All Posts by Brian Drinkwine

Teen Talk: Six ways to make your messages more relevant

Teen Talk: Six ways to make your messages more relevant

Teen talk is one of the biggest challenges for many youth leaders, and one of your biggest responsibilities. I would love to write up a formula of the “perfect” talk for student ministry. Unfortunately, there’s not one right way to give a talk to teens. There are, however, some best and worst practices. In this blog, I’ll go through just a few tricks that I work into my own personal message prep. So, if you’re wanting to develop yourself as a communicator to teens, read these tips and hopefully they’ll at least give you a few tools to work with:

#1: Build Suspense

Have you ever watched a suspense thriller? The films that build suspense the best don’t show you the monster/enemy, at least not until after they’ve built a lot of mystery and fear around the idea of it. Why? Because it’s not what you see that’s scary. It’s what you don’t see. Take a cue from that principle. When you teach, spend some time talking about what you’re going to talk about, but don’t actually let them know where you’re going quite yet. A simple way to do this is to say something like, “In a minute, I’m going to ask you a question. It’s an important question, too…” and then spend some time talking about why it’s important before actually asking the question. Suspense will get students to lean in and listen like you never thought they were capable.

#2: Use stories.

Start your talk by introducing yourself through a personal story from your own life that illustrates your main point for the talk. Stories speak to the human spirit and connect message points to real life. Make it personal and make it real. Your story can get laughs or pull at heartstrings, but what matters most is that it brings out your point in an imaginative and visual manner.

#3: One Point, One Passage.

It sounds counterintuitive because we want to teach our teens as much as we possibly can, but most of the time youth talks lack substance precisely because they overreach. Instead of teaching five points mediocre, teach one point and one passage with precision and poignant relevance. By keeping it simple, you are able to repeat your point until it’s burned into the minds of your students and you’re able to teach your biblical passage with greater depth and insight.

#4: Keep your teen talk short.

Your average teenager watches a string of half hour TV shows throughout the week and when you take into account the commercials along the way, you’re basically talking about a 22 minute attention span. So unless you’re a renowned communicator, a 50-minute message might not be your best bet. I encourage people to keep their talks around the 25-minute mark. It seems to be a great sweet spot for teens, unless you’re specifically teaching junior high students, in which case I would go even shorter.

#5: Use visuals.

Object lessons can be some of the greatest illustrations for biblical points. Especially for younger teens, abstract concepts are difficult to understand and can seem distant and incomprehensible. There is no limit to this, so bring swords when you’re telling the story of David and Goliath or have a mirror on stage when you’re talking about the image of God. It’s obviously important to articulate the gospel story in a way that the student understands, and visuals can show an abstract concept in concrete terms.

#6: Make Jesus the Hero.

Every message should call students to the gospel story. Opening students’ eyes to their brokenness paves the way for something bigger and better: the fact that Jesus heals our brokenness. Don’t spend so much time giving life tips and practical how to’s that you fail to point students to the ultimate solution that makes all of your advice look feeble. When your talk points to Jesus–instead of your knowledge–as the solution, you give power that goes beyond yourself.


 

None of these tricks are always necessary, but they can all be used at some point and have become staples within my own teen talk repertoire. Whether you’re a veteran youth leader or a young and aspiring communicator, my hope is that each of these tricks can help make you the absolute best communicator to teens you can be. And most of all, my hope is that lives are changed as a result.

Which of these tricks resonates most? Which is your greatest challenge?

How to plan a youth ministry calendar in seven easy steps

How to plan a youth ministry calendar in seven easy steps

Have you ever wondered how to plan a youth ministry calendar that makes ministry easier, rather than harder? Planning your calendar can be a daunting task. There are many things to consider and many people to keep in mind as you decide which events are most important, what teaching content to teach, and when to do what. Setting your calendar is one of the most important things you do in your ministry. It is what takes your vision, goals, and strategy from being mere words on paper to becoming a reality.

Here are seven steps to planning your ministry calendar:

Step 1: Prioritize.

