Four Ways To Move Middle School Students

Several years ago, I participated in a multi-generational mission trip to India. As our young students boldly shared before large groups of people there, they would commonly begin by saying, “I’d like to thank you guys for inviting us to come to your country.”

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Unfortunately, since the English pronunciation of the word “cow” sounds quite similar to the Hindi pronunciation of the word “gaay”, what our audiences heard was, “I’d like to thank you cows for inviting us to come to your country.” It’s important to tailor your message to your audience! And we tried, but breaking American teenagers of the habit of using “guys” proved near impossible!

I recently received a text from a younger youth pastor whom I’ve coached, asking for advice in tailoring a message to middle school students. I love working with middle school students, but I know that for some people, middle school feels like a foreign country! But in the same way, understanding your audience and appreciating their culture will help you tailor a message that moves them. Here are four ways you can prepare and deliver a message that will MOVE middle schoolers:

c_37YOU MOVE: There is virtually nothing static about a middle school student. There shouldn’t be anything static about your talk. Make sure that you are moving as you communicate with middle schoolers. Walk forward toward your audience, or from one side of the stage to the other; kneel or sit down to draw your audience’s attention to a new place on the stage; extend your arms to make a point. Movement doesn’t need to be unnatural in any way, and shouldn’t distract from your message. Done well, movement on the part of the speaker can help keep your middle school audience connected and focused.

THEY MOVE: Along the same lines, getting your audience to move in some form or fashion is effective as well. I may throw in a quick question with instructions to “stand up if you’ve ever _____” or ask the audience for a round of applause after a student has shared (clapping acts as a stimulus). Middle schoolers need to move. Giving them opportunity to do so within the context of listening can actually refocus and refine their attention.

BE MOVING: Be passionate about your subject. Middle school students want to hear your story as it relates to THE story (of God). As you share from the Scripture, make sure you talk about how God is transforming you. There is a fine line between being moving and seeking to manipulate… be truthful, be honest, but invite students to see the active movement of God in your life.

INVITE THEM TO A MOVEMENT: I believe the best way to put an exclamation mark on a good middle school message is to invite a student to action (movement). Give them something simple, practical and doable. Sometime this movement can be specific, like an invitation to “come to this service project,” but I believe the most effective movements are the ones the students initiate, after being inspired and invited to dream and to do!

As you get to know your audience, take some new risks in your talks. Put these four movements into action. Just don’t call them cows!

Leading In Transition

Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 4.29.23 PMA few years ago I wrote “An Open Letter to The Departing Youth Pastor” that became my most read blogpost ever. Because of that and the sheer volume of conversations I have about the subject of change in ministry, I decided to pitch a seminar to Youth Specialties a couple years ago.

Last week was the Youth Specialties National Youth Workers Convention in San Diego, CA. On top of other responsibilities, I led the seminar entitled, Leading In Transition. 

Because leadership change is inevitable, a good number of attendees likely came to the seminar wondering if NOW is the time for transition? Some were there because change has recently taken place and they were starting afresh. A third category of attendee was present as well– the volunteer carrying the load through the transition. During the seminar we spent time addressing each of the following:

  • How do I know it’s time to leave, and how do I do this well?
  • How do I start strong in a new ministry?
  • In the midst of change, how do we keep students the focus?

IMG_5067I was blown away by the number of people who attended the seminar. Every chair was filled and a good number of others chose to stay and sit on the floor or cram the doorway.

I think the highlight for me was at the end when a good 15-20 people stuck around to ask specific questions and/or ask for the notes. These private conversations led to many-an-email-address exchange and the opportunity to help scores of people outside the context of the convention.

By my observation, the majority of the people were most interested in the things they need to prioritize as they start in ministry.

I am blessed to be part of the YS family. What I did at NYWC I believe only scratches the surface of what I hope to do with churches as they partner with us for either YS Search or for YS Coaching. Because change is inevitable, we simply want to be an outside resource who can perhaps help provide perspective and insights! If you know of a church who we could help, please spread the word!

I’d love to see you at the Louisville NYWC, where once again I’ll be part of the free coaching offerings and will be able lead the Leading In Transition seminar again! Get registered, November 19-22 in Louisville, KY!

Small Groups: Quick Tips

IMG_4988I’m of the belief that there are some who are just naturally intuitive in how to lead a small group, but a much larger portion of the youth ministry leadership population need some training and experience; either way, I hope these quick ideas may be a blessing to you and your leadership of a small group.

