5 Big Questions: Part 5

This week one of the big questions is what do to with a student who doesn’t want to be there.

  1. What are some of the “out of the box ways” that we can keep the kids’ attention (during small group discussions, activities, games, teaching time, etc.)?

To be 100% honest, don’t be boring. If your students are on their phones or talking when you’re talking during a sermon or small group, then the issue is 100% you and not them. You are not being engaging enough to hold their attention. You don’t need to set fireworks off and do tricks; you just need to treat them like people, be engaging in your body language, and learn to read the group. If your small group is all over the place, take them outside. If they fiddle on the couch, then sit on the floor. I would say the vast majority of time kids are disconnected is because you’re being boring. So, my “out of the box” idea is to be less boring 😛 

  1. What are some of the typical biases that leaders have when they enter into Youth Ministry, whether leading or pastoring, and how can we be sure to avoid those ideas or ways of leading?

I think the biggest biases that leaders face as they go into youth ministry are that they think they know everything. Often, new pastors have had 4-5 years of Bible school with a 3-6 month internship. They step into their new church role and think they know everything. The problem is, they do know a lot about the Bible, but very little about their new church’s culture or students. Their Biblical knowledge is strong, but their relational knowledge is virtually zero. The byproduct of this is that they tend to think they know better than the local leader who’s been faithfully serving for a decade. While they might know better, they can only discover that over time. 

  1. What is the key to developing relationships in a large youth group? How do I encourage a youth that doesn’t want to be at the group, but is being forced to by their parents to get more involved?

This is a two-part question, so let me give you two answers. 

The first answer is that you cannot do all the work yourself. You need to empower your leaders and key students to help you take care of your group and develop relationships. At best, you can do a dozen, so if your group is bigger than that, then you need help. The best way to do that is make sure every student is in a small group and then release/empower your small group leaders to work with their “few”. If everyone does their part, then the whole group is taken care of. 

The second answer is that you can never force a student to get more involved. But, as a rule of thumb, I often say, “Every fringe-student is only one conversation from being on the inside vs. the outside”. If you go back to part one of this answer and actually do it, then every kid will get a conversation, but it’s up to the student to get involved. 

  1. Is it common for you to develop your own teaching schedule/material or will your lead pastor want to be involved?

Most of the time, you will be creating your own or following a curriculum of your own choosing. However, from time to time you may get asked to align what you’re doing with what the church is doing. These are fun moments to join together, however lots of times pastors resist this opportunity. I would see it as that: an opportunity to partner and raise the profile of your program, and your boss will LOVE YOU.

  1. How theologically intense should you teach?

You can go as deep as you want; you just need to show your work along the way. Basically, you need to show students how you got there, and define the words/concepts for them. You can’t assume they will know, but that doesn’t mean you can’t teach them. As a rule of thumb: the deeper you go, the more time it takes to explain things to kids. So, just be aware of your sermon length. 

Jesse Signiture
If you would like to know more about this topic or learn how to implement this in your youth program feel free to contact me.

5 Big Questions: Part 4

We are continuing our Big Questions series and this week we are looking at burnout, to finding a job, to how to be a good speaker. Enjoy and make sure to check the other questions.

  1. How can I successfully come into an already established youth program and take over? How can I replace a youth ministry without the ministry suffering?

This is a great and tricky question to answer, because it’s a bit based on you, your personality, and what kind of established program you stepped into. If the transition was good and healthy and things are moving along, then I would start by watching, asking questions, and listening to how they do things. However, if it’s been messy, unhealthy, and/or broken, then you may need to act sooner and implement change because you just can’t wait. Regardless of the situation, I think the healthy approach is to find the middle between who you are and who they are. Every pastor will leave an imprint on the program; it’s bound to happen. Not every imprint is bad, and in the same way, new imprints are also not bad. Everyone knows things will be different, but you don’t need to be different just for difference’s sake. 

  1. Why do most youth pastors burn out within a year of signing on?

Honestly, I think there are two reasons, and they come from what I’ve seen over 18 years of ministry. 

The first is that they really have no clue what a youth pastor actually does. They think it’s all events and they don’t see the administration, schedules, parent calls, and late night freak-outs. Often, their internship is an over-glorified volunteer leader position, and not actually a safe taste of real youth ