An important aspect of student ministry is student leadership. Every student ministry needs student leaders. When students begin to lead and take ownership within their student ministry amazing things happen. It’s important we give students leadership opportunities instead of just making our staff and volunteers do everything.
But how do we use student leaders in our student ministry? There are countless ways to do this and it will look different in every student ministry. However, there are three key ways we have used student leaders in our ministry that I think can be translated to almost any other student ministry.
Planning. One of the worst things we can do is plan events for students without actually getting any input from students. If we want to have an event that connects well with students we need to know what they want and don’t want. We need to discover what things are popular in their world and what would reach other students in their context. For the past two years we have been using our student leaders in our planning process for events and retreats. It’s been a game changer. Our events and retreats have gotten much better because of this. Don’t be afraid to ask student leaders for their ideas and input. Also, don’t be afraid to give your student leaders ownership over an entire event. We have done this and are planning to do it even more in the future.
Interacting with new students. Our hope should be that all our students are welcoming and interacting with new students when they come into our ministry. We can’t expect every student to do that. However, we can expect our student leaders to do it. When student leaders join the team they should be reminded that they will be held to a higher standard and will be asked to lead in various ways. So one of the things we require all our student leaders to do is to be on the lookout for new students when they walk in. If they see one, they are to go talk to them and hangout with them throughout the night. The phrase we communicate over and over to our student leaders is this – “No student left behind.” We want every student to feel welcomed and to feel like they belong. We don’t want them left alone in any way. This will require a lot of coaching on your part. You may have to remind your student leaders of this every week. But it’s worth it. Students interacting with new students and making them feel comfortable and welcomed is huge!
Teaching. Yes, I said teaching. Don’t be afraid to step aside and let your student leaders do some teaching. This will require you to do a lot of coaching but it is worth it. Walk your student leaders through how they can plan and teach a lesson or a whole series. Give them time to then do that together. Once they are ready give them the stage. Have them teach for a night or a few nights. Students teaching God’s Word to other students is an awesome thing. This may sound risky to some but it’s a risk that’s worth taking. It will help your student leaders grow in their knowledge of the Bible as well as how they can communicate it to others. One of the highlights of this year has been watching our student leaders plan and teach an entire series.
These are just three ways we use our student leaders in our ministry. I’d encourage you to try these three things with your student leaders. Also, don’t just settle for these three. Be creative and find your own ways to use your student leaders.
Communicating the truth of the Bible to teenagers in our culture is not an easy task. To make it even more difficult, the approach that may have worked in the past is not guaranteed to work in the present or in the future. So what do we need to do? Instead of doing what we have always done and expecting new results, we should take a step back and rethink our approach. When it comes to communicating the truth of the Bible we need to ask ourselves, “Is our current method of teaching really working?”
In her new book Storify, Rachel Blom helps us rethink how we communicate to teenagers by promoting a style (or method) of teaching that she refers to as “storify.” Storify is all about “using principles of story to empower our message” (page 15). Later in the book, she says it this way: “Storifying means using the principles of story-the characteristics that make stories so effective-throughout your talk” (page 90). Blom believes that our modern approach to teaching teenagers isn’t cutting it in our postmodern culture, which is also heading towards being a post-Christian culture (if you don’t fully understand the idea behind postmodernism and post-Christianity no worries, Blom does an excellent job at explaining them both and what they look like in this book). In order to teach teenagers effectively in a postmodern culture we must use a postmodern approach. This is where the idea of “storify” comes into play.
As I read through this book, two big ideas kept surfacing. I think these two ideas sum up what Blom is trying to communicate in this book.
First, we must make good use of the element of story as we teach teenagers. Stories are excellent ways to communicate truth in a way that sticks. Blom spends several chapters on the idea of using stories well in our talks. She gives very practical tips on how to use and tell stories in our teaching. This by far was one of the most helpful things for me personally about this book. I often spend too much time and preparation on content while neglecting the time it takes to think about and craft good stories to include in my teaching to better communicate what I’m trying to teach.
Second, we must structure our talks (or messages, sermons, etc.) like a story. A few chapters of the book are dedicated to just this idea. Blom encourages us to think about the structure and flow of stories and how we can follow that same flow and structure in our teaching. This section of the book is sure to rub up against anyone who has taken homiletics courses or read any preaching books by anyone other than Andy Stanley. As someone who has taken many courses in homiletics, read many books on preaching, and tends to take a more traditional approach to preparing and teaching the Bible, this section was tough for me. There where times I loved what Blom was saying and then there were times I am not so happy with what she was saying (probably because what she was saying went right up against my traditional approach that I have been taught and tend to use most of the time). However, I appreciated what she brought to the table on this topic and how she gives a clear argument for the benefit of structuring our talks like a story. I came away with some things to think through and apply in my approach to teaching teenagers.
