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!

JM

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

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Helping students live sent where they are…

Sentlogo

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).

TAKE ADVANTAGE OF SOCIAL MEDIA

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

GIVE YOUR STUDENTS SOMETHING TANGIBLE

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.

INVITE…INVITE…INVITE…

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.

REMIND THEM THEY ARE SENT

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?

 

JM

 

How to pray when there are no words…

“Dear God, 

Ok Holy Spirit…take over!

Amen.”

 

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.

JM

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!

JM

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.

1. THEY WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU

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…

2. BE CREATIVE

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.

3. THE ROOM DOESN’T NEED ANOTHER PERSON TO WEAR A MASK

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.

4. WRITE IT OUT

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.

WHAT HELPFUL TIPS WOULD YOU GIVE TO A YOUNG COMMUNICATOR IF YOU WERE HANGING OUT OVER COFFEE?

 

JM

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.

JM