Celebrate the Little Things: Measuring Success Within Student Ministry

peanuts-celebrate-the-little-thingsThis past Wednesday, we had the privilege of celebrating our largest youth service in the history of our church! It is incredible to sit back and see what God is doing in and through our student ministry! Lives are being impacted and countless students are becoming connected into the culture of our ministry!

Although numbers help measure success, they cannot be the main determining factor. We must take time to celebrate the small victories that help us accomplish our overarching goals. Not only are we celebrating the incredible numerical growth we have seen, but also the little things that have helped us get to where we are!

Luke 16:10 says, “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.” Although Jesus is talking specifically about money here, I believe we can take this and relate it into our individual ministries. When we are successful in the small areas, we will see God bless us with incredible growth. When we fool ourselves and miss celebrating the small things, we will struggle to see large numerical growth.

I have spent quite a bit of time evaluating every aspect of our student ministry over the past couple of weeks. I challenge every church leader to assess and celebrate the small victories taking place within your ministry! As you do this, it will open your eyes to where God desires to take you and I guarantee you will success in ways you could never imagine! Here are four small, yet very important, areas that have helped get us to where we are today.

1. Transformed Lives – This past Wednesday we saw an 8th grade guy give his life to Christ and 2 other middle school students rededicate their lives to Christ! There is a barely a week that goes by where we do not see lives drastically changed for the cause of Christ! Our ministry is filled with leaders who are passionate about seeing students impacted by a life with Christ. They are not afraid to ask the serious questions, challenging our students spiritually! We must approach the heart of our students to see lives truly transformed.

How are you seeing lives transformed for the cause of Christ within your ministry? Even if they are not taking place in large numbers, are you celebrating the victory of each student impacted by a relationship with Christ? I often become jealous of gigantic student ministries that see 20-30 students come to know Christ on a weekly basis. Although we must strive towards big victories, we cannot miss each individual life transformed by the love of Christ!

2. Culture of Discipleship – If you have read any of my other blogs on student ministry, I am sure you have picked up by now how passionate I am about creating a culture of discipleship within student ministry. I would love to say the majority of our students are actively being discipled, but I cannot lie. However, I can celebrate the discipleship culture we are working to create within our ministry. We are spending a great amount of time and energy on our discipleship process. We have brainstormed what it looks like to live, eat, and breathe discipleship, how we measure success, and the difference between coaching, mentoring, and discipleship. We have one key volunteer who leads the charge as our Student Ministry Discipleship Coordinator. She has worked diligently on a follow-up system that will help establish accountability amongst those discipling students.

I recently wrote an article on Leading with Grace. In it I talk about one of our high school students who began teaching at our middle school weekend services. I am proud to say he also began discipling a middle school guy a couple of weeks ago! While many look at this as a small victory, I look at it as a large step towards creating a culture of discipleship! Here is a junior in high school who not only was discipled, but has caught the vision of discipling others! We have developed the system to keep him accountable and help him through the entire process. How are you celebrating the small victories of discipleship within your ministry?

3. First Impressions – I received a phone call this past week from the mother of one of our new students. She was very leery about dropping her 9th grade daughter off to our church on a Wednesday evening. I had goose bumps as I shared with her our passion to see students and families welcomed and connected into our weekly youth gathering! When a new student walks on our campus that are immediately greeted by our First Impressions Team. A New Student Host connects with them, walks them around our entire campus and introduces them to key leaders, their Small Group Leader, and several students who will be in their small group. We want students to feel as welcome as possible as they become connected into the culture of our youth ministry.

We intentionally fill our First Impressions Team with some of our most welcoming, full of energy leaders! Those first couple of minutes on campus for a new student are often the determining factor of them opening up during small groups or coming back the following week. What are you doing to welcome new students? Is this an area you are able to celebrate?

4. Leadership Teams – We often celebrate the leaders who are front and center or the ones who spend the most time impacting students. When was the last time you celebrated those who don’t necessarily lead from the spotlight? We have an incredible team who sets up our environments each and every week – moving chairs, setting up computers, printing out check-in sheets, and putting together leaders’ folders. Our technical arts team spends a few hours each week putting together the technical production aspect of our weekly youth service. Our café team is their week-in and week-out serving coffee, smoothies, pizza, and snacks! Our ministry is made up of so many other leaders who pour into the background and organizational side of our ministry! I am blessed to see their hearts, serve alongside them, and celebrate the awesome love they have for our student ministry!

