How do you stay intentional with the students in your small group or youth group?
Matt: To be successful in student ministry you need to be intentional in your relationship and dealings with students. It makes you stand out as someone who cares about them and makes it much easier for a student to come to you with a problem. Human nature makes us seek out people who care as opposed to someone who is just going to listen and nod their head yes or no. During time with students forget about checking your phone for text messages or e-mail.
Here are some other things I do:
- Each week before small group my co-leader and I take a student out to dinner before our group meeting. This is a great opportunity to have some one-on-one time.
- Pay attention to prayer requests each week. Text them during the week and ask how they are doing with issues they asked for prayer, or find time to praise with them when a prayer request has a good result.
- Text your students during the week, ask them how things are going, challenge them with something. Basically make sure they know you’re thinking about them during the week and not just on small group night.
Steven: As we head into the new school year and a new year of small groups, I think this idea of being intentional with students is a great reminder for all of us. Small group is more than just the 2 hour meeting once a week–being intentional is about the other 166 hours. Here’s what I do to stay intentional (other than Matt’s great suggestions above):
- Keep the conversation going! If there was a great question or conversation that started at small group, don’t let it die! Encourage that conversation to continue, either with a quick text, phone call or FaceTime. You can go next-level by taking a student or 2 out to lunch to talk about it.
- Look for opportunities to include students in your everyday life. Going to the grocery store? Invite a student to come along. Washing your car? Go pick up a student and get some free labor and sneak in a good conversation. Intentional time can come from our normal, everyday activities!
- Spend time hanging out with students at church. They’re already expecting to see you at small group, so it’s logical that you could see them at church. It gives you extra time to hang out, and it gives you a glimpse into what they’re hearing during youth group.
How do you develop students in your small group into leaders?
Steven: One of the biggest challenges (but also payoffs) for me is developing leaders in a small group setting. It’s not as difficult a challenge as it may seem, but the payoff in having a hand full of students who develop into leaders is huge.
The first thing I have to keep in mind is that not everyone is called to be a leader. As much as I would love for all 12 of my guys to walk away as leaders, it’s just not how all of them are wired. I only have 3 or 4 right now that I consider to have leader potential–but that’s great! Since there are only a few in the group, the question is how to develop those students without outcasting the others.
For me, leader development happens through one-on-one conversations. One of my favorite things to do is take a student to lunch or coffee and talk about how God is working in them. The thing I always do at the end of those conversations is leave them with a challenge. This challenges them to grow and develops them into the leader that I know they can be. These intentional conversations are the things that I’ve seen the most fruit come from when it comes to leaders.
Matt: In each high school small group that I have led I have very quickly picked out who the leaders were going to be. Being a leader is something that you need to be shaped for and have the ability and drive for. My dad had a saying, “Some people are singers, some people are dancers and some are just meant to sit in the audience.” That’s true with being a leader as well. The tricky part is building and developing those leaders without alienating the others in the group.
I think part of our jobs as leaders is to bring up the next generation of leaders. Once I figure out who I think the leaders are, I’ll have them do a lesson for the group, I’ll use them as my prayer warriors. I’ll ask them to reach out to the others in the group as a resource. I also want them to be a good example for others, that’s part of being a leader.
I want to mentor all of the students in my group, but I also know I need to recognize and build up the leaders as well.
What do you do when you feel like God isn’t using you?
Matt: Sometimes when it seems like God is not using us or we are not having an effect in ministry, you need to step back and realize that God’s plans and God’s timing are often different than ours. I know when I have gone through a season of trouble and turmoil, when I look back at that time I realize that the hand of God was involved the whole time. Sometimes God puts us on the sideline and we have to watch others who are still in the game, and for someone like me that’s not easy to do. But I also know that God uses times like these to grow and stretch our faith. Generally when we come out of a season of sitting on the sidelines we’re better than we were before, we’re more prepared for whatever comes our way and our faith is stronger.
When God is testing you, you don’t get graded on the test. But you do grow from the test. When you feel like God is not using you it might be a time when God is seeing what the next step is for you. Do you keep learning and keep trusting in God during these times or do you sit back and feel sorry for yourself? If you feel God is not using you, how do you know God is not using you in another way? The question is are you open to let God use you in another way? I feel like God has chosen student ministry as my calling, but I have to trust God when He wants to use me in a way might make me feel like I’m not being effective at all.