There has been many books written on the topic of speaking to teenagers. However, Storify challenged me more than any other book on this topic has in awhile. I would highly encourage anyone who regularly teaches teenagers to read this book.
30 Events That Shaped the Church by Alton Gansky. I’ve always struggled to enjoy reading and studying church history. There are aspects of church history that certainly grab my attention but church history as a whole is not a topic I find easy to read or study. However, there have been a few books related to church history that have helped me cultivate a better appreciation and love for church history over time and this was on of those books. In this book the writer, Alton Gansky, writes about 30 events that have shaped the church as a whole. Gansky quickly admits it wasn’t easy picking just 30 events. He says, “Selecting which events to include in this book was difficult…In the end, I believe this is a good sample of key events in church history, drawn from both the distant past and modern times” (page 10-11). I think Gansky does a good job at this. He successfully picks 30 events that gives the reader a well-rounded view of events that have shaped the church into what it is today. What’s interesting about this book though is Gansky didn’t just stick with events that happened “within” the church community. In addition to those types of events, he writes about events that happened “outside” the church community. These events, like the ones within the church, impacted the church in profound ways. This is a great book for anyone who wants an easy, interesting church history related book to read. It’s also helpful to anyone who is interested in how major events in history, both inside and outside the church, has shaped the church as we know it today.
Foreign to Familiar by Sarah Lanier. “Don’t judge a book by its cover” is a phrase you hear often. Many times I have passed up a good book because the cover didn’t grab my attention. This was almost on of those books. I received this book when my wife and I decided to be a part of a ministry called International Friendship Connection. IFC is a ministry that serves international undergrad and graduate students who are in the states studying on a university campus. This book was given to us at a training we went to for IFC. At first glance, I didn’t have a desire to read this book. However, I decided to pick it up and give it a shot and I’m glad I did. In this short book, Sarah Lanier talks about the differences between what she calls “hot climate cultures” and “cold climate cultures.” Lanier says, “The population of the entire world can roughly be divided into two parts. The two groups represented are ‘hot climate’ (relationship-based) cultures and ‘cold-climate’ (task-oriented) cultures” (page 15-16). These two cultural groups have different ways they communicate, manage time and planning, find their identity, and even show hospitality. If someone from a hot climate cultures goes into a cold climate culture and interacts the way they normally do in their hot climate culture they will have a hard time. One must understand the culture they are going into so they can best serve and do life in that culture. In this book Lanier lays out the key differences between these two cultural groups and how one can understand them. It’s defiantly a book that should be read by anyone doing or planning to do cross-cultural missions, whether thats domestic or international, but is also helpful to Christians in general as we seek to serve others in different cultural contexts.
Teaching to Change Lives by Howard Hendricks. This is a book I have always heard great things about but have never got around to reading. I’m glad I decided to finally take it off the shelve and read it. The wisdom that Hendricks shares in this little book is gold. The book is filled with practical insights and principles that help you become a better teacher of God’s Word. In this book Hendricks shares seven laws in regards to teaching: law of the teacher, law of education, law of activity, law of communication, law of the heart, law of encouragement, and law of readiness. In regards to the seven laws, Hendricks says, “If you boil them all down, these seven laws essentially call for a passion to communicate” (page 15). That’s what this book is all about. Helping people who teach the Bible do it with passion, excellence, and skill. This is a great little book that I believe is a must read for anyone who is in a role of teaching the Bible.
This week was our last mid-week gatherings for the school year. Over the summer we take a break from our weekly programs and do other various events throughout the summer months like pool parties, cookouts, and other stuff. We also do mission trips during the summer and this year will be taking our middle school students to Chicago and our high school students to Memphis. We are taking both trips with LeaderTreks. Both of our nights this week were extremely different than normal. You will see this in the details below of what we did this week.
What We Did at Porch (High School)
Pre-Party: We threw a pre-party an hour before the normal start time of our service. We rented a mechanical bull and had Chick-Fil-A and Insomnia Cookies. The pre-party was basically designed to have students come early, hangout, and build excitement for the night.
Worship Set List: In Tenderness (Citizens & Saints), Psalm 18 (Citizens & Saints), Unstoppable God (Elevation Worship), All Things New (Elevation Worship), How He Loves (David Crowder Band), Man of Sorrow (Hillsong), Raised to Life (Elevation Worship), Jesus I Come (Elevation Worship), Oceans [Where Feet May Fail] (Hillsong United), Take the World But Give Me Jesus (Ascend the Hill), and Sweetness of Freedom (Citizens & Saints).