Do you have leaders who have caught on to the vision of your church and ministry? Are they passionate about what they do or do you just throw them into positions? Celebrate the leadership teams that don’t often experience the spotlight! I truly believe they are just as important as the speaker and worship leader. Without the time and energy these teams spend each week, ministry would not be possible and growth would not take place in the capacity that we desire!

Never miss the small wins that take place within your ministry on a daily and weekly basis! Celebrate the accomplishments of your students, leaders, and families. Never become so wrapped up in the large number of attendance that you miss the little things that help get you to where God wants you!

The Croods – Pursuit of a Brighter Tomorrow!

Slide1As a family, we sat down this afternoon to watch The Croods. I was a little leery based on what I heard and read from others. To my surprise, the story of Eep, Grug, Guy, and company was quite inspirational!

The Croods are the last remaining “cave people” in their prehistoric world. Grug is known as the “hardest working father in history” He often takes his responsibility to protect and provide for his family overboard, requiring them to spend weeks inside their cave. This does not go over to well with Eep, the rebellious redheaded teenager who can’t stand the idea of following status quo. Grug wants his family to live by the “rules” painted on the cave wall, while Eep wants to break the rules. It’s the same parent-teen conflict families have experienced since the dawn of time, heightened by the fact that Eep’s world seems to be ending. Literally. As the earth crumbles and volcanos erupt, the Croods’ cave home—the only place they’re ever truly safe—is destroyed. For a family whose motto is “never not be afraid” this could be devastating.

Fortunately for the Croods, they’re not quite as alone as they thought. Eep stumbles across Guy, a prehistoric teen heart-throb whose quick wits and creative ideas help save the day. When the Croods venture out of their cave on a hunting trip, the whole family—including Eep’s mom, brother, baby sister, and Gran works together like a well-oiled machine. While Grug seems old-fashioned, it is made clear he is doing his best to provide for his family. In fact, his character is as much the focus of the story as is Eep. It is nice to see a film that affirms the family unit!

Within this prehistoric storyline stands a clear example of what it means to step out in faith and follow Jesus Christ! So often we don’t know where that first step of faith leads. We feel like we are jumping into the unknown. Taking a leap of faith begins with us believing Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life! Eep may have had a rebellious side to her, but she was constantly seeking truth. The movie begins with these incredible words from Eep, “With every sun comes a new day. A new beginning. A hope that things will be better today than they were yesterday. But not for me. My name is Eep. And this is my family, the Croods. If you weren’t clued in already by the animal skins and sloping foreheads, we’re cavemen. Most days we spend in our cave, in the dark. Night after night, day after day. Yep, home sweet home. When we did go out, we struggled to find food in a harsh and hostile world…The Croods made it, because of my dad. He was strong, and he followed the rules. The ones painted on the cave walls. Anything new is bad. Curiosity is bad. Going out at night is bad. Basically, anything fun is bad. Welcome to my world! But this is a story about how all that changed in an instant. Because what we didn’t know was that our world was about to come to an end. And there were no rules on our cave walls to prepare us for that.”

Modern christianity can easily find itself in the same situation. In other words, we become so focused on what we cannot do and on what is bad that we miss the newness of life! We fail to see that tomorrow can be better than today because of the hope we have in a relationship with Christ!

I have also come in contact with many Christians that live everyday out of fear. They attend church on Sunday because God may not bless them if they don’t go. Their “religion” is based on the fear of eternal separation from God instead of in a relationship with the Creator who personally loves us unconditionally! Grug constantly said, “Never not be afraid!” He obeyed the rules out of fear. He failed to see the hope of a brighter tomorrow! He missed the new life of love, joy, and peace that could be obtained by following the Sun.

Life with God takes us out of our past and into a new hope-filled relationship with the Son! It is about experiencing the newness of each day! We, like the Croods, walk through a fallen, dangerous, and dying world. True life resides in God. We must put our faith in the unseen to survive the seen, as we hold up our hand and lift up our hearts to feel the warmth of God’s love!

The gospel shines through this entire movie! Guy shows up, bringing the news of the Sun! He challenges them with the bad news –  they are living in darkness, the end of the world is coming, and they will be destroyed if they choose to stay living as they are. Guy also invites them into a new life through the good news of hope. He makes them fire that protects them and illuminates the darkness, while teaching them how to follow the Sun!

