it go?  If you’re like me, a majority of you budget goes towards events like camps and disciple nows, as well as mission trips.  So how are we supposed to make our other ministry opportunities excellent if your budget is tied up in those major events.

Allow me to encourage you for just a second, less expensive doesn’t mean less excellent. That is determined by how you approach everything you plan. You can do excellent even if it’s free.

Let me stop for just a moment and be a little transparent…my office administrator will laugh the moment she reads this blog…she knows this is my struggle.  So let’s looks at some areas of the student ministry budget and see where we can still be effective with less money.


Wednesday Nights

I don’t know what your “main event” is for the week in your specific ministry, but I’m going to assume your direct your students to one focal gathering for your students.  Ours is our midweek worship service for students and we want to constantly make what we do on Wednesday nights better and the struggle is how we can effectively use our budget to enhance our midweek worship experience.

This is just a list of things that make up our Wednesday nights and where we spend our money.

Series Design: If we spend money on our message series design it may be on fonts or subscriptions to to sites where we can download images for backgrounds.  There are websites where you can download fonts for free (just make sure they are relevant and current).

Stage Design: Hello Pinterest!  Pinterest is FILLED with ideas that can help spark the creative juices in your mind.  Pinterest isn’t there for you to steal other ideas, but to learn and inspire you create something awesome for your ministry.

Games: If you have students who love games, may I suggest Jimmy Fallon or Hollywood game night.  There are great examples of free or cheap games you can incorporate into your specific ministries.

Other Events

Like it or not you have to do more stuff with your students other than Summer camp, disciple now, and a mission trip.  So how can you do these things without breaking the back?

Well, remember when you were a kid and you had to play outside with your friends?  What were some of the things you did them? We used to play whiffle ball, kickball, basketball, and football.  Why not play some of those games?  Those are extremely inexpensive.

You could also do something like a Messy Game night, go bowling, or have a pool party at someone’s house.  Then have another pool party and just call it a Luau…that’s sneaky…and cheap.


Getting the word out can be expensive sometimes, but it doesn’t have to be.  Your students are on social media…well, most of them are.  If your student ministry is in the social media world too, then getting the word out can be absolutely free. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc..

Email is free too, it just takes time to gather everyone’s information.

If printed information is a must, then I would encourage you to go to places like Next Day Flyers. This is an inexpensive place for you to get a large amount of printed material (post cards, flyers, posters, etc.) at a not so expensive price.


Student Ministry can be expensive, and some events are simply going to cost money for you and your students, but I want to encourage you to be creative.  Just because you are finding ways to cut the cost in some areas, it doesn’t mean that you have to expect less from those events or experiences.  Make a list of what you do in your ministry…where can you use your budget more creatively and effectively?

What are some things you have done to cut costs for your students?



Dear Student Pastor: Part 2

Fight the urge to be something you’re not.

We now live in the land of skinny jeans and flannel and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.  In fact I love flannel…not so much skinny jeans (because I’m not skinny).  I think if I were skinny I would still wear Levis 508s (if they’re on sale) because I just like them. I’ve actually been waiting on fashion to catch up with me. Well that’s not true, because I’ve never really been that fashionable, just ask my wife.  She met me when I was wearing pleated khaki’s and big shirts from Abercrombie and she still married me (she has no one to blame but herself).

The fact is this…I’ve always tried to be who I am no matter what.  Students still make fun of what I wear (that probably won’t change), but that doesn’t really bother me because I’m still being true to who God is making me to be and I’m positive students see that.  I hope they see that I am trying my best to be authentic in a world filled with masks.

Dear student pastor…don’t try to be something you’re not just to fit in with the culture of your students…It won’t make them listen to you more!  If you’re a khaki’s and polo kind of guy…rock it.  If you are really an Instagram full of coffee and Bibles kind of guy, then go be caffeinated and well read with the best of ’em.  But don’t go do these things in order to impress your students, all-the-while allowing inauthenticity to run rampant.

Student ministries are filled with students not striving for authenticity in their relationships with others or with God, and I can’t help but believe that a lot of that is our fault, because we aren’t being true to who God is creating us to be.

It’s ok to be you.  It’s ok to listen to Petra in your office.  It’s ok to not fit in a culture that is not your culture.  It’s not ok to be someone you’re not while trying to lead students to an authentic relationship with Christ.

After 15 years in this game, I’ve learned that students love people who are real with them. And they’re ok with us being nerds and weird, because they’re just as weird in they’re own way.

