10 Nov 2022

Student Serve Teams

By |2022-11-10T08:46:58-08:00November 10th, 2022|Leadership, student leadership, Uncategorized|8 Comments

One of my biggest challenges in youth ministry has always been getting students involved in serving in ministry. Logically I see the value, but practically I always struggle finding time to train students. I also convince myself that I can do things better than students, so having them serve will mean a diminished program. However, we all know our Ephesians 4:12 job description to “equip the [students] for the work of the ministry.” What I needed was a system—some sort of process to get students equipped and then empowered to serve.

The solution in this season of ministry has been hosting a Serve Night Training. To get to that event, I needed:

  • Various Serve Teams for students to be on
  • Multiple volunteer adult leaders to coach them
  • A training event

Serve Teams: For the sake of getting started, my team decided to focus our Serve Teams (you can call them ministries, volunteer teams, or whatever fits your church lingo) on our Youth Ministry main program. Sure there are roles outside of our main program, and students can get involved in the various teams with the main church but we wanted a starting ramp for getting new students to serve. We landed on 4 teams students could consider.

  • Praise Team
  • Welcome Team
  • Prayer Team
  • Crew Team (setup and teardown)

Volunteer Adults: Next each adult on my volunteer staff took ownership of one of the teams. Every team has multiple adults assigned to it, so everyone has a role. The adults chose teams they had knowledge and ability in, so I didn’t need to train them.

Serve Night Training: This was the key to the success we have seen! In the late summer, before our main program kicked off again for the school year, we hosted a night for anyone interested in joining the Serve Teams. After a short teaching on ministry from me, we split students into 4 groups. Each of my adult leaders were stationed in various parts of the church building, ready to lead a small group through their ministry. Students went on a rotation through each ministry location. At each spot, the adult would give a 10 minute explanation for their ministry, and even a demonstration. For instance, the Crew Team actually setup our 9 Square and tables and chairs, then the next rotation they took down the 9 Square and put the chairs away. Every student got to experience each of the 4 ministry areas, and at the end of the night we brought everyone back together. The challenge for every student was to sign up for a Serve Team based on what they experienced that evening. We had 100% of students sign up to be part of at least one team!

Getting students serving has been such a blessing to me as the youth pastor. It has also given my adult leaders some extra buy-in to what we are doing. But the best part is seeing students become equipped, empowered, and growing in passion for serving Jesus!

Gold Members get Ken’s resource, Turkey Trot, free with their Gold Membership this month! Are you a Gold Member? Go download his great game! Are you not a Gold Member yet? What are you waiting for? Hop on the greatest deal in the history of youth ministry!

Get the whole room moving and gobbling as they root for their favorite turkey! Simply have students guess which turkey will win the race and let the video run. You can have the winners move on to the next round or keep everyone playing and just keep score. Use the four corners of your room to select the turkey colors, or simply have students hold up their fingers for the turkey of their choice.

24 Oct 2022

Go to Where Your Students Are

By |2022-10-24T10:14:43-07:00October 24th, 2022|Leadership, Parents|2 Comments

In a world of social media, smartphones, and instantaneous photos and videos, we might feel like we are everywhere our students are! But the reality is that it still matters that we are physically present in their lives.

If you were on the fence about going and visiting students when they play sports, act in musicals, or play an instrument in a concert, let me try to encourage you with these reminders about physically being where our students are!

It shows students that they matter to you past the program!

If students only hear from you when they show up at youth group [or when they miss youth group], they might believe that that’s the only time you care about them.

Showing up at their sporting events or their play shows them that you care for them even when they are not physically present at church. Bonus points if it’s a middle school orchestra performance.

It gives you a chance to talk to parents!

The great thing about students playing a sport down on the field is it gives you, their youth pastor, an excellent opportunity to chat it up with their parents. You probably don’t get much one-on-one time with mom and dad because you are actively ministering to their kid at church!

When you go to the game, not only is it a chance for you to score some significant points with mom and dad, but you can also get to know them a little better. And when you know the parents better, you can minister to their kids better!

It helps students invite friends to youth group!

“Who was that?”

“My youth pastor!”

“Oh, cool! Where do you go to church?”

OK, so it might not go like that every time, but you showing up to a student’s concert means that you get to be present for them and their friends as well. If they’re on the fence about inviting someone to church, if you introduce yourself to their friends, they might feel more willing to ask their friend to church because they’ve already met the youth pastor!