Steven: A week ago today I left for what would be my 6th year at junior high summer camp. This was going to be the best year yet because 9 of the 10 guys in my cabin were from my 8th grade small group and 8th grade year at camp is always great. I had really high hopes for how God was going to work through me to invoke life change in my students.
In the beginning of the week, I didn’t really feel like God was doing much through me. I couldn’t see much change or effectiveness in my cabin guys, and it was a little discouraging. What was supposed to be a great week of camp was shaping up to be mediocre at best. I thought it was weird that everything was lined up to be so successful, yet God wasn’t living up to his end of the bargain to bring about the change I knew needed to happen. By the end of the week, however, I could easily look back and see how much God had done in my cabin. I was so overwhelmed Thursday night that I couldn’t even process through everything.
The lesson I took away from that week of ministry is that God works through us even when we don’t feel we’re being used. Looking back, it’s plain to see how God used me last week, but I couldn’t have told you that in the beginning of the week. If you feel like you’re not being used by God right now, just wait. God is using you in ways that are bigger than you can realize in the moment.
How do you teach students to read and apply Scripture?
Steven: For me, this question has come up because of a huge change in thinking lately. I’m learning more and more about this topic, but a lot of how I taught before was based on a very typical Sunday-school idea of “read your Bible because it grows your relationship with God.” That’s absolutely true, but I think the way we go about delivering that information to students is often overshadowed by an emphasis on memorizing Scripture and knowing the books of the Bible in order, simply to have that knowledge in our Christian piggy banks.
What seems to be more important to me is teaching students how to interpret the Bible on their own. I don’t always want to give them what I consider to be the “correct” interpretation of Scripture. I want to let them struggle with it a little bit and, if need be, get the interpretation wrong! I think it’s more important for them to want to seek out a meaning of the text for themselves and how they can apply it to their own lives, rather than me feeding them the answer every time.
Matt: Once I learned the application of Scripture to my life the entire Bible changed for me. No longer was it just stories about a guy being swallowed by a whale or a guy building an ark in his front yard and waiting for a flood. Once I understood Paul’s letters in the New Testament and realized that most of those were written while he was in prison, the Bible became a source of relief for me. If Paul could be happy and joyful in prison then certainly I can be joyful in whatever situation I’m going through. The trick for me was teaching students to be able to find Scripture that applies to a situation they are going through.
For the most part when I’m going through a rough time I look in the index for a key word and start researching Scripture. But sometimes I just find it as I’m reading and I realize that God has placed that scripture in front of me. What I try and teach students is to read the Bible and find Scripture during the good times that they can use during the bad times. Joshua 1:9 is one of my favorite verses and reminds me that no matter what God knows what he has planned for me and its for good.
Someone asked me what I thought was the biggest way we as student ministry leaders can impact or influence a student in their daily lives. I thought about it for a minute and as usual I probably over-answered the question. I said I would not limit it to the one most important way but I think these are the five biggest ways in no particular order.
1. Our faith is a beacon to others, especially to students. Your teenage years are a time when you want to emulate others. If I show how strong my faith is, in good times and bad, students see that I have an unshakable faith. Not just faith for the good times in life.
2. We’re examples of how to live a Christian life. I’m not perfect, and none of us is. But I need to show that I live my life the way Jesus told us to and showed us how.
3. Have a heart like Jesus. Being a Christian means loving others, even those who we think have wronged us, those who hate us and those who are non-believers. Serve others, and remember its not all about you.
4. Pray like crazy. We can impact students every day by praying for them. I have a list of my small group students and their struggles and issues. When they call or text and ask for prayer, do it right then. Don’t wait for a convenient time that seems to never come.
5. Be there. Show up. A lot of the students you lead might not have a positive adult role model, someone they can count on and someone who will listen to them. Sometimes just knowing they have someone they can turn to in times of trouble is huge. During these times be a good listener. You can’t fix every problem, but you can be there for them and just let them know, “Hey, I’m here and I care.”