Enjoy being you with your students today!


Dear Student Pastor (Part 1)

I’ll admit it…it’s getting more difficult every day to pastor students today.  I think it’s this growing difficulty that is causing student pastors to change their mentality of ministry or even in some cases it’s caused pastors to change who they are.  Believe me, I know those urges, but I think it’s something that we have wrestle with if we’re going to continue to lean into the lives of students.

My next few posts will be specifically to student pastors as encouragement to not just lead, but to lead strong.  In order to do this, there are some things we have to overcome.

FIGHT THE URGE: To Tippy-Toe Around Certain Topics In Order to Not Upset Students or Parents.

I think it’s important for to remember what we have been called to do.  The world of a student is complicated and we are supposed to partner with parents and lean into the lives of their student(s) with the love of Christ.  But for some reason, we have equated leaning into the lives of students with encouraging, but not challenging.

The last thing we want to do is upset someone.  We don’t want them to be mad at us, and to some degree, we don’t want them mad at God; so we speak to them and craft messages that may be excellent and biblical, but we avoid topics that may challenge a lifestyle and/or decisions they are making.  We avoid topics like homosexuality and abortion with students because we think they can hear that on Sundays from the pulpit. We would rather speak on topics like missions and how to live a radical life, and avoid topics that may cause heartburn.  If this is your mentality you are mis-understanding the task at hand, because avoiding (or ignoring) hard topics could very well lead to tolerance and acceptance of sin.  Let’s be transparent for a second, how many of you have students who have friends who struggle with Same Sex Attraction (SSA) and instead of speaking truth into their lives with love and truth, they avoid the topic and show acceptance of both the sin and the lifestyle?

How will students know how to lovingly lean into the lives of those struggling with SSA, or even someone who is thinking about having an abortion, if you haven’t been speaking the truth of the Scripture into their lives.  It’s not an “every-once-in-a-while” conversation, because these topics are shaping culture.  We must speak truth while encouraging students to reshape the culture they live in by that same truth which has so radically changed our own lives.  This is the truth that breathes life into the dead.

It’s not a bad thing to be bold.  It’s not a bad thing to speak truth.  It’s not a bad thing to speak truth into a culture that is confused as to what truth really is.

Some topics aren’t as controversial: Sports, time management, the stuff we listen to, the things we tweet. Challenge students on some of these topics and see what happens. I promise you’ll get some huffing and puffing and maybe even an unfollow or two on Twitter. But if you don’t challenge them, who will?

Dear Student Pastor, don’t tippy-toe…walk normal and speak loudly!


What are some topics we avoid as to not offend students and parents?

Helping students live sent where they are…


One of the more nerve-racking experiences for a student (and adults for that matter) is sharing their faith with others.  I wish I was exempt from this feeling, but I’m not…neither am I exempt from sharing my faith simply because I’m afraid of what others will think of me.  As someone who leans into the lives of students for a living, I believe I am supposed to help them, encourage them, and show them how we can help with the task of sharing the Gospel with those around us less terrifying.

I’m not about to offer a discipleship strategy or a message series on how to share the Gospel, but I do have a few ideas on ways we can encourage our students to make much of Jesus and share their faith with their friends without the use of “Jesus is my Homeboy” t-shirts (pet peeve…Jesus didn’t raise from the dead to be your homeboy…He did that to be your only hope for salvation).


Twitter, Facebook, Vine, Snapchat, Instagram…This is the world of a teenager and it is literally at their fingertips.  It doesn’t take long to scroll down someone’s timeline to see what is important to them.  Just look at their “instas” or read some of their retweets and you’ll pretty much know what’s going on in their lives.  They’re an open book and they don’t even know it.

What if we helped students use these social media outlets as tools to invite their friends to church or promote what’s going to happen on a Wednesday night in your student ministry…or even share the Gospel.  Create a special hashtag to promote a series or an event and encourage your students to tweet with that hashtag…for example:

Christ  died, Christ rose, He’s coming again!  #noONEgreater

It may be my naivety, but I believe we can use social media to make much of Jesus.

**Warning:  This will work better if you avoid all the Facebook drama


Invite Cards:  Do you have a special series coming up or an event, create a card and put it in the hands of students.  Believe it or not, a few of them will actually hand them out.  Handing out these cards may possibly begin a spiritual conversation where students can share the Gospel.