It encourages them to live their faith outside of church!

Students need to see as many examples as possible of people living their faith outside the church walls! You attending their musical shows them that the pastor has a real life! It reminds them that what we teach on Sunday morning or Wednesday night goes beyond just that short time together. 

It might even encourage them to take the lessons you have taught and apply them to their team, musical group, or acting buddies!

What are some other reasons we should go to students? I’d love to hear them below! 

Need help talking to parents? Check this resource from DYM out!

Want to encourage students to be evangelistic in their circles? This resource is a great start!

12 Oct 2022

Youth Workers and Mental Health

By |2022-10-12T04:57:38-07:00October 12th, 2022|Leadership, Mental Health|3 Comments

I have learned to minister well to students and leaders struggling with mental health issues. I am patient, empathetic, a strong proponent of getting diagnosed, seeking counseling, and finding if medication is needed, and if I try really hard, I can even just listen without offering suggestions. I’ve learned a lot in my years in ministry about how to care for others, whether through learning to care for my wife Sarah, through learning how to care for students (usually by asking Sarah), or even through pursuing a degree in psychology and counseling. Because I have put in the effort, I’m fairly good at taking care of other people. However, I’m not good at taking care of myself.

A couple years ago, I was in a turbulent season. I was living in a place of unresolved conflict, though I tried my best to get it resolved. I just couldn’t make others come to the table to resolve it. I lost a lot of sleep. I would often go to bed with heart attack-like pains in my chest that would keep me awake thinking about the conflict and what would come of it. I spoke to my boss at the time, who is a good friend. He told me that wasn’t normal. He thought maybe there was something more going on inside of me, that maybe I should check into whether or not I had anxiety. “I’m just a worrier,” I countered. No big deal. No need to seek help or get treated. I guess I give advice better than I take it.

Fast forward to the end of February of this year. I had a full-blown panic attack while driving, because another driver hit me on the highway in a snowstorm and didn’t stop. I started to worry that I was having a heart attack. Thankfully, I wasn’t. But I was having another panic attack, the first in a while. Reluctantly, I finally went to the doctor to talk about this, because having one while driving and feeling the way I did freaked me out. Guess what. I have generalized anxiety, which surprised absolutely no one that knows me well. If I had taken the advice I’d been giving out, I could have been diagnosed and treated years ago. But I didn’t. I focused on taking care of others and minimized my own experiences and struggles. Why worry about it when I could just worry about everyone and absolutely everything else? Plus, I figured I didn’t have anything, because it didn’t manifest in the same way or as often as most other people I knew with anxiety.

I’m a few months into knowing that I have anxiety and getting treated for it. You know what I’ve found? My advice is actually pretty good. Seeing a doctor, seeing a counselor, taking medicine — they’re as good for me as they have been for the people I’ve ministered to over the years.

In ministry, I think it’s easy to bury your own burdens to focus on other people’s burdens. It feels selfless and altruistic. But when you don’t take care of yourself, you come to a point when you can’t take care of others the way you’d like. Of all the decisions I’ve made in the last year, going to get help and taking care of myself by letting someone else care for me might be the best one I’ve made.

Jeff is the Campus Student Pastor at The Chapel in Libertyville, IL. He and his wife Sarah have been married since they were 19, a fun fact that students find more fun than parents. Together, they have two sons.



Need some more resources on youth workers, mental health, and taking care of yourself? Check out these resources from DYM!

In order to sustain ministry for the long-haul, youth workers need regular times of rest and spiritual renewal.

Youth workers are often tired, lonely, and struggling to survive their week-to-week responsibilities. This retreat will remind youth workers of their secure hope in Christ, inviting them to move away from fear-based habits and return to hope-based habits.

This guide to a half-day retreat is designed to help you reflect on your hopes and your fears as you do youth ministry. It’s designed to help you intentionally reflect on what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. It gives you a chance to write a new prayer, offering to God your biggest fears and hopes.

What burdens are you carrying?

Don’t underestimate what a day of rest can do for you and your soul. Take Jesus up on His invitation to rest.

This resource will help guide you through a time of solitude to find renewal – but not by turning on Netflix and taking a nap. This kind of rest will lead you to find time away from ministry, teenagers, family, and co-workers to be alone with the One who called you into your position.