Opening Questions: Because the goal of a small group is often community, take some time to get everyone to talk so that when the conversation gets a little more serious, all participants will already feel more comfortable speaking. [Questions like “If you had to be in an existing reality TV show, which one would you choose? Why?]

Don’t Rescue The Silence (too quickly): Leaders/Facilitators often fear silence. When you ask a question, don’t rescue the group by providing the answer; some are processors and are willing to speak, but just need time to form their thought (likewise, don’t correct the answer, even when wrong, rather, ask the rest of the group, “what do you all think of that answer?”).

Know Where You’re Going, But Allow Alternative Routes: If you’re studying a passage (or using a curriculum) know the major areas you want to touch on, but know that your group may have an alternative route to get to the destination. Allow for rabbit trails (some of the best learning can take place by allowing students to ask questions or tell stories that take you a different direction).

People Watch: Shepherding a group requires great attention to the dynamics of those gathered. Notice the silent one (he or she may be screaming something by their non-verbals). Pay attention to those who sit together and those who may seem to avoid each other– catching these things early (and naming them privately) may lead to greater dynamics later.

Change-Up: Every so-often break the routine and do something completely different. For me, this means I take the group on an experience instead of just doing regular group [examples: meal night, people watching project at a mall, serving project, athletic event of someone in the group].

Speak It Into Existence: There are times when a group simply needs to hear that you love them and believe in them (even when they are acting unlovable). You give permission to them by naming the fact that you love being with them and that you see them maturing.

Keep It A Safe Place: Unfortunately just about every environment a student enters has the potential for harm. You have the opportunity to establish a group as a place of refuge! Encourage them to avoid the foolish chatter & jokes and establish an affirmation environment.

What other quick tips do you have for successful small group leadership?

Jalapeños & Jesus

My son, Will, and I had just finished playing baseball this last weekend and did a quick stop at the store to get a few items for our homemade pizza night.

“Hey bud, what do you want on our pizza tonight?” I asked.

“Pepperoni and a lot of Jalapeños” he announced.

pizza-macro-shot-1312231After a minute or two of silent thought, he explained. “Dad, I used to like spicy stuff because of how much I love you… I really wanted to be like you. Now I love spicy stuff just because I love spicy stuff! I mean, I still love you, but I love spicy stuff on my own now too!”

I loved this; it was encouraging and convicting at the same time.

You see, though it wasn’t my goal to get Will to love Jalapeños (or other spicy stuff), it happened because he was willing to try the stuff that his Daddy likes. In the last couple years, Will has gone from a few drops of Tapatio on his burrito, to pepperoni pizza covered in Hot-Wing sauce and Jalapeños. He can’t get enough spice!

My quick-jaunt home from the grocery store that evening had my mind spinning. My prayer is that Will (along with my daughters, my 8th grade guys and other people I get to “do life” with) will emulate me in a way much greater than taste-bud satisfaction. My hope is that he will see the way that I prioritize my love for God, His Word and His people and begin to try that as well.

I long for a similar spiritually spiced-up conversation:

“Hey bud, what do you want do tonight?” I will ask.

“Let’s talk Scripture, let’s share Jesus with those who don’t know Him yet and let’s serve the community” he will announce.

1415262_bibleAfter a minute or two of silent thought, I imagine him saying, “Dad, I used to like Jesus and His stuff because of how much I love you… I really wanted to be like you. Now I love God, His Word and people just because I love Jesus! I mean, I still love you Dad, but I love Jesus and people on my own now too!”

Finally, on Sunday, at Subway, Will went through the line and confidently proclaimed his veggie choices, “I’d like both banana-peppers and Jalapeños”

May his love (and our love) for Jesus be proclaimed just as confidently!

You MAY Want to Add These To Your Calendar

The month of May is proving to be a pretty fantastic month of ministry opportunities. Not only will I have a couple trips including a site visit for next years National Youth Workers Convention, but there are a couple local Pacific Northwest Events I am a part of that have me pumped.

I think you (and many others from your church) should join me:

Youth Specialties Team Training, May 1-2

UnknownThis is the ideal setting to get your team talking! Not only does YS bring in great content/speakers, we give your team time to discuss and apply. One of the most prominent things Youth Pastors/Directors identify as a need is more/better lay-leadership training.

My buddy Josh Griffin (from Saddleback Church) is one of the presenters in Seattle this year. I think Josh is one of the best in the business!

