It can feel like herding cattle at times…getting all of your students or leaders into the same place at the same time. Sure we do this for our weekly program(s) but what about irregular meeting times? Why are they equally if not more important?
This past weekend I had the privilege of attending the “Gateway Getaway” with many other staff, leaders, and volunteers. The church reserved a conference room in the five-star Horseshoe Bay Resort and blocked out hundreds of rooms for families at a discounted price. The aim of the weekend was to allow a core of families, staff and leaders to enjoy a weekend together while also being introduced to the vision of our church moving forward this year and beyond.
I live for this stuff! One of my greatest desire for any church or ministry is unity. Unity in thought, vision, action and philosophy of ministry will take you far in building the kingdom together as a team. The question that I keep asking…
“How do I share my vision for the student ministry with so many different people?”
Here are a few MUSTS that come to mind:
- Constantly communicate your vision to those that lead you. This will allow your supervisor space to speak into your vision and encourage you along the way…helping you develop your vision before rolling it out to your leaders.
- Share with the individual leader. This makes for many individual meetings, but when you share the same vision with the entire group of leaders it should reduce questioning or confusion. They will have already heard the vision, it takes 7 times to stick.
- Allow questioning. You aren’t the only one who is a vision-caster or bearing leadership gifts. In the end you should give direction and establish a finalized vision, but allow the team to contribute and ask questions.
- A common place. I cannot stress the importance of this one. I’ll dive into more detail…
A common place; a common vision. That is exactly what took place many weeks before this leader getaway. Get people out of the established rhythm of life and away from the things that distract us. The entire Gateway staff was invited to a common place for the weekend, a ranch outside of town to be exact. There was little to no cell phone reception. For two days we experienced community, worship, prayer, brainstorming, team-building activities, sharing meals, and contributing to the vision. We got on board where God was leading us as a church, so when it came to this past weekend there was an established core knowing where we were headed, helping set the pace for others. This was a win! I am eager to re-produce something similar for my leaders.
I am headed into a new ministry season with veterans who have been here for 8+ years and some that have just expressed interest in serving within the student ministry. A common place for a common vision is needed more than ever before! Though the programmer within me wants to establish a steady pace for the year ahead, the unity factor is screaming for attention, “Find a common place! Establish a common vision!” I am looking for a weekend in the months ahead to rally my team together for a common vision. It might not be a ranch, but simply someone’s home that we gather in, somewhere to gather outside our weekly meeting space at the church. My end goal is to have a more unified core of leaders that understand WHY we lead in student ministry before we learn HOW to lead in student ministry! Kenny, my supervisor over at childrensministryonline.com goes deeper on hows vs. whys This is what I’m chasing after with my new group of leaders.
If you haven’t done this yet, get out there and find that common place!
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Now your speaking my language…hot pancakes. I’m not really a sucker for pancakes, but free hot food? Heck ya! Yesterday the student ministry at Gateway went through dozens of pancakes, probably a few hundred. Why? A touchdown had literally just been handed to us and I wanted to go for 2 rather than settle for a field goal. Let me explain. Gateway has done a phenomenal job of making me and my wife feel welcome to the church. This weekend we were introduced to 300+ volunteers and leaders at a conference and then again in all Sunday morning services yesterday, TOUCHDOWN! While we could have simply just expressed our gratitude we took this opportunity to welcome others!
“Come and eat pancakes with us after the service!”
We invited parents to meet us after service while also putting the ask out to anyone who may have the interest in serving students. What did we get in return? We have 22 brand new contacts that have expressed interest in serving students!
What did it take to make this happen?
- Approval from my supervisor and church leadership – don’t burn bridges, or pancakes for that matter!!!
- Prayer. I have been praying about this eagerly and with anticipation since it was a reality.
- Leaders/Volunteers giving some extra time, committing to more than one service – helping flip pancakes and talk with potential volunteers.
- 10 boxes of pancake mix ($1.34 a box), 3 bottles of syrup ($1.84 a bottle), a tub of butter (my buddy Jon found it in the fridge), two electric griddles from Wal-Mart (purchased them for our mission trip, they make a mean grilled cheese!)
- A clear invite – Are you a parent? Do you have an interest in serving in student ministry? Come have pancakes with us, we would love to meet you! Keep it simple.