What are your values in planning? For myself, I like to plan in advance so that staff, volunteers, and parents are in tune with what’s ahead and aren’t surprised when things come up. I also value planning as far out as possible, typically at least six months out for basic dates, so that I can begin promoting events 90 days out. For your ministry, you will need to determine what matters most and, specifically, determine the following:

Purposes: What purposes will your events serve? I like to plan in three broad categories:

  1. UP: This focuses on helping students get plugged into the ministry and experience the wonder of who God is. These are typically evangelistic for our ministry and are where we see conversions most often. An example of this would be our camps. These are our greatest opportunity for students to have spiritual collisions.
  2. IN: This focuses on helping students find their identity in Christ and experience community. These are typically discipleship-focused and are most useful for equipping. An example of this would be when we focus on a certain area of spiritual growth and throw an event on a ministry night with a special guest who has special experience in that area.
  3. OUT: This focuses on giving our students opportunities to live out their faith. These are typically missions or serving focused. As example would be annual Micro-missions in which our small groups do service projects around the city and come together for a big rally at the end.

Goals: How many events do you plan to have of each purpose? How many for different age groups, if you oversee more than one ministry area? Don’t get too ambitious. To put things in perspective, you might only do quarterly events for each of the three areas, but even that amounts to monthly events throughout the year.

Boundaries: Are there any limits you need to set? For example, you may have found that putting an event within a few weeks of another event can undermine the amount of students who participate. Instead of going to both events, many students will choose to only attend one and you end up with half the number of kids attending. For this reason, it might be smart to never do a ministry-wide event within 4-weeks of another ministry-wide event. This way, when one event is over, you still have time to promote the next event and get kids there.

Step 2: Enter “black out” dates.

Black out dates are dates that are out of your control. The most important are (a) holidays, (b) school dates, and (c) church-wide events. Start by entering all holidays onto the calendar and make note of any that will impact our events and planning. Then, enter the school start/end dates for the local school districts, as well as off-days and breaks. After that, check your church calendar for any dates already entered and touch base with other ministry leaders and church staff to see if there’s anything else you need to be aware of as you plan.

Step 3: Plan for teaching.

Remember that, as a ministry leader, your content is the driving force behind your ministry, not your events. Events can act as accelerants to growth but will never be the basis for it. So plan your teaching first, then your events can coincide. Plan your topics, themes, and book studies with your culture in mind. For example, February or March is a great time for a sex/dating series in high school because Valentine’s Day is happening and prom is typically right around the corner. If you do a teaching on spiritual warfare or fear, October is a great time with Halloween. A series on spiritual disciplines the month after summer camp can also help your students catapult into the school year refreshed and growing spiritually.

Step 4: Enter events.

Begin planning your events according to a balanced approach of UP, IN, and OUT (or whatever purposes your ministry uses). Drop in dates for summer camps, retreats, conferences, and other events as needed. It’s especially effective if you can do events that coincide with your series content. One simple way to do this is to make the first week of any series an event in itself, basically a series kickoff event that helps “tee up” the series.

Step 5: Enter milestones.

Milestones are those “other” dates that have to be done in order to accomplish your initiatives successfully. You will want to plan registration deadlines and deadlines for your team to meet goals along the way, as well as dates for marketing your events. Also, don’t forget to plan in advance for some follow-up after each event to evaluate. Add any other milestones as you think of them.

Step 6: Evaluate.

Ask some of these questions and see if your calendar measures up:

  1. Is our calendar balanced between our purposes, strategy, and values?
  2. Is our calendar in partnership with the church, community, parents, etc?
  3. Does our calendar adequately reflect our vision and values?
  4. Is our calendar simple enough?
  5. Do we have any ‘sacred cows’ that need to be reconsidered?

Step 7: Eliminate Excess.

You need to go through the entire calendar, based on the questions above, and eliminate some things. If your calendar is too overloaded with outreach events, for example, you may need to eliminate a couple in order to help some of the other events succeed. Whatever the case, don’t be afraid to cut some fat. It’s always best to think with a “less is more” mindset.


So there you have it. In seven simple steps you took what seemed overwhelming and made it achievable! Whatever you do, make this an opportunity to ensure that your calendar will serve your ministry’s purpose and not the other way around.

Now, let’s discuss.

What part of building your ministry calendar is most difficult? What do you see as the biggest barrier to creating an effective ministry calendar?