In a season that has felt like anything but “normal,” full of uncertainty and change, anxiety and grief, Jesus’ invitation to you is the same as it was for His disciples after a full day of ministry: come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest. – Mark 6:31 (NIV)

How sweet is His invitation to be in His Presence and receive from Him! This prayer retreat has been prepared with love for you as a minister in this challenging season. You’ll be guided in how to prepare your mind, heart, and environment, what to anticipate, and how to journey into a time of thoughtful reflection, journaling, and prayer as you step away to meet with God.

26 Sep 2022

3 Things I Would Tell Myself as a Newer Youth Worker

By |2022-09-26T08:45:23-07:00September 26th, 2022|Leadership, Uncategorized|4 Comments

I just started my 15th year of student ministry. For the last 13, I have been ministering to kids who had parents older than I was. I’m just now starting to minister to students whose parents are the same age as I am. My own daughter has been in the youth group for two years.

I started really young at 22. And in the last 15 years, there are definitely some things I would have done differently if given the chance!

Here are three things I would tell myself as a newer youth worker.

1. Seek out a spiritual mentor.

I went from a Bible college where I got a degree in youth ministry, straight into seminary. I had read a lot of books and was around a lot of smart people. And because of that, I thought that I had my spiritual walk taken care of.

I wish I had sought out an older mentor in the early stage of my ministry. I might’ve been reading a lot of books, but I would have greatly benefited from having someone who had lived a lot of life and faithfully followed Jesus during it.

I have two or three people now who are further down the road than I am and are speaking into my life. I am a better person and pastor because of it. If I had started this process sooner, I know I would’ve greatly benefited.

Try to find someone older than you to be a mentor. And not just 10 years older. Maybe 20 or 30 years older. Someone who is a few life stages ahead of you and can speak to the issues you’re dealing with. Don’t try to make it forever or even a weekly thing. Ask if they’d be willing to meet once a month for three months and then see where it goes from there!

2. Don’t do ministry alone.

The first place I served as a student pastor was in a small church in a small county in Tennessee. In the entire county, there was only one other full-time Youth Pastor. We got along well, but they moved away after too short a time.

It was tough to meet with other youth pastors in the area. Many of them were either bi-vocational or volunteers and were super busy. I was the one with all the time to try to meet people. And I used that as an excuse. I wish I would have found another pastor in the area to meet with regularly and talk church and life with.

Even if it means you must put some miles on your car, don’t do ministry alone! Find other pastors who get it. Talk to other people from other churches to understand the quirks and oddities of pastoring.

The people in your church are fantastic. Definitely have a team of volunteers and leaders who can serve alongside you.

But also seek out other pastors in your area, even if they are in roles different than yours. Encourage one another. Lift one another up. Do some events together! Whatever it takes, don’t do ministry alone.

3. You’re replaceable at church

You hate to think that it’s true, but after I spent six years at my church in Tennessee, my replacement was ready to go the next week. Granted, he was an intern who had served with me for the last three years, but still.

If you suddenly cannot do the job, your church will find someone to do it. It might be weird for a season. It might even be sad for some. But you can be replaced at church.

There are some places where you can’t be replaced. Within your family, it’s a whole lot harder to hire a replacement.

Your church is going to ask a lot of you. It’s going to say that you’re doing higher work for a greater purpose. Don’t lose sight of the fact that being present with your spouse or your kids is also admirable. Say no to things if you have to.

In fact, say no to things because you have to.

Your church can find another Youth Pastor.

Your family can’t find another you.


Those are just three. To be completely honest, there are a TON more I can think of. What’s something you would tell your younger self just starting out in ministry? Have you learned some hard lessons along the way? I’d love to hear about them in the commons!

I still have a lot to learn in this next season. I will never learn it all! Grateful to be on the journey with you.


Hey! Need some encouragement as you’re starting out in your first few years of ministry? Check out the DYM First Few Years Conference below OR grab some of these LIFE saving resources to help you along your youth ministry journey!

22 Sep 2022

Youth Ministry Doesn’t Have to Mean Chaos

By |2022-09-21T11:04:04-07:00September 22nd, 2022|Leadership, Youth Ministry Hacks, Youth Ministry Ideas|2 Comments

Maybe you’ve heard, but youth pastors have a bit of a reputation for being disorganized and for flying by the seats of our collective pants.

In short, structure is generally not our greatest strength.

Although it’s not easy, when we work to provide structure to our ministries, we are doing our students, our volunteers, and ourselves a huge favor.


Although it may sound cliché, our students need structure.

