Raising The Bar

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Have you ever had someone challenge you? I remember when my high school baseball coach challenged me. I was a junior, and I asked him what it would take for me to play college baseball. He told me, “Adam, you’re too small to play in college.” My 6’3, 165-pound self could’ve gone two ways. One, I could’ve taken it as my coach not believing in me. Two, I could’ve taken it as him raising the bar and challenging me to gain weight so I’d have a better chance of playing at the next level.

I chose to view it as a challenge.

In ministry, so many times adults lower the bar for students when it comes to serving. I believe that students will rise to the standard we set for them. If we don’t give them something significant to do, they will never fully understand what demonstrating God’s love to the world is all about. Also, if we don’t believe students can put others first through serving, they never will.

At Rock Point in Chattanooga, we want every student that comes through our doors to have the opportunity to serve. We call them “Student Impact Volunteers.” These students serve alongside adult volunteers in our Family Ministry environments (middle schoolers can only serve in preschool or children’s environments, not middle or high school). We treat Student Impacters the same way we treat adult volunteers. They just have different responsibilities.

When we launched this, we were surprised by the number of guys who wanted to serve, especially middle school guys. It’s true! These are the same guys who want to grow beards and claim that they were born to play Call Of Duty.

I believe if you…

  • ask middle school students to consistently show up each week
  • empower them to lead activities
  • and motivate them to engage with kids

…you will see what it’s like to fuel the next generation to be the church. Students want to be a part of something bigger than themselves. They want to do something valuable, and they want to be valued in the process.

Here’s a story of this in action: A while back, a dad and I had a conversations about his teenage son not talking with him unless it was about video games. Last week he shared with me, “You won’t believe it! Out of the blue, on the way home from church, my son shared with me something about him serving.” The son told his dad about a boy named Dee who was in the classroom he served in. Dee was shy. The son said, “Dad, now I get why they need us every week in Waumba Land (our preschool environment). It’s because these kids need us to be consistent. Dee’s shy and doesn’t talk to anyone. But today he played with me, and I made him laugh! It’s because Dee sees me every week.”

This is one story of many. Students feel significant when we raise the bar and give them something significant to do. Middle school students’ leadership skills are raw and need to be managed. But if we take the time, invest, and empower them, the potential is not only unlimited—it’s unstoppable.

So what’s your one step? Give students an opportunity to serve in your church.

Start doing it as soon as you can!


Adam Roberson the Director of Student Ministry at Rock Point Church in Chattanooga, TN. He has a keen awareness of what the world throws at students. He has a heart to help them fight through it and see the difference living for God can make in their lives. Adam and his wife, Monica, live in Chattanooga with their two boys, Jackson and Beckham, and have baby number three on the way.

The Visitors

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I’m a big fan of the Atlanta Braves, Pearl Jam, and Denzel Washington. I’m also a big fan of having a place for students who show up for the first time.

When I was at North Point, when first timers showed up alone—or with a member of the opposite sex—we had a place for them after the service called On Deck. At the end of our large group environment, the speaker or host would say, “Hey, if you’re here for the first time, or you simply don’t know where to go next, come up to the front and I’ll let you know what to do.” As the crowd dispersed, we had a person or two that owned this process. They greeted the newcomers, asked them questions, and helped them feel comfortable.

Let’s say we had three new students at On Deck. The host would start the process by having a normal conversation with them. “What’s your name? Where do you go to school? What kinds of things are you interested in? What did you think of tonight?” It wasn’t a business meeting—it was more like a casual, welcoming chat. Then the host described the small group process: “So…this is how this whole thing works: Every week we have a program that was kind of like the one you just saw. There’s some fun stuff, some music, and someone shares a talk. Then our entire crowd disbands into small groups. We’d love to link you up with a group for several reasons. First, we think you’ll love your small group leader. Second, you’ll get to meet some new people. Third, you’ll get an opportunity to talk about what you just heard. It’s great. You’ll love it! If you don’t love it, we have dinner afterwards. So at least you get free food out of it.”