 

Four lies people tell themselves about their leadership

Four lies people tell themselves about their leadership

There are plenty of lies people tell themselves when it comes to leadership. And as a leader yourself, it can be easy to become blind to your own faults. Whether you like it or not, people put you on a pedestal and believe that somehow you will encompass everything they want in a spiritual influence. The problems with this are that (a) you can never measure up and you will eventually let someone down, and (b) the pressure to be perfect can cause you to become preoccupied with image or, worse, arrogant.

This makes it ironic that you are in leadership, mainly because you have made a ton of mistakes in life and you probably see yourself as “just another normal person.” You just happen to work at a church and you hope that you can be “there” for a few people along the way.

Yet the Enemy wants you to become arrogant and egotistical. He wants to plant lies in your mind that create a false reality. Here are just a few lies I have believed in my past and the lessons that I have learned from them. Maybe it’ll save you from making some of the same mistakes.

Four lies people tell themselves about their leadership:

#1: You think you can do it all.

If you haven’t already, at some point you will think something along these lines: “if you want something done right, then do it yourself.” This couldn’t be further from the truth. The reality is this: If you want to have the greatest impact, find people who are better than you at things and LET GO.

#2: You think you need to sound spiritual.

Big words and deeply theological insights may impress a crowd of seminary students, but if you’re reaching the lost, you’ll spend a great deal of time with people who have no interest in such things. They could care less whether or not their epistemology is lends itself to a hermeneutically sound soteriology. They just want to know if God loves them and, more importantly, they will determine God’s love by your love (or lack thereof) for them. Focus less on sounding spiritual and more on being spiritual. That happens when you learn to pursue broken people at your own expense.

#3: You think you have to rescue everyone.

You are a naturally compassionate person and you’re easily preoccupied with broken people. Because of this, you will naturally struggle with the need to see everyone reached. On the one hand, this is a good thing, because God loves all people. The flip side is that you are not God and, as a result, you’re only responsible for reaching the people God wants you to reach and to trust him with the rest. The sooner you realize that only God is powerful enough to save, the sooner you’ll be able to have the impact He created you to have.

#4: You think you’ve arrived.

One of the most dangerous places you will ever be as a leader will be when you think you have it all figured out. You can never grow as a leader if you’re not willing to listen. Only teachable people are able to become great leaders for the Kingdom.


Every leader is subject to falling into one of these false assumptions. Nobody is an exception to the rule. If you want to become all the God created you as a leader, take some time on a regular basis to consider if you are falling into one of these temptations.

Which of these four false assumptions are you believing right now? Are you willing to be vulnerable and share?

Ten ways to spark group discussion

Ten Ways to Spark Group Discussion

Trying to spark group discussion can be quite difficult. Small groups are the backbone of spiritual movement in most ministries. Whether your groups are video-based, discussion-based, verse-by-verse, topical, or something else, having open and honest dialogue is crucial to making a small group happen successfully. But sometimes getting the members of your group to talk can be difficult, especially if you haven’t had much time to foster deep relationships. Take some time to read through these tips and hopefully they’ll help you create a dynamic environment where spiritual movement is simply unstoppable:

#1: Pray.

Pray before your group time that God will open up hearts and opportunities to talk openly. Then open your time by praying with your group. Especially when you haven’t had much time with your group members, prayer can open big doors of conversation. Simply asking people to share will get some of them talking. Not only will it give them a chance to talk without an agenda or “right answers,” but it will show them that your group cares about them for who they are.

#2: Bring food.

It’s amazing how much drinks, snacks, and other foods can break down walls and encourage conversation among your group members. If your group is at a home, have the host prepare food beforehand. If your group is a breakout after a ministry gathering, pick up some snacks on the way and break them out when discussion begins.

#3: Establish safety.

Your group members need to know that they won’t be criticized for their imperfections. Having a no-perfect-people-allowed culture makes it easier to talk about problems and take off masks. Because of today’s issues of self-injury and harm to others, I am not a fan of telling group members, “What’s said in the group stays in the group,” but I still believe it’s important that they feel as if they can share. So instead, just let them know that they can share anything and they can always trust that you will have their best interest at heart and won’t judge them for anything they’ve done.

#4: Don’t teach. Facilitate.