  1. STRUCTURE PROVIDES SAFETY– Many students come from homes that aren’t super stable. So, when we can provide a few hours each week where students exist in a familiar environment, see familiar faces, and experience a familiar flow to the evening, we’re often giving our students a gift that they didn’t even know they needed.
  2. STRUCTURE MAKES INVITING FRIENDS A LOT EASIER– For students, inviting someone to youth group is a huge risk, and I’ve realized that students are WAY more likely to invite their friends to something when they generally know what to expect. Adding a bit of structure to your weekly program helps students have an answer when their friends ask them, “what are we going to do while we’re there?”
  3. STRUCTURE HELPS STUDENTS KNOW WHAT’S EXPECTED OF THEM– Are you having difficulty getting students to quiet down during the teaching time? Or maybe your students keep arriving later and later? I’d suggest setting a schedule and sticking to it. After a while, they’ll start getting used to the idea that “we start at 7pm” or “after worship, it’s time to find a seat and engage the lesson.” Remember, students can’t meet your expectations if they don’t know what they are. And structure just helps make those expectations a bit clearer.


Recently, I was talking to a potential volunteer when they asked, “If I volunteer on Wednesday night, what time will I be able to head home?” The only problem was that I couldn’t answer the question because we hadn’t ever set a firm time that youth group officially ended. Honestly, we’d just wait until all of our students left, and then the adults would lock up and head home, usually somewhere between 10:00pm and 10:30pm (though sometimes as early as 9:15pm or as late as 11:00pm).

We have always operated under the thought that “we’d rather them hang out here than get into trouble somewhere else.” The only problem is that without a structured end on Wednesday nights, we were burning out our current volunteers and making it more difficult to recruit new ones.

Although we haven’t quite solved it yet, we have started taking steps in the right direction. Our volunteer clean-up crew now starts cleaning up at 9:15pm, and we ask any students who are still hanging around to help. Our goal is to get to a point where we can tell our volunteers (and potential volunteers) that on a “typical” Wednesday, they can expect to leave around 9:30pm. In the long run, I’m hopeful that establishing structure at the end of the night will be more honoring to our current volunteers and the volunteers we hope to recruit in the future.


Structure helps you avoid the trap of feeling like every week needs to be bigger, louder, more creative, funnier, and messier than the last.

Let me explain. Every week, we use the same basic template for our services. I know a lot of people (I used to be one of them) that would argue against this because it tends to become monotonous or boring. But I’d argue that following the same structure for each service can actually help boost creativity if you let it.

If you’re creating every service from scratch every week, you’re always developing new structure and new content at the same time. If you spend some time getting the structure nailed down, then each week, you can put more energy toward being creative with the content. Yes, you still must choose to take advantage of that opportunity, but at least you have the choice.


Plus, there’s an added bonus for you as the leader. Providing reliable structure to your services causes each service to be less dependent on you being there to hold it all together. When everyone has a clear idea of how things should start, flow, and end, they’ll start feeling empowered to lead in your absence.

One of the best feelings was the first time I called a volunteer at the last minute and said, “I have a family emergency, and I’m not going to be able to make it tonight,” and they said, “Don’t worry. We’ve got it under control.”

Structure helped make that possible.

Josh is the Campus Student Pastor at the Chapel in Grayslake, Illinois. He’s been serving in youth ministry for over half of his life, and he is finally trying to put into practice all the things he learned when he read “Your First Two Years in Youth Ministry” in 2002. In the meantime, he’s been making games, countdowns, and social media content for DYM because that’s the kind of stuff he wishes he had back when he was first getting started.


This month, DYM Gold members got Josh’s resource, Five 60-Second Countdowns: Super-Frantic HURRY!! Edition, for free! You can check it out by clicking the picture below OR become a Gold Member and get TONS of free stuff each month!

5 Sep 2022

It’s Your Job to Train Volunteers for Youth Ministry

By |2022-09-02T16:36:31-07:00September 5th, 2022|Leadership, Volunteers|12 Comments

I actually am shocked when I hear that student pastors don’t provide training for their people. I personally think that as the leader, it is our responsibility to make sure our leaders know what a “win” is for your ministry and how they can achieve that “win”. I’m shocked how many leaders just throw their new leaders into the deep end to learn how to swim in this thing called student ministry.

I think it is irresponsible.