- A contact sheet – collect contact information. Just because they grab a volunteer application doesn’t ensure they will be back.
- Volunteer/Leader Application.
The BIG idea: Do something out of the ordinary that involves free food and an opportunity to show others how they can get involved in your ministry!
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My first week at Gateway involved me putting together a mission trip. The second week at Gateway involved me going on that trip with twenty something students and a handful of leaders. The third week involved wrapping my head around our programs, meeting leaders, and observing the ministry – my brain has been stuck in week three and will be for a while.
The trip was semi-organized when I arrived. There were many details that still needed attention – a charter bus to be ordered, hotel rooms to be reserved, an hour-by-hour schedule to be thought out, food to be purchased…all this to say, I couldn’t have done it alone. I was very thankful for my part-time staff member Heather and all that she did in helping prepare for this trip. A few things we did before leaving that really helped once we arrived…
- I did a pre-trip to meet my ministry partner before taking all of the students. (It was me actually rolling through with a U-Haul in tow on my move down from Chicago.) This way I was able to see where we would be staying, see the meeting space we had to work with, etc. This paid huge dividends for planning out the trip.
- I made a booklet for the students that had a daily devotional section along with a program plan that day. This way you can exclude the 20 questions game, “What are we doing today?” “When are we doing that?”
- I ordered 5 different colors of the rubber bracelets. This divided the students and leaders into 5 smaller teams for serving and discussion groups. This can make any larger team more manageable when it comes to logistics. “Green team you are ripping up carpet, Blue team you are praying for the people in this building, etc.” This saves much more time than you would ever dream!
SERVE BRANSON. BLESS AUSTIN. This was the mindset of the trip – starting with the end in mind. Yes, we would be spending a week in a different city, how could we come back to our own city with a compelled heart to put these things into practice? We traveled to Branson, Missouri where there many serving opportunities but how could we transplant the heart for serving there back to our every day life in Austin?
- SERVING – Our ministry partner Jesus was Homeless is doing AMAZING things for the kingdom as they continue to seek out and serve those that are less fortunate. Every week this organization delivers over 700 meals to those in need, it blessed my students greatly to be a part of such a process. We also had the privilege of doing some work projects for a single mom’s resort just outside of town. This will be a refuge for mom’s that have been neglected, abused, or financially unable to support their family. River Rock Ministries offer cooking classes, Bible studies, and even a GED program for these women. I am extremely thankful for what they are doing.
- RETREAT – Gateway Branson/Jesus was Homeless was incredibly generous with their space. While they were not using it, we were able to have sessions for learning, team-building, discussion groups, games, and worship. These 2+ hour sessions each day brought on the retreat feeling and really helped in unifying our team’s ministry philosophy and allowed our group to dig into God’s Word each day together. I took them through the acronym BLESS that had been unveiled to me by our Senior Pastor John Burke…we have been blessed to be a blessing to others.
- B – Be in prayer.
- L – Listen and Look for opportunities.
- E – Eat. Share meals with others.
- S – Serve. Serve your neighbor.
- S – Share. Share your story & God’s story with others.
- FUN – Branson is a tourist trap for sure! Being there a week, you will not run out of things to do. We spent a whole evening making our rounds to different go-kart tracks, putt-putt golf, bumper boats, etc. Branson is located near many lakes. Take your pick of beaches, boat rentals, and restaurants. Did I mention the huge landlocked Titanic? No, I’m not making this up.
This was the perfect trip for my students, especially for my leaders. Branson gave me a good opportunity to exercise the work hard, play hard philosophy for youth ministry. I am so proud of my students and leaders in all that they did, but more importantly how God show up in them and used them to love others.
If you ever need help talking through ideas for your mission trip, I’ve been on a few…all of them have offered something different. This was the perfect hybrid mission trip. I’d love to help you talk through obstacles, desires and connect you with great ministry partners. Just reach out!
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I did a series at my last church called “Giving Up”. We spent three weeks discussing what it means to give up the things in your life to God that He has blessed you with…your time, your talents, your treasures. As we head into a season where we are calling our leaders, volunteers and families to be all in at Gateway, I know this mindset will need to come across clearly to my students. I don’t want this to be a one time push in asking my students to GIVE UP their time, talents and treasures. I want this to be a consistent lifestyle that is adopted by many in the student ministry. What are some ways that we can really make it stick?