There’s a huge difference between facilitating discussion and teaching your group. In a teacher-to-student model, the teacher is the focal point, but in a facilitator model, the student is the focus and their dialogue dominates the time, not the group leader. Avoid spending much time telling about your life experiences or making points. Instead, allow your students to wrestle with issues openly, knowing that they hold the floor.

#5: Get comfortable with silence.

I encourage group leaders to use the 10-second-rule when leading group discussions: Whenever you pose a question, count to ten before you interrupt or ask another question. The first time you do this, it may seem a little awkward, but after a while it will establish an understanding that you’re okay with silence and you’re willing to wait while students try to figure out what they want to say.

#6: Hang out outside your group time.

Grab coffee with a student one-on-one, put together a group outing, or show up at an event that one of your members is involved in. With every hour you spend with your group outside your small group time, your discussion will become more and more dynamic.

#7: Create a “no wrong answers” culture.

A simple rule of thumb in any environment is to always “praise in public, critique in private.” When a group member challenges your opinion, even a biblical one, it’s important not to spend time correcting them, especially in front of the group. This doesn’t mean that you don’t help guide the group toward a biblical understanding. You must! But do so in a way that doesn’t single someone out. This will help them see that their opinion matters to you even when it’s not your own.

#8: Contain the dominator.

There’s always that one person in the group who avoids talking, either because they’re shy or because they’re afraid of rejection. Whatever the case, do your best to give many opportunities to talk. At the same time, you may be battling with a person who likes to dominate conversation. It’s important not to publicly shame this person while making it clear that you want to hear others talk. A simple, “You know what, I’d love to hear from [name of other student],” will do fine. If you need to take it a small step forward, you can same something like, “We’ve heard a lot from you, let’s hear from someone else.” You likely won’t need to worry about hurting their feelings, either. Most dominators aren’t even aware that they’re doing it.

#9: Create the right environment.

Another way to encourage open dialogue is the create an environment that minimizes distractions and maximizes the experience. Avoid rows of chairs where people feel like they’re at a lecture. Instead, get people sitting in a circle where they all see each other. Think of exercises that people can do that will help them talk around the topic. Object lessons are great as well. I can remember some amazing conversations where groups anonymously wrote sins on index cards and I read them so they could talk openly without anyone being singled out.

#10: Use the Bible.

In many ministries, the groups begins with a message and has groups discuss around the topic after they’ve outlined some biblical content, but since the conversation doesn’t start with biblical references, it can be easy to never return to the Bible as a basis for conversation. Look for opportunities to bring your group members to the Scriptures. It will establish that the Bible is the ultimate authority in all matters of conversation while giving them another basis for conversation.


 

While some of these practices might not always be practical for your group time, they can all assist you as you seek to create a dynamic experience for your small group. Feel free to experiment with each of these ideas and stay encouraged. They won’t always work. In fact, I’ve flat-out failed at times, but with each attempt, I’ve gotten better and better and eventually I’ve become pretty good at making them all happen. So, try them all out and may lives be changed in the process.

Which of these tips would you like to implement this week?

Five keys to keeping volunteers in your ministry

Five keys to keeping volunteers in your ministry

As a ministry leader, attracting volunteers can be a significant task, especially in youth ministry where people are often intimidated by the age group. But keeping volunteers in your ministry can be a challenge as well and it’s vital to the long-term success of your ministry. After all, their success is your success, but it’s hard to succeed if a volunteer isn’t present to fuel and drive the ministry. It’s also discouraging to sit down with that one rock-star volunteer and hear them tell you that they’re stepping down.

Here are Five Keys to Keeping Volunteers in Your Ministry:

#1: Keep your vision clear and repeat it often.

Many times volunteers will step out of a ministry because they’re dissatisfied with something that they can’t quite put their finger on. They’ll likely step out quietly and won’t tell you why they’re leaving, but it’s likely because there’s something about the direction of the ministry that they’re unsure of. A ministry leader’s first inclination might be to avoid talking about where the ministry’s headed. After all, isn’t that why the person is discontent? However, your best bet is to cast vision repeatedly to your volunteers. Talk about it in your emails, when you see them one-on-one, at your leadership meetings, and even when you’re giving your messages. Get your leaders to share when they see the vision in action and celebrate, celebrate, celebrate! When you’re sick and tired of hearing yourself talk about the vision is when your volunteers will just be grasping the concept. And once they do, it’ll be your job to keep them thinking about it so that little details don’t distract them from the mission of the ministry. A volunteer who is bought into the vision will remain dedicated to its cause despite incredible odds.