The LifeBook:  This is a great FREE resource that students can take to school and hand to their friends and talk with them about the hope they have in Christ.  It gives a brief synopsis of the Old Testament and then entire Gospel of John.  It also includes answers that students may ask pertaining to different passages.


Sometimes all it takes is a gentle reminder.  Encourage your students to continually invite people to your worship gatherings or events.  I am not encouraging students to invite their friends to come and see anything, but do want them to invite their friends to come and know Jesus.

I’ve always been told, “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.”  If this is the case then I want students squeaking all over the place.  The likelihood of guests just showing up are slim…your chances are better if they are invited.


Sometimes we need to be reminded that we are a sent people, and the best way to be sent is to live sent.  When we believe in Christ, the commission of Christ is grafted into our spiritual DNA.  It’s more that what we are supposed to do, it’s who we are supposed to be.  If we are going to encourage students to live sent, then it’s up to us to help them overcome the anxiety that may come with sharing that salvation comes through Jesus alone in a world that believes there’s more than one way to get anywhere.

Train your students…help your students…send your students.

How are you encouraging and helping students live sent where you are?




No one really asks what I’m listening to…

…but I’m going to share it with you anyway.  Why?  Because I believe my life and my ministry need really good music.



Ben Rector: The Walking In Between

I can not listen to this album enough.  Whether I’m at the house reading, studying in my office, or riding in the car, at some point I will be listening to this album.  “Life is not the mountain tops, it’s the walking in between, I like you walkin’ next to me.” Thank you Ben!  I don’t know you, but I would assume we would be pretty good friends.



Andy Mineo: NeverLand

Anyone who can put FUBU and Chewbacca in the same prose has a gift.  Maybe you’ve never heard of Andy or maybe you’re a part of the underground 116 movement, either way this would be a great album for your playlist.  It’s a staple for us while we wait in the drop off line at school.  Not sure what Yeye’s teacher thinks when she walks in saying, “Say I won’t rock FUBU sucka!”

I would include more, but for the past two weeks, this is all I’ve listened to.  Seriously…that’s it.  Well, except for the NEEDTOBREATHE iTunes radio station (which still includes Ben Rector).

Seriously Ben, I’m in Nashville quite a bit…yes, I like coffee…yes, I like to talk…have you’re people call my people!

What can you not stop listening to?


How to pray when there are no words…

“Dear God, 

Ok Holy Spirit…take over!



Sometimes we can’t adequately say what we want to say.  That’s where I have found myself recently.  “God, you know my heart and my mind…you know what I struggle with and my frustrations…Spirit speak for me now because I don’t have the words nor the energy to express them myself.”  Then I just sit there in silence knowing the Spirit is working…and I believe that’s ok.

So how do you pray when there are no words…you concede to the Spirit who is speaking for you.


Staying Creative in Student Ministry

If I am completely honest with you, ministry can be monotonous at some times.  The same can be said for weekly message preparation, but I don’t believe it always has to be.  I’m of the mind being created in the image of God means He shares certain attributes with us, and one of my favorite attributes of God is His creativity.  In essence we were created to be creative for His glory…I like that.

I have to keep this in mind when studying, preparing, and dreaming for messages or message series.  There’s a lot involved in prepping for these things but I love the fact that I can dream big dreams because that’s how we are designed.  My encouragement for student pastors would be to dream big when studying and developing a message or series.

Here are just a few helpful thoughts that have helped me along the way:

DON’T BE AFRAID TO GAIN INSPIRATION FROM OTHERS – There’s absolutely nothing wrong with being inspired by the works of others.  There is; however, everything wrong with stealing from others.  Some give full freedom to use whatever you want to, but that’s not a universal rule for everything you find online; but I do believe you can be inspired by someone else’s creativity.  Let’s be honest, Pinterest is a great resource.  If you’ve been avoiding Pinterest like the plague for fear of what men with mustaches might think of you, then it’s time to grow yourself a beard and join the movement.  Go take a gander at my boards if you feel the urge.

READ SOMETHING THAT STIRS YOUR IMAGINATION – History, a biography, fiction…what stirs your imagination?  I like to sit down next to a fire and read some good fiction.  Right now I’m reading The Fiddler’s Gun by A.S. Peterson, but I also enjoy anything by Ted Dekker.  It’s fun to get lost in a world that is not your own while living the life of another, even if it is only for a glimmer of time.  The sole purpose of this is to remain creative.  I’m good with reading books that are helpful for your line of work, but that can sometimes get stale and stunt creativity.  It’s when I’m imagining that I find myself being more creative, so enjoy some books that bring about something new.