Then we asked each new student to fill out a profile, which is a fancy way of saying information sheet. This helped us determine which groups to place them in (our groups joined students that were same gender, grade, and area/school). In addition to gathering basic info, we asked students to list hobbies, interests, etc. Sometimes interests led to a better match than geographic region. Occasionally the best fit for a student was to not be with people from his or her school. Those were things we wanted to be aware of. And a profile, along with a conversation, helped.

Finally, we communicated the next step. We let our new students know that when they came back next week, we’d have an awesome group for them to join.

Overall, the process bought us a week to discuss and pray about which group would be best for the new student, which was huge. It could be helpful for you, too.

So what’s your one step? Create a place for first-timers.

 

The Recruit

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Today is the day for you to recruit a new leader. Here are five ways:

 #1. Start with your best current leaders. If you have some leaders that are doing an incredible job, they may be your best resource for finding more leaders. There have been times when I’ve approached an all-star volunteer and said, “Open up your phone. Scroll through your contacts. I need more leaders like you. Who are your best friends?” If it’s a couple, I ask them, “Which couples do you hang out with the most?” Most great people are great because of who they align themselves with. I want those people as leaders in my environment.

 #2. Don’t be afraid to ask. I wouldn’t rule out the following people:

  • A mom or dad with four kids.
  • People with highly successful businesses.
  • People who travel as part of their business (one of my best former leaders was a pilot).

You get the idea. If you think someone would be great for your environment, all you have to do is ask. The worst thing that can happen is they say no. But don’t just sit around and wait on people to come to you. You make the first move.

 #3. Cast vision like your life depended on it. When you see great people who you think would be great leaders in your environment—and you get an appointment with them—take it seriously. Now’s your chance. Don’t just talk about expectations. Don’t just talk about how fun your student ministry is. Talk about the heart of student ministry in general:

  • High school and middle school are crucial times in a person’s life.
  • As much as students put up a tough front, they are deeply impacted when they know an adult cares about them.
  • It’s extremely difficult to be a student these days. Imagine if there were a handful of students that knew you believe in them.
  • You have the opportunity to develop relationships with students, which will enable you to have influence in their lives.
  • Some of these relationships will last longer than just middle school or high school. If you do it right, you’ll be having conversations when they’re in college, and you’ll be a part of their weddings.
  • You will grow in your own faith. There is nothing that strengthens your faith like serving and leading others.
  • You will build awesome friendships with other leaders.

#4. Don’t get locked in to a certain “type” of leader.  There are two extremes when it comes to recruiting volunteers—a door that’s locked too tight, and a door that’s open too wide. I’ve talked to student pastors who were convinced they had to have all college students as small group leaders. That makes sense—college students are young and cool. On the other hand, I’ve met student pastors who allow anybody be a leader.The door is open waaaaaaay too wide!

You have to have standards. There is nothing more important than the quality of your leaders. But quality can be found in college-aged guys and dads in their 40’s. When I think about some of the best leaders I’ve seen through the years, there hasn’t been a predictable profile. It’s been about leaders who know and love their students. That’s about it.

#5. Pray, pray, pray! You may rotate the things you pray about concerning your ministry. One thing I’d make sure remains constant and consistent: praying for your leaders. Pray for the right leaders in your environment. Pray for enough of them.  Pray for your existing leaders—their hearts, their relationships, and their walks with God. Pray for their relationship with new students and old. Pray for your relationship with them. And then—don’t stop praying!

So what’s your one step? Recruit a new leader.

Star of The Show

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You ever watch Extreme Makeover: Home Edition on ABC? Ty Pennington runs around like a crazy man while local construction crews do ridiculous interior and exterior improvements on homes for less fortunate families and schools.

 There’s always a person or family who is the “Star” of each episode. And usually they have an exceptionally heartbreaking or inspiring story. Then the Extreme Home Makeover bus pulls up and sends them on a vacation while their house gets completely remodeled and rebuilt.

 My favorite part is when the family returns and the whole town comes out to watch as the new house in unveiled. I cry. Every. Single. Time.