#2: Give freedom within a clearly defined role.

Every volunteer desires to express their gifts and passions in whatever function they have in the ministry. Letting them know exactly what their responsibilities and expectations are will keep them from becoming disillusioned due to ambiguity. Once they understand what is expected of them, take a step back and let them do their role without you looking over their shoulder. This will give them the sense that they aren’t just hired hands, but are valuable members of the team in their own right.

#3: Provide opportunities for volunteers to self-equip.

Let your volunteers know ahead of time that you will want to evaluate them and help them grow. Establish an expectation of evaluation early as it will help them to stay teachable and open to constructive feedback. When you give feedback, spend most of your time helping them see what they do best, then choose one area for them to work on and give them a way to improve. Don’t just tell them to work on it. Give them tools. You can do this by sending them web resources, meeting with them again to train them one-on-one, including training in your next volunteer meeting, etc. Whatever you do, set a precedent that they are responsible for their own growth, but that you’ll be there every step of the way.

#4: Develop a culture of big dreams wrapped in grace.

When volunteers are free to dream, they are free to forget the past and pursue a bigger vision. Find opportunities to encourage your volunteers to dream on their own, within the ministry’s vision but apart from smaller constraints. Ask them what they would do if they didn’t know you were there watching, or what goals they might have that they’ve never expressed out loud. Whether these dreams are met or not, meet them with encouragement. This is what it means for the dreams to be “wrapped in grace.” If your volunteers believe that they can take risks and be encouraged no matter what happens, they’ll keep dreaming, perhaps beyond even your own vision.

#5: Point out wins and show public compassion.

Keep looking out for those powerful God-moments and times when your volunteers go the extra mile. Don’t just say “Good job.” When a small group leader stays after church to pray with someone, point it out at the next gathering and praise them for their passionate service. In one ministry, we gave an award after every ministry gathering to the volunteer who displayed an effort to “go the extra mile.” It not only showed our volunteers what mattered most, but resulted in more momentum than we ever could have expected. In addition, look for opportunities to show compassion to your volunteers publicly, in a way that helps others rally around them. Pray for them and speak encouragement to them, especially in times of need.


 

As much as recruiting volunteers is vital, retaining them is equally as important. Developing habits that help to keep your volunteers over the long haul will create a culture of loyalty, passion, and Godly pursuit of your ministry’s vision. Keep casting vision, giving freedom, equipping, dreaming big, and celebrating wins, and your volunteers won’t just hang on. They’ll give God their absolute best because it flows from a deep, intrinsic passion for the mission.

Which if these five things do you want to do more of in your ministry?

Five barriers to team unity

“If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the fault. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back. But if you are unsuccessful, take one or two others with you and go back again, so that everything you say may be confirmed by two or three witnesses. If that person still refuses to listen, take your case to the church. If the church decides you are right, but the other person won’t accept it, treat that person as a pagan or a corrupt tax collector.” (Matthew 18:15-17, NLT)

I was a student pastor in Phoenix for almost five years. During that time, we saw tremendous growth and had an amazing bunch of volunteers. After a few years there, we began to sense that some tension was growing in our team. We were not as unified as I had once thought. I wouldn’t necessarily say that we are DISunified. In fact, in some ways I’d bet other ministries would be envious of the team unity that we had. But I was becoming keenly aware of some little things that were becoming a barrier to maximum unity on our team.

Here are FIVE Barriers to team unity:

#1: Fear of Confrontation.

You should talk to someone about a problem, but you’re afraid of how they may react. This could be because you once confronted them and they rejected how you felt, or because you have been told that they aren’t so “approachable.” Have you ever felt this way? First, I have found that if you approach a person with grace and compassion, most people are far more approachable than I thought. Regardless, if you have something that needs to be dealt with, the responsibility falls on you to confront the person in question and nobody else. This can be difficult, but the fear of confrontation is only overcome through repeated healthy confrontations over time. With each one, you will build trust with the person in question.