The timing is perfect— it’s only a Friday evening and goes through Saturday mid-afternoon. But more importantly, I think the timing (calendar) is perfect— you can use this as an opportunity to recruit your program-year staff for next fall. Give those new recruits some great training that they can test over the summer before you kick-off next fall. Click here to register your team.

Mission51 Retreat, May 8-9Screen Shot 2015-03-30 at 10.51.06 AM

This 24 hour retreat is chock-full of ideas that help you and your students engage in real conversation with those who may not yet know Jesus! Rather than calling it an evangelism training retreat, I see it as a cultural engagement training.

The Mission51 Retreat— training for the 51 weeks of life outside of the trip— is a fast-paced 24 hour onsite-event; meaning: you and your team stay at Grace Church in West Seattle (Friday night) and all three meals are provided on Saturday as part of the training! To register follow the instructions on the flyer here and contact Nathan.

Something for your team. And something for teens!

Join me in May!

Getting Unstuck In Small Group

Maybe you’re a small group leader who is struggling in your leadership? Maybe it’s the unique blend of personalities? Perhaps you weren’t given much training? Sometimes you just need a bit of a spark to ignite the group.

IMG_3849Here are three ideas I have used that can help get the proverbial ball rolling with a small group.

Opening Questions

Each week after some hang time we transition into the “study” time by doing an “opening question.” Most of the time these questions are random and fun. The point is to get every student to feel comfortable talking in front of the rest of the group. Though silly, it really does accomplish the goal. Here you can establish the principle that whomever is speaking should be respected and heard.

Sample questions (just ask one per week):

If you could permanently close a fast food chain, which one would you abolish and why?

If you could be in a sitcom or cartoon (as yourself), which one would you be in and why?

Occasional Intentional Experiences

Instead of a regular “bible study” or “cell group” night— take a 745195_30615584field trip. Shared experiences outside of the norm create a sense of anticipation. Whether it is a service project or a meal out  use it to teach a principle, learn a spiritual application or to simply get the students to think differently.

Sample experience: Take your students to Target give them a list of the others in your group and a total imaginary budget of $X (figure about $30 per person, but tell them a total, rather than a per person) and tell them they have 30 minutes to write down what they’d buy for each person in the group and why.  Meet at the food court or Starbucks area of the store after the fake shopping and have each student share what they would have bought for each person and why. You’ll likely have some times of laughter, and be blessed by some heart-warming thoughtfulness.

Show and Tell

IMG_3763Everybody remembers the anticipation of Show and Tell day in Preschool and Kindergarten! On occasion (maybe once a year) you can use this in small group. Have students bring an item which is significant to his/her spiritual life. I have seen students bring something from camps, elementary Bible club or a picture from a mission trip. Even if a student forgets, you can always grab a Bible and the student can share a favorite verse and the story behind why it’s important to him/her.

What are some other Small Group ideas you can share to help a group try something new?

Do You Really Trust Your Students?

I don’t get it…

  • One scored six goals in a world cup game.
  • They’ve written world famous operas, inspired nations to battle victories and created the social networking phenomenon.
  • In athletics we’ve seen total dominance from some: a Heisman trophy winner, a Daytona 500 driver and one was arguably the best gymnast ever.933623_72957083

I’m talking about teens.

  • Educators push them to take AP Physics and Calculus.
  • They hold down jobs and we trust them to watch after our own children.
  • They create art, perform, bake, dance and defend our nation.

But in the church…

  • We ask them to listen to us (Sunday morning, mid-week and in small group).
  • We buy them endless amounts of pizza in the hopes they’ll come back.
  • We beg them to bring a friend to the camp that we planned for them.
  • We tell them to sit still while the Pastors and adults speak at them.
  • We tell them they are the next generation of leaders, but give them little to lead.

693583_54538565It’s time we (the church) take the governor off their accelerators! Jesus gathered a group of ordinary young adults (most of them teens), mentored them and entrusted them to start the church. Students can/should lead in ministry. This statement causes angst among many. Some hear “student led” and become anxious, they fear chaos will ensue. Others read it and are threatened, “but how will I use my gifts?” Even teenagers may read it and have their doubts, “We’re too young, we don’t need more on our plate!” Semantics play a role as well; what if we redefined “leadership” as a person who is leading in his or her area of giftedness? We need teen leaders in music, mercy and mission. Teens who are exercising their giftedness in administration and teaching are equally important.

How are you helping a student discover, develop and use his or her gift within the context of ministry? IMG_2503

Students are ready, capable and already leading in so many other realms, it is time (again) for the church to give them room to operate while adult mentors walk with them as coaches and cheerleaders!