We have all seen GIVING UP in action. Students playing in the band, running the sound board, greeting visitors, serving at a local soup kitchen or nursing home, going on a summer mission trip, possibly even starting to develop healthy tithing habits. The list goes on and on for things students do and opportunities the church will offer them. What have you offered in your ministry or seen in the lives of students that fit into one of these three categories?
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Customization. This is what I love doing…it might be the artist in me or perhaps I’m just picky when it comes to things I really care about. One of those things is curriculum. Catch up with postings #1 and #2 if your just now joining me about curriculum. The clock is ticking for some of you and may need curriculum for your students and leaders in the school year ahead!
I used LIVE curriculum last year, and my current middle school guy at Gateway is using XP3 from the folks that help put together the Orange conference and tour each year. I remember this stuff from when I first attended the Orange conference in Atlanta some years back. Now that I have my hands on it, I gotta say, not too shabby! Like I said, I love to customize things and XP3 does give you the ability to do that. I’m teaching from their curriculum this upcoming Sunday…a lesson on God dwelling with us. Though I like the meat of the message there are some things I could do without and some of my own life story I’d like to add. Well, it comes in a word document and you can move around as much as you want!
The LIVE curriculum is very similar in giving you a PDF and Word document for both your message and your small group questions. You can also have many topics and series to pick from – plenty to customize your own school year, even for each specific grade!
If you are thinking about writing your own curriculum…I’d advise against it, my team tried this a few years back. Unless you have tons of extra time to devote, it becomes a black hole of pages, fonts, and writing. Plus, there are people already giving every day to this stuff – LIVE, Xp3, others you may add to the list. In my book, leave it to the professionals and find one that fits my ministry best.
Happy curriculum shopping!
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My move from Chicago to Austin is now complete and we are settling into our new home here. Settling may not be the right word, things are crazy busy as we strive to launch for a new school year right around the corner!!! I am still meeting new staff members, being introduced to some of my volunteers, hanging out with students, etc. All along, trying to wrap my head around how youth ministry is being done here currently while continually asking God, “How do you want me to serve here? What is your desire for these students/leaders/volunteers?” Though it may seem like the calm before the storm, I think the waves are getting choppy and my ship is headed full steam ahead into a school year of programming, recruiting leaders, and establishing healthy community. Anyone else feel the storm brewing? While I have done this all before at my previous church it does feel like a new ship and some unchartered waters…where do they keep the life-jackets, where is the throttle, how much food and water do we have aboard, do we have any leaks that need patching or repair?!
I need some key items going into this storm. These things I must keep aboard to ensure health and safety for my staff/volunteer team, while also providing good vision and direction to get us to the other side, knowing we accomplished what God had asked of us after the school year is over.
Here are a few key things that came to my mind, what would you add to the list or emphasize?
- A leaders retreat early on in the school year
- Setting clear tangible goals to help maintain vision throughout the year
- Consistent community hangouts for my leaders (once a month)
- Defining our roles. What defines a leader? What defines a volunteer?
- Recruit. Recruit. Recruit. Follow up, Follow up, Follow up. KEEP THEM ENGAGED!
- Collecting student visitor information – making sure they are invited back to the program each week
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I knew that I was in for a busy first two weeks in Texas. Unpacking and planning out a mission trip lends to very long days along with meeting tons of new leaders and students. So, yes, I knew it would be this way going in, what did I do to prepare? I took the road to Bandera!
Before coming to Texas I coaxed my buddy Caleb in Chicago to join me for the Uhaul move and then join me for a motorcycle tour of central Texas. We both did a lot of riding together in Chicago and he had never been to Texas before. A good motorcycle ride is so refreshing and relaxing. I had a two day 500 mile loop planned out…unfortunately it was pouring rain the first day and we couldn’t get the bikes. So the second day we set out to conquer as much as we could…we ended up doing almost 400 miles in 24 hours.