Question to ponder:

Have you ever been afraid to confront a person about a problem, but you worked up the courage to approach them? Did it work out?

Tip:

When you do confront a person, do so alone and in person before you bring it up to someone else. Only let someone else know about your problem if the person in question doesn’t receive your input the first time (Matthew 18:15-16).

#2: Gossip.

In the “old days,” gossip was always described as something malicious or out of bad motives. But today most gossip actually happens out of good intentions. Did you read that? Most gossip today occurs while having good intentions. Consider this example: Johnny is bothered that Jack didn’t put him on the worship leader schedule, so he goes his friend Ronnie to vent about his frustration instead of going directly to Jack. Even though Ronnie thinks highly of Jack, he can’t help but question Jack’s motives, methods, discernment, etc. Implore your team members to never share personal matters with a third party until they have been shared with the person in question.

Questions to ponder:

Have you ever gone to vent to someone about a problem you had with another person without going to that person directly? Have you ever thought about this as gossip?

#3: Lack of Approachability.

You struggle with being approachable. As a result, it is difficult for people to come to you with something that bothers them. Sometimes your pride gets in the way and you just don’t like hearing their concerns because it exposes your flaws. One thing you can work on is this simple statement: “I’m sorry.” It’s amazing how powerful these two little words can be. It shows the person you realize that you’re not perfect, you know you have problems, and you know you need to work on them.

Questions to ponder:

Do you have this same struggle? What do you think would happen if you were willing to apologize the next time someone confronted you?

#4: Lack of Accountability.

Hold people accountable to Matthew 18 conflict resolution. When a person comes to you to share a problem they have with another person, your first question should be, “Have you talked to that person already?” If they haven’t, do not let the conversation go any further. Instead, encourage the person to go directly to the person in question and talk it out. Let the person know that if they don’t get anywhere with that person, then they are welcome to come to you and share the situation. Then you can join them to talk it out with the other person. This can be especially difficult for you if you thrive on drama and knowing the “dirty little secrets” about others.

Questions to ponder:

Has anyone ever come to you to share a problem they had with another person? How did you respond? Did you ask questions and “find out more” or did you challenge them to talk to the person first?

#5: Lack of leadership.

In Jesus’ model for handling conflict, the first step is approaching the person in question. The second step is taking a person or two with you to talk to the person in question. But the third step (if all else has failed to this point) is going to a church pastor. If you are a church leader, you will need to resist the temptation to get into people’s “messes” before it is appropriate. When you do this, you create co-dependency by developing a culture where people don’t approach conflict without your involvement.

Questions to ponder:

Have you ever done the first two steps toward unity in Matthew 18, then had to go to a church leader? If so, how did that work out? Why would it be difficult to do that if you needed to?


Given all of the potential that you have to make a huge kingdom impact, it’s important that you relentlessly strive for unity. When you choose to vent to others or avoid confrontation out of fear, you invite the Enemy to attack your team’s unity and divide you against one another. It’s important that, as a team, you not only assume the best in each other, but that you constantly seek to play out your roles with Kingdom-mindedness and Godly integrity.

For Discussion: Which unity barrier is your ministry dealing with most?

How Would Jesus do Youth Ministry? The 5 Growth Engines

How Would Jesus Do Youth Ministry?

If Jesus was a youth pastor, how would he approach youth ministry?

Yes, I know. It’s a loaded question. But I think it’s worth asking.

Of course, nobody can really know what Jesus would do. After all, would Jesus even say youth ministry was biblical? I think he would, but that’s a topic for another day.

What we can do is take a look at the life and ministry of Jesus and ask, How did Jesus make disciples? After all, that’s all youth ministry really is: a disciple-making experiment focused on teenagers.

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What Great Youth Leaders Have That Others Don’t

There I was. Weeping uncontrollably.

“Where did this come from?” I thought. “How did I get to this point?”

I looked up and my Greek professor had been staring straight at me, trying not to call too much attention as he faked his way through his lecture. But as soon as I looked up and we made eye contact, he looked away and addressed the rest of the class, giving them instructions to keep them busy.

Then he approached me.

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