So for those who do not do any training, let me share with you why this is so crucial for your ministry:

Your leaders will thank you – “My leaders would never come for a few hours for this.” Lies. Believe it or not, your leaders want to know how they can be more effective. If they have signed up to serve in student ministry, they are already nuts, they want to be good at it. Every single time leaders walk away thanking us because they learned something new to make them better. They will know what a “win” is and how to achieve it.

Your ministry will literally be better – If your leaders are better your ministry will be better. What ever you decide to train them in, they will walk away better leaders. So if that’s small groups, follow-up, getting on campus, whatever, you will see your ministry grow in some way because your leaders will know what they should be doing and they will execute the type of culture you want to see.

There are so many great tools to make it easy – We did a huge one day fall training, but we also provide all year training in our ministry. There are so many great tools. One of the best that we use is Youth Ministry University. One of the best investments we made all year. As we on board new leaders, it’s required to complete Course 101 of YMU. We want all leaders to know what we expect as leaders during service. All of our leaders are required to finish all 4 courses by a date that we set for them. Along with YMU, there are so many other blogs and resources that make training easier and effective.

It makes you look good to your higher-ups – It really does though. When you do a training, invite your bosses. Shoot, maybe even have them do a session. When you train, it shows all that you are taking this serious, you care deeply to make sure your ministry is successful in every way, and it doesn’t hurt you with your higher-ups. Our supervisor came and sat in. He was blown away and we walked away earning some points.

It shows you care for your leaders success in your ministry – If your leaders are wondering at any point during their time in your ministry “What should I be doing right now?”… “Was I making a difference today?” … “”Did I do what I was supposed to do today at service?” then you are missing something as the leader of the ministry. Training will help focus and assure your leaders what success looks like in your ministry. It shows you care for your leaders, not only as people, but as leaders who want to do well.

It’s your responsibility – Pretty self-explanatory. It is.

If you are leading a ministry, train your people. Make the time. Put it in the prep work. I promise you it will be worth it and your ministry will be better.

Justin Knowles

Feeling daunted by the task of training your volunteers? Let DYM help!

Train all your volunteers for one low price this month!

6 Jul 2022

How To Be Best Prepped For Summer Camp As A Leader

By |2022-07-07T10:40:30-07:00July 6th, 2022|Leadership, Training, Youth Ministry Hacks|4 Comments

Let’s pretend we already have all the physical and logistical things ready for summer camp. You’re packed. Planning Center is locked in. Transportation is a go. As a leader, how do you ensure you are prepped to minister through summer camp?

It’s easy to get bogged down by the details and prep before, but it’s important for us as leaders to be prepped personally for summer camp ourselves.

Are you spiritually ready?

Have you stopped and prayed? Prayed for the camp, your leaders, and students. Not the ones you did in meetings, but you personally, on your own time, with no one watching, prayed it up and gave it to God. For example, the other day, I scrolled through the entire camp roster and prayed over all the names. Simple, but I deem it powerful. We can fall into the trap that what happens at camp can depend on our work, but the real work can only be done by the Holy Spirit. Spend some time alone as you approach camp and get spiritually ready.

Are you mentally ready?

I don’t know if you know this, but ministry is taxing on the mind. Ha! I think it’s important to make sure you do whatever you need to do before camp to get your mind in a spot where you can take on whatever you need. We leave this Saturday. Friday morning, I’m going golfing. I always feel in a good mental spot after I get alone and spend a few hours talking to no one. What is it for you? It’s important to know.

Are you physically ready?

I don’t mean are you ready to dominate in rec games. I mean, are you rested? I know the excuse is there is too much to do before, but we need to make sure we are on a full tank going into camp because once we are there, we are waking up early to make sure kids get to breakfast, late nights talking and hanging, running around doing rec, it’s nonstop. If we are not careful, we will run out of juice towards the end. I cannot minister with grace as easily when I’m on empty. I get snippy and annoyed. I want to give my best the whole time.

Are you servant ready?

The mistake is falling into that camp is about you and your preferences. We all fall into it at some point. The food, the beds, the walk, the program, the songs… all, if not careful, can become distractions to our servant-hearted intentions for going to camp as a leader in the first place. We are leaders at camp to serve our kids and set up an atmosphere where they can know Jesus better and more intimately. Don’t let your preferences detour your heart.

Because we all know something happens at camp. Jesus tends to move in mighty ways. We get a front-row seat to life change. And we get to help play a small part.

Are you ready?