What if you did that for your children’s pastor every once in a while—made him or her the “Star” of the show? You don’t have the time or resources to remodel their house, but you can do something that helps them. Start by asking yourself this question:

 What is one thing I could do one time that would provide one huge boost for my children’s pastor?

 Let’s break that down…

…One thing

…One time

…One huge boost

It needs to be something within your power. It needs to be something that you can pull off successfully. And it needs to be something that, after it’s completed, the children’s pastor will feel, as we call it in the church world, “blessed.”

 You’re smarter than me, but here are five ideas to get your brain in motion:

  1. Gather your students and improve or repair some part of the children’s area at your church.
  2. Have five or six of your students write the children’s pastor a note to thank him or her for working with kids, especially their siblings.
  3. Help your children’s pastor coordinate a big push to get more volunteers.
  4. Allow your student ministry to sponsor their summer VBS. Get your students involved. Make it part of your student ministry summer calendar.
  5. Put on a fundraiser to buy something special for the children’s department.

So what’s your one step? Do one thing to serve your children’s pastor.

Pulling The Ripcord- Jason Carr

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I’ve been to conferences that talk about all the great things going on in the church. And that’s awesome—I love knowing that the church is thriving and healthy. But I’ve yet to go to a conference where people stood up and talked about how their ministry is falling apart and their staff can’t get along. For the most part, we see the good, but we don’t always see the real. Which makes sense, but it could lead us into thinking that others have it better than we do.

But let’s keep it real, shall we? Things aren’t always great, are they? Sometimes you have trouble getting along with the people you work with…right? (It’s okay, you can admit it). Sometimes you hit a wall personally or professionally. Sometimes your ministry feels more like a job than a calling.

I spend time with lots of different student pastors, and it’s insightful to hear stories of what happens behind the scenes. Many of them are struggling with their leadership, their culture, and their calling. That might be you.

Maybe you feel like it’s time to pull the ripcord and escape the situation. Maybe you wonder if you’re going down with a sinking ship. Maybe you feel hopeless or discouraged, but you assumed this is the way ministry is supposed to be.

We all have tough spots and weaknesses, and the enemy desires to capitalize on them by destroying relationships and church cultures. It has the potential to severely dilute our impact. Our volunteers feel it. Our families feel it. The ripples of our struggle go much further than we realize.

If you’re struggling, what can you do?

There’s no easy answer. But here’s one practical step that may help you gain clarity in your frustration.

Pray for an advocate.

 Make it a priority to ask God for a friend, mentor, coach, or counselor who can journey with you. Ask for someone who can help you discern your situation. That person might already be there, but your willingness to ask might open your eyes to see it more clearly. Taking dedicated time to pray will help you intimately invite the Lord into your situation and cause you to lean into Him more.

So much of our frustration in ministry comes from lack of communication, bad assumptions, and misinterpreted meaning. Having a healthy line of communication to process frustration is a game-changer. Without it, you feel lost and abandoned. Make a plan to clearly share what you’re going through to the right person.

So what’s your one step? Pray for an advocate.

You don’t have to pull the ripcord, friends. This season may be a precursor for something special God is doing. Your struggle might just be the thing that causes a culture shift that leads many to His Kingdom. Praying that He will give you wisdom to navigate this season in a way that honors Him.


Jason Carr is a writer, speaker, consultant, and coach for many on the front lines of reaching the next generation of leaders, students, and volunteers. His company, Legacy Now, serves individuals, churches, and organizations doing relational ministry. His greatest passion is to challenge and inspire others to live a legacy for His Kingdom. You can track with Jason at http://www.legacynow.me.

Razor Sharp

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I love the following verse because it’s so impeccably straightforward and clear:

As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another. (Proverbs 27:17)

Nine words: a principle anda visual illustration. Ridiculous!

If the verse said, “As iron sharpens nickel, so one person sharpens a different person,” that would be a little more confusing. You’d have to figure out which person represents which element of the Earth’s outer core.