LISTEN TO NEW MUSIC – Sometimes it’s a good thing to try something new.  I for one get a little tired of listening to the same thing all the time…unless it’s overwhelmingly good.  I’m just saying try it, if you don’t like it move on, but sooner or later you will find someone else to add to your playlist.  I really like listening to strong song writers like Ben Rector, Andrew Peterson, Aaron Ivey, and NEEDTOBREATHE, but sometimes I branch out and find something different that I don’t normally listen to like Justin Timberlake (I’m late to the party) or Bruno Mars (amazing voice, lyrics need a little toning down).  I would also suggest getting Spotify and listening to some of their suggestions (then going out and buying some of that artists music).  Spotify can be a great resource for trying something new.

HAVE A CHANGE OF SCENERY – Get up and get out of the office!!  If you’re always looking at the same wall, same art, same desk, same books, it’s no wonder you’re creative genius is stumped!  Get up and go somewhere.  A park, a local coffee shop, your back yard, a movie (this serves two purposes); I don’t care where, but get up and go!  You’re office can be a lonely, boring place sometimes…make it interesting!

CARRY AN “IDEA” NOTEBOOK WITH YOU – You never know when you’re going to be hit with the greatest idea ever!  We all have one of those ideas that would be revolutionary, but we forget it within 10 minutes never to be thought of again.  Sooner or later I’ll have one too, but I’m gonna write it down.  I also like to draw out designs and write down quotes that would go great in a message or a series.  I never know when I’m going to be inspired, so it’s good to have something to record that inspiration in.

KEEP THE GOSPEL AT THE CENTER – Don’t lose sight of this one.  You can be the most creative person in the world (and you may even see fruit from your creativity), but it’s in vein if you forget the Gospel.  Are you trying to show others how creative you are or are you showing others how creative God is!  Let’s face it, there’s nothing more out of the box then God becoming flesh to save His creation and bring them back to Him.  That’s the story we are telling…nothing more, nothing less, so do not believe the lie that you can make it more creative and pretty!

Stop saying you’re not creative!  You’re the most creative person I know, so use it for God’s glory!  Maybe these will help you…maybe they won’t…but at least give it a try!  You have been created in the image of God…be creative!


What helps you be creative?

4 Thoughts on Preparing a Message for Students…

As a student pastor, there are a few things I run through when prepping for Wednesday nights or the occasional Sunday morning.  I’m sure every student pastor has a list of some kind, but I would like to share a few thoughts that help me when I’m preparing a message for students…so here goes.


I want you to feel the weight of that statement.  I think we might have the tendency to read that and think, but I want them to hear from Jesus.  Well that’s extremely super Christian of you and point well taken, but a majority of your students are not showing up on Wednesdays and Sundays to hear from Jesus…they simply don’t think that way.  They’re there to hear the music, play the games, hear what you have to say, socialize with their “bros in bro tanks,” or hear about what’s coming up on the calendar.

I’m reminded of what Paul wrote to the church in Corinth…”follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.”  Your students are coming to hear you…your students care about what you have to say…therefore, you must follow the example of Christ and speak the words of Christ so they can follow you as you follow Him.  If you are with Christ, then your students will hear from Christ…


Allow me to preface this by saying this is probably my favorite part of preparing messages or a message series.  I love designing logos and setting up rooms to match, but I also love finding scripture and allowing that to fuel my creativity.  We can spend an unnecessary amount of time discussing the pros and cons of topical or expository preaching, but here’s what I believe…the Gospel knows no bounds.  Whichever way you decide to go with a message or series, pick a direction and go with it.  Stage design, lighting, logos, handouts, worship set…you can be as creative as you want with these things, or you can let someone else be creative for you.

Warning…you can be uber creative and still miss the importance of the Gospel.  Be creative, but keep Christ at the center.


Fight the urge to be someone you are not in order to gain the ear of the listener.  BE AUTHENTIC.  Students can spot a fake, so while you’re preparing your message, make sure it is factual and make sure it is coming from an authentic heart.

Refer to my first point…they want to hear you!  So if they are hearing someone who is trying to be someone they are not, they will either become fake with you or they will right you off.


Evernote, Penulitmate, or a journal, it makes no difference, but you should write out what it is you are trying to say.  I understand this isn’t for everyone, but I believe this allows you to flesh out ideas as you find the single point you want your students to walk away with (FYI…if your students aren’t walking away with a single point, then you are missing it).  I encourage you to write out what you want to say word-for-word.