We set out from Cowboy Harley of Austin each with a Harley and headed to San Antonio. We stopped in Gruene, TX for a coke and checked out the old dance hall. Our next stop was the Alamo, we did a quick tour and then had lunch on the riverwalk. We then proceed northwest out of San Antonio and took the road to Bandera. Our destination for the night was Garner State Park.
Bandera itself, claimed cowboy capital of the world is a pretty cool place to stop for BBQ or a quick fill up at the gas station, which I would highly recommend before entering the gauntlet to Garner. The road to and from Bandera itself is what I would consider a true beauty, I can’t wait to make the same time in the spring when all the wildflowers are in bloom.
Garner State Park is a gem and I can’t believe after all the years I have spent in Texas I had never been there until now. Located on the banks of the Frio River and underneath a picturesque canyon wall it makes a beautiful place to make camp after a long ride…I would recommend spring/winter/fall, the tent was a little warm in the middle of summer, but a morning swim in the Frio quickly made up for it! Out of Bandera take 16 to 470 to 187 to 1050 – this will take you right to the park. While this was beautiful ride I hear that the best riding in the Hill Country is called the three sisters…three separate highways just a little bit farther west from the park. You can read more about them at this link… http://www.hillcountrycruising.com/
The next morning it was a mad dash for Fredericksburg, Johnson City and back to Austin. While we didn’t get to ride the entire loop I planned out I think we saw as much of the hill country as possible and I think Caleb was pleased. I’m excited to make this ride again, while in the trenches of ministry now it was a good trip to make getting my tank refueled for the busy weeks ahead.
It has been a busy week with no rest. From Chicago to Austin, stopping in Branson, MO doing a pre-trip for Gateway – driving a Uhaul with car in tow through the Ozarks, a 400 mile motorcycle tour through the hill country of central Texas and now a casita (small house) full of boxes staring at me. I have been busy is an understatement – but I love it! In my next few posts I’ll unroll my adventures for you that took place this past week.
A few quick lessons learned.
- Never underestimate how much you own when moving, you have a ton…it’s a great time to craigslist and goodwill the stuff you don’t use or never knew you had.
- Always check your car owners manual before towing it, you might need a specific trailer.
- When renting motorcycles keep up to date with the weather…make wise choices.
- Call on your friends and family for help when you need it, don’t be a macho man.
- Labeling boxes specifically for rooms and the items the box contains SAVES TIME. Thanks Calla, I love you for helping keep our life organized!
This is blog posting #2 on Got Curriculum? See #1 here.
Communication is everything when it comes to curriculum. You the youth pastor communicating with your small group leaders –> your small group leaders communicating with the students and parents –> the actual material that needs to be communicated. If there is one thing that absolutely blows my mind about LIVE curriculum is how good of a communication network it offers.
WARNING: You will get out of it as much as you put into it. Let me explain.
- Parent E-mail – for each individual lesson there is a parent email that you can copy+paste into a distribution list of parent emails to let them not only know what Johnny is learning that week during small group, but gives them questions to engage with their kid. We did this for our small group leaders as an accountability tool, they knew mom and dad would be getting the topic email, this helped them stay on track with the curriculum path.
- Dashboard – Every small group leader has a one-stop shop for what they need to know before leading their small group for the week. Each leader is assigned a login & password, giving them access to ALL of their lessons for the entire school year with both a leaders guide that can be crafted to their own liking along with a student handout sheet for each week. In this same forum they are able to see new messages posted by me, and have the ability to TEXT their small group!
- Texting – Ya, I know…texting can be more impersonal than a good phone call or face-to-face conversation, but it’s 2012 and when you need to get the word out quickly so students know where you’re meeting for small group or what they should read before coming, this can be a handy tool. Texting is a communication tool also offered through Simply Youth Ministry. We purchased it to coincide with our curriculum. I will say it’s probably 50/50 when it comes down to leaders using it to contact and connect with their small groups. I also use this feature to connect with parents. For example, I will send out a “text blast” to inform all of our parents about a certain event, “Parents, remember we have a parents meeting to discuss our mission trips for this summer. See you at 3PM.”
- There’s an app for that – Need I say more? There is a LIVE Curriculum app that is unique to each leader’s login credentials. If you are a sophomore leader, it will show your calendar for the year, all of the sophomore study guides, small group questions and updated messages from the youth pastor.
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