Videos: Now is The Time (Remix) and God Loves You
Highlight: Being able to stand among our students and simply worship. Most nights I’m consumed with my talk or with details of the night so it’s hard to stop and worship with the band. Since all we did this night was have the band lead in worship I was able to stand shoulder to shoulder with our students and sing to Jesus with them. It was a blast!
What We Did at Edge (Middle School)
Intro Video: Street Fighter Bonus Stage in Real Life
Upfront Game: Weiner Head. How could I not play a game with middle school students called “weenier head?” This game requires a bit of prep work but is worth it in the end. You get a few construction hard hats and drill a few lines of screws in them from the inside out. Then you will need to buy hotdogs. Students play in teams of two while one student places the hard hat on their head while the other student throws hotdogs at them. The goal of the game is to be the team with the most hotdogs stuck to the top of your hard hat. Click the link above to read more about this game and to download the graphic we used.
Group Game: Scatterball. We play this game at least twice a month and our students love it. It’s basically dodgeball but with only one ball (we throw in more as the game goes) and when you have the ball you can only take a limited amount of steps. If you get hit you are out and if you catch a ball the person who threw it is out. Click the link above to download the graphic we used for this game.
Teaching: We didn’t really have a talk like we normally do but we did do a short Gospel presentation and gave students a chance to respond. We wanted to end the year off reminding our students of the most important thing ever and that’s the Gospel.
Highlight: Hanging out with students before the service in the inflatables that we had set up. We own a few inflatables as a church so we had a giant slide and bounce house set up for students to enjoy. It was a blast getting to let loose and have fun with them on those.
This week was a big week in our student ministry! On Tuesday night we had Senior Night in our high school ministry where we honored and celebrated our seniors. As you will see, the whole service was pretty much focused on them. Then on Wednesday night we had Edguation in our middle school ministry where we honored our 8th grade students and sent them off to officially become part of our high school ministry. Both nights where incredible!
What We Did at Porch (High School) – Senior Night
Worship Set List: The Ascension (Phil Wickham), All Things New (Elevation Worship), Man of Sorrows (Hillsong), Jesus I Come (Elevation Worship), and Oceans [Where Feet May Fail] (Hillsong United).
Video: 2015 Senior Video
Teaching: Every year for senior night I prepare a message just for our seniors. It’s always something all the students need to hear but it’s specifically for the seniors. This year I did a talk called “4 Questions to Ask Yourself As You Graduate High School.”
Highlight: I have three highlights from this night. First, after my talk I brought all our seniors upfront and had them sit along the stage. Then I asked everyone else to gather wound them and place their hands on them. If they couldn’t reach them they were to touch the person in front of them. Then I opened the floor for our students and leaders to pray over our seniors. For about 5-10 minutes we lifted up our seniors in prayer and it was amazing. Second, we had Porch alumni shirts designed and we gave one to every senior. The shirts looked awesome and the seniors loved them. Third, the worship was incredible! The band rocked, our two seniors in the band were singing their hearts out, and the students in the crowd where going at it. I saw students who normally don’t show any emotion in worship lift their hands and sing their hearts out to God.
What We Did at Edge (Middle School) – Edguation
Opening Video: Worst Doctor Ever
Upfront Game: Lego Lava Walk Challenge. This is something I ran across on Download Youth Ministry. We did it as an upfront game with all our 8th grade students. We spread about eight pounds of legos across the front of the stage and had each 8th grade students walk (or run) across them. We timed each one to see who could do it the fastest.
Video: Edge Announcement Video (this was by far my favorite announcement video to film because of the end – watch it).
Group Game: Scatterball. We play this game a ton in our middle school ministry and our 8th grade students requested it for Edguation. We did a few round for just them and then a few for everyone. It’s basically dodgeball, but with only one ball (we throw a few more in to speed it up) and you can only take up to 3 steps (when it gets down to a few people we let them take as many steps as they want). Click the link above to download the graphic we used for this game.
Teaching: Every year at Edguation I prepare a special message for our 8th grade students. This year I did a talk called “3 Things to Keep First As You Enter High School.” I also did a live interview with one our high school students at the tail end of my talk where we talked about following Jesus in high school. Click here to listen to the talk.
Highlight: Watching our 8th grade students leave the room and walk into a huge crowd of high school students that were cheering for them (and spraying silly string and blowing horns). Then they went to another room where they hangout, talked about our high school ministry, gave them free stuff (Porch shirt, ESV compact Bible, and a invite to Porch).