Justin Knowles

9 May 2022

Speaking Outside Your Ministry

By |2022-05-09T09:38:11-07:00May 9th, 2022|Leadership, Teaching|4 Comments

Let’s talk speaking and teaching outside of your ministry, such as at camps and conferences. I feel like this is one of the top 5 questions I get asked from other youth pastors and I have been asked about how to get in the speaking circuit quite a few times in the last 3 weeks.

Young leaders. Listen up. Old leaders. Listen up. Myself. Listen up.

Be called. Do you, and others who love Jesus more than they love you, affirm you are called to teach.

Don’t be a tool. When looking for someone to speak, a majority of the time I want to partner with someone with who I like. Character and heart trumps talent every time.

There is the networking side. You have to network and know people and put your stuff out there, yes, but there is a fine balance of REALLY putting your stuff out there and letting others know you feel a calling. I never have asked to speak anywhere. All have come from invitation because we were friends or I was recommended by a friend who thought I would be a good fit for someone else.

To start, say yes to everything. Nothing is beneath you. Christian clubs. FCA. Friend’s ministry. Do it for free. Doesn’t matter if it’s for 10 kids or 1,000 kids. Say yes (this is how you network organically). You’re not good enough to be picky when you begin. Ha

Get better. Have people pick apart your sermons. Give feedback. Know your ticks and nervous habits. Filler words. Practice your craft. Don’t be other teachers. Be you.

Stop trying to “make it”… people can tell. I tried to put my head down and loved my ministry, my leaders and students. Do well to minister at home and God can expand the reach outside of it. When we ask for the stage it usually means your not ready for it. We usually try to reach for the higher platform but it’s God who usually pulls us up to it.

The question is…
If you never were asked to speak anywhere besides the ministry you are in right now, would you be discouraged? Why? If it doesn’t happen, would you keep doing what you are doing?

My guess is probably so.

Minister well at home and leave your influence and exposure to God and your character and personal responsibility to you. Just be faithful to where you are at. And see what happens.

Thank you for loving and serving students the way you do.


Need some help figuring out how to talk to students? Specifically middle schoolers? Check out this resource in the DYM store!

7 Mar 2022

Mental Health and Family

By |2022-02-28T13:03:02-08:00March 7th, 2022|Leadership|3 Comments

As youth workers, I think we do a good job of talking about mental health and teens, although there are always ways we can do better. But what happens when those struggles hit too close to home and you find yourself coping with severe mental illness in a loved one? I’m willing to bet I’m not alone in that struggle, but unfortunately as ministry leaders, it’s not something that gets discussed enough. We struggle to keep up the facade that our lives must be in order and everything should be idealistic and happy. But for many of us, that just isn’t the reality. And for a long time, this has been my reality. A year ago my husband was officially diagnosed with severe mental illness, and it has reshaped my life. But through this journey, which often feels more like climbing Mt. Everest, there are some things I have learned.

  1. Be honest with your team and church leadership

The first time I took my husband to the hospital, and even before that, our church staff were some of the only people who knew what was going on behind the scenes. They were praying for me, jumping in where needed, and in general, being the support system I lacked, because dealing with mental illness in a loved one is lonely and isolating. I over communicate and have learned to be upfront and honest about when I need specific prayer, advice, or when I need support to maintain my ministry duties.

  1. Seek professional help for yourself

I wish I would have done this sooner than I did. I waited until things were so bad that I felt I was trapped in this new reality and was losing myself before I sought professional counseling. I told myself that because I was coping well and was maintaining everything I usually do, that there wasn’t much a therapist could teach me. I was very wrong. Going to counseling has been the single best thing I have done for myself. When you are taking care of a loved one with a mental illness, you often have to pick up the slack and take on many new responsibilities. This usually means that you will sacrifice yourself and put yourself on the back burner. That’s how you burn out, especially in ministry where burn out rates are already high. Seek professional help. Chances are, you’ll know pretty quickly if it will be helpful or not. And if the first person you see isn’t a great fit, don’t be discouraged. I tried two therapists before I found the one that was a good fit for me.

  1. Ask for help and let things go

This is the hardest one for me because generally, I have maintained all my normal duties. But there have been times when I couldn’t and felt very guilty for that. I felt as if I was failing as a pastor because I couldn’t make every meeting that week, or lead the weekly Bible study, or even preach some weekends. One of the things my senior pastor told me early on was that he is not a mind reader and if I need help, I need to ask for it. Recognize that you are not superhuman. You cannot do everything all the time, especially now.