The Croods may have been a little crude in the beginning, but as they move towards the sun, they become less and less ignorant and more and more like a loving, compassionate family on mission! As they follow the sun they are transformed. They get out of the darkness, escape annihilation, relationships improve, people change, love is freely shown, and even their enemies become their friends through their example of hope!

Towards the end of the movie, Grug says, “No more dark. No more hiding. No more caves. What’s the point of all this? To follow the light. I can’t change. I don’t have ideas…” Grug knew that his ideas were not going to save his family. Instead, he had to rely on the power of the Sun!

What are you doing to follow the Son – Jesus Christ? As Christians, we have the promise that the Light of the World, the Son of God, never sets! He never hides behind the clouds or is overtaken by the storms of life. He is stronger than anything we will ever face! I John 4:8 says, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear.” When we place our trust in a relationship with Jesus, we have the hope of a brighter tomorrow!

I encourage each of you to gather your family, pop a couple of bags of popcorn, and enjoy The Croods! Discuss the pursuit of a brighter tomorrow as a family!

Healthy Balance Between Family and Work

Balance of work and familyNext to my relationship with Christ is my responsibility to my family. My God-ordained calling as a husband and father trumps my calling as a pastor. I have the greatest job in the world, but it is not comparable to the incredible opportunity I have as a father of 5 beautiful children and a husband of the coolest (and hottest) wife in the world! God has called me to pastor my home before I pastor families and students within our church.

Unfortunately, I have had to learn this (and am still learning) the hard way! Almost four years ago, one of my best friends confronted me out of love. I had become consumed with work and was running from one youth ministry event to another without spending time with my own family. I was so wrapped up in doing God’s work, that I missed being the husband and father my family needed. Following one of our biggest youth events of the year, I was faced with the reality that I had failed my wife and kids – not the most comforting emotion to work through!

God is constantly reminding me what it means to be the pastor of my own home! Let me share 4 keys to creating a healthy balance between family and ministry.

1. Be Present – It is easy to be physically present without being emotionally or mentally present. Our devices and gadgets make it simple for us to be somewhere without actually being present. Our kids need more than a physical presence. They desire us to be actively involved in every aspect of their lives, even if they say otherwise. They need our emotional, relational, and spiritual encouragement. At the same time, I understand that our jobs need us to be present. As a pastor, my presence is often required at odd hours of the day and week. In order to create a healthy balance, we must be intentional with our time, striving to be emotionally, mentally, relationally, and spiritually present at all times!

2. Develop a System of Accountability – We cannot get through life on our own strength. We must give people access to our lives, enabling them to challenge us when necessary. Whether it be in a one-on-one or small group setting, we all need a ‘check up from the neck up’ every once in a while. If the quality time with my family diminishes because I am consumed with my pastoral responsibilities, I need to know there is somebody who is willing to challenge me out of love. I understand we all go through extremely busy phases at work and at home, but neither should overshadow the other for a long period of time. Accountability is a huge key to developing a healthy balance between family and work.

3. Be Honest – Some of the hardest conversations I have ever had with my wife and children were in regards to my pride and selfishness getting in the way of the growth of our family. Our kids need to hear that we are not perfect and that we don’t always have all of the answers. They need to hear us admit we are wrong, apologetic, and seeking forgiveness. I often try to defend myself instead of allowing God to break my pride. In the long run, the health of our family will drastically increase when we admit we messed up and are honest about our failures. There is nothing natural about us apologizing to our kids. It takes major steps of humility. Too often we shove our mistakes under the rug, but we are so quick to call out the mistakes of others. We must dig deep into God’s grace and realize our kids to need to see us vulnerable and broken.

4. Live a Life Worth Imitating – In I Corinthians 11:1, Paul says, ‘Imitate me, just as I imitate Christ.’ My desire is to be the Christ-like parent that I would want for my grandkids and the Godly husband I would want my boys to be for their future wife. I also pray those around me see Biblical character and integrity shine through my work ethic and leadership skills. When we prioritize our lives around a relationship with Christ, others will see the incredible impact we have on our families and workplaces. In a world full of poor role models, we must step up and live lives worth imitating for the cause of Christ!

We cannot take the responsibilities God has blessed us with lightly. We must understand the importance of creating a healthy balance between family and work. But we also need to know that, as much as we would love to be, we are not perfect. It is in these moments, we must fall flat on our faces and beg God to pick us up, humble us, and mold us how He desires us to be! It is only through His strength and love that we can experience a healthy balance between family and work!