Once you’ve done this…review…outline…teach!

Yes…it takes time to write or type it all out, but the rewards are great.


* Again, these are just thoughts that help me as I prepare.  I don’t always get them right and sometimes I ignore them (to my own detriment), but hopefully you can find some use for these as I have.




The struggle…


…There is a struggle between words and thoughts on a day like today.  The struggle comes, mostly due to the fact words cannot truly express my thoughts so I sit in silence and struggle with emotions that run wild, because I simply do not know what to say.  It’s not like people were waiting around for me to say something profound to bring resolution to their struggling minds, but I was…I was waiting for my own words of truth and comfort.

I was in my car holding a dog in my lap as my family was driving around Knoxville running an errand.  As has become the norm, Twitter broke the news.  Two bombs had just exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon.  My mind immediately rushed to a beautiful day in September 2001.  I can guarantee I’m not the only one who thought the same.  Life as we know it changed that day and my mind found itself on the edge of thinking the same thing.  Is this another one of those America altering events.

Without a doubt many are broken for life that was lost and the carnage of so many injured.  We seek answers and maybe restitution.  Whomever is responsible for disaster deserves disaster.  But how do I respond as a follower of Christ?  How do I love?  How do I help?  What can I do?  Only one thing comes to mind…Love God deeply.  It’s only in that love I find hope for those affected by this tragedy.  It’s in His grace I find hope for us all.

Trust in the Lord with all of your heart, lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight. – Ps. 3:5-6

I don’t have answers (outside of the fact we are broken and in need of restoration); therefore, I cannot lean on the things I understand, but I can trust in the Lord.  This is the answer I need…this is the rest for my struggle.


The Ever-Widening Gap…

I was reading through a Parenting Teens (by LifeWay) today and I came across an article about Teenagers and the secrets they keep (The Culture of Secrets: Cynthia Hopkins).  As I was reading through it she made a comment that is all too real: “Teenagers are basically the same now as they were when you were their age, it’s just that the dividing line between what their friends know about them and what you know about them is ever-widening.”  Teenagers have always had secrets and social media plus the lack of parent involvement in social media allow students to talk freely about life without parental interruption.

Here are some enlightening facts about students and social media Hopkins collected after asking this question, “What is one thing your parents don’t know about your use of social media?:

  • They don’t know about my Twitter account
  • They don’t know I’m on Instagram
  • I have quite a few accounts
  • I talk to guys (obviously a girls response)
  • I’m on there a lot more than they think
  • I block them (students are blocking their parents from viewing their updates
  • I cuss on Twitter
  • I talk to people I’ve never met
  • I’m on when I should be sleeping
  • 36% of those churched teenagers also admitted to having engaged in sexting

As a parent, can you give me a summary of the following social media apps?

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Snapchat
  • Instagram
  • Vine
  • Chatroulette

Now let’s look at them again…

  • Facebook: for friending and provides private chat windows and messaging
  • Twitter: for following anyone and provides a direct messaging option
  • Snapchat: pictures are taken and sent and will disappear after a set time limit (I think you can imagine how this can be dangerous)
  • Instagram: nothing is hidden on Instagram
  • Vine: Instead of sharing pics, you share 6 second videos
  • Chatroulette: designed to help you meet new people. “They RANDOMLY pair you with strangers from around the world for video chatting. Sexual content, especially nudity and pornographic behavior are common on these sites” (Hopkins). THIS ONE IS DANGEROUS

I wish I could say this was all of them, but the list seems to be limitless.  There are so many ways for your teen to be private and this is what I want you to know…as a parent it is ok for you to invade their privacy.

What can you do? Well, Cynthia Hopkins gives you some helpful tips…

  • Communicate: It’s more then when you first allow them on the internet or give them their first cell phone…it’s a continual conversation.  “Don’t just talk, listen” (that’s some great advice).
  • Do your own research: “Don’t count or your kids to educate you on social media, because they’re only going to tell you what they want you to know.” (Convicting)
  • Check their phone randomly, or their browser history
  • Look for warning signs: spending days and nights online or texting…grades suffering…easily angered or sad.
  • Encourage your teen to use technology for good

Thank you Cynthia Hopkins for writing this article.  Such a help for parents in this sea of technology.

If you would like to read the whole article, feel free to come by the office and pick up a copy of Parenting Teens.