But it doesn’t say that. Instead, it emphasizes the value of having two like-minded people spurring each other on. With that being said, I cannot overstress the importance of having friends who are in the same field. People who:

  • Love students.
  • Want to engage teenagers with clear, effective, creative, and authentic programming.
  • Want to do God-honoring student ministry.
  • Don’t want to quit.

I think you need some iron in your professional life.

Right now, I can think of 4-5 student pastors around the country who are doing a great job of this. Not because they have so manypeople in their network, but because they’re doing such amazing things with their small network. They lean in to people in the same field. They connect instead of compete.

In addition to idea-sharing, brainstorming and encouragement, here are a few other perks:

  • Events. In the last couple months, I’ve seen two situations where multiple student ministries have united to go to an event. One was for a ski retreat, and the other was joint registration for summer camp. The benefit for students: more people to get a crush on. The benefit for student pastors—budget reductions. Think about it:

Split cost on travel = A happier budget

This past winter I spoke at a retreat that was birthed out of a network. Two of the student pastors went to college together. Three or four smaller churches in the area joined the party. The alignment was impressive.

  • Contacts. We all know it’s way easier to pull off basically anything when you have the right people. I’ve had conversations that have gone like this:

“Hey, I want to open Sunday night with a rap song, but I don’t know anyone who’s great at that.”

“Bro, I know the perfect guy (or girl). I’ll send you a YouTube link and their cell phone number. They would love the opportunity to perform at more places and get their name out.”

So what’s your one step? Reach out to another student pastor.

If you already have student pastor friends in your network, reach out to one more. Go ahead and block out some iron time. Maybe for you it’s 9:00 A.M. every other Thursday at Dunkin Donuts. Go ahead and get it on the calendar.

In the end, it’s nice to not work on an island. It’s vital for you to know people who do what you do. But not just as passing acquaintances, as friends. It keeps you energized.

You don’t have to have a huge network. But you need a close one.

Thanks A Lot

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schedule-school-nonprofit-volunteers-with-volunteerspot-9a6b5d8a3eMost student ministries in the world are able to function because of volunteers. Whether you work at a huge church with a fully staffed team or a small church with zero paid employees, you still likely benefit from the support of numerous leaders who give up their time to help your environment succeed.

In my first student ministry job, there were approximately 10-15 adults who volunteered every week to make our program happen. Our environment (about 50 students) was called Retromacallit (those were the days before social media, so we had very little concern with the hashtag-ability of our name). None of those leaders were paid a dime. When I took my second student ministry job, which was at a mega church with a big staff, I assumed there’d be less of a need for volunteers. I quickly realized the opposite was true.

As a side note, I think 6:1 is a great ratio of students to volunteers. Both student ministries I worked in stayed pretty true to that. So because we had more students, we obviously needed more adult leaders.

Take a second and really think about what volunteers do for you:

  1. They give up time in their busy schedules.
  2. They don’t get compensated for it.
  3. That uncompensated time helps your student ministry win.

That’s amazing. Incredible. Other great synonyms. Yeah, you’ll run across volunteers every now and then who frustrate you or have ulterior motives. But overall, when you think about the fact that THEY devote some of their precious free time for YOU, it shouldn’t be taken lightly. Let me quickly state that I realize it’s not really for you—it’s for God, the church, riches in heaven, philanthropy, community service hours, etc. But if it’s an environment you’re responsible for, they’re helping you do your job better.

With that being said, here’s what I’d love for you to do: write some thank-you notes.

On a couple of occasions I’ve heard my senior pastor say, “Feeling grateful is not the same as expressing gratitude.” Many people who give, serve, and care for their local church are never thanked. That’s a problem. We have to get better at expressing gratitude.

Think about the number of adults who volunteer each week to help you win. Five? Fifteen? Thirty? Now sit down and write each one of them a thank you note.

The notes don’t have to be long at all. In fact, you can write similar stuff in each one. Here’s an example:

Todd, thank you so much for giving your time and energy to help students grow closer to God. I really appreciate who you are and what you do.—Ben.

So what’s your one step? Write some thank-you notes.

Don’t procrastinate like it’s your freshman English class. Sit down and barrel through them. Let the people who help you know how much you appreciate them.