  1. Take care of you first

This seems counterintuitive when you are living with someone with a mental illness. You are always worried about them, taking care of them, and taking care of everything else that needs done. But chances are, especially if it’s your spouse, there is no one to take care of you or put you first right now, so you need to sometimes. That means you need to make sure you are always safe, both physically and mentally. That means you need to take seriously sabbath time and days off. Prioritize healthy habits and self-care. You cannot care for someone effectively if you are not being cared for.

I could go on and list far more things I’ve learned, but I think as ministry leaders, these are some of the best tips I can offer. And remember above all else, you are not alone. There is a God who loves you and holds you in his arms. There is a God who sees your pain and knows how weary you are. And that God will never leave you, never abandon you, and will give you perfect peace and his strength. Lean into that. Know that you are seen, you are loved, and you are not alone.

Ashley Weyant

I’m the Children & Youth Pastor at Ebensburg UMC in Ebensburg, PA. I’ve been involved in youth ministry off and on, but have been a bi-vocational youth leader for four years. I love youth ministry and am passionate about seeing students grow in their relationship with God!

1 Mar 2022

The Importance of Student Feedback

By |2022-02-28T12:45:36-08:00March 1st, 2022|Leadership|2 Comments

Working in ministry is all about caring for people around us. We tend to treat this as a mind-reading game; we see what happened last week at youth group and adjust from there. We assume that whatever we are planning is what our students need. We assume that the trends that are happening in the bigger youth ministry-verse will easily transfer to our context. Or we generalize that what we learned when we were in high school ministries is still relevant today. But, often, this might not be the case. How are we supposed to figure out what our student ministries need? The easiest way to find out is to ask our students for their feedback.

When we ask our students what they are interested in talking about or doing or how events have gone, students will feel more invested in your youth ministry. Students will feel a sense of ownership over the space because their voices are being heard. This also builds a new sense of trust with you; students will know that they are truly being cared for in your space and be able to open up more.

Now, this doesn’t mean that you go and ask for every student’s idea every Wednesday night. To hear from students well, you will want to have a focus group of students. This can be your student leadership team or student council. These groups should be made up of students that show a wide variety of perspectives.
In your group setting, set some expectations; share how this is a space where you want to be open and honest and hear their thoughts and ideas. Let them know that they advocate for your youth ministry and explain how everyone’s opinion is valid. During these meetings, take some time to reflect on how things have gone and get their thoughts and ideas on future events.

Reflecting on the past can help you plan for the future (no shame in saving up a curriculum to redo later!). Some basic questions to reflect on are: what went well, what didn’t go well, what could be improved, and would you like us to talk about this again / do this event again.

Get their insight on future events! When planning, present them with an idea – ask them their thoughts on it and if it would be valuable or fun for them. Then, allow them space to brainstorm off of that; they may have ideas to improve your topic or step up your event. If it isn’t something they are interested in, move on and think of another idea!

I know what you’re thinking, “I’m the person who is paid to do this. I should be the one doing most of the planning”. I hear you and see where you’re coming from. There are certain things that we as youth leaders need to stick to (no, we can’t do lock-ins every weekend or only play games every week). Make sure that you know what those boundaries are and if students push on them, explain why those boundaries are in place. You are still the adult and can make the final decision on plans.

Hearing others’ opinions on your ideas can be very vulnerable – it can be nerve-wracking, especially with high school students! When they let you know that something doesn’t go well, it can feel devastating – especially if you put a lot of work into it. In those moments, treat it as a learning opportunity for everyone. Let them know that you appreciate their honesty and remind them that you aren’t perfect and will make mistakes. By being open about making mistakes and showing them how to healthily move on, you’re giving them permission to mess up and teaching them that leaders aren’t perfect, and that’s okay.

Overall, creating a space with open and honest dialogue between your students and yourself will open up a wide variety of new opportunities for your ministry. By being open and vulnerable, our students can do the same in the spaces we create, allowing for students to be more open to the way God is at work in their lives.
Happy planning!

Kayla Feil is the Director of Children, Youth and Family Ministry at Faith Lutheran Church in Glen Ellyn, IL. Along with her role, she is currently attending Luther Seminary to get her MA in Children, Youth and Family Ministry. When she isn’t at church or writing papers, you can find her practicing yoga, running, or adventuring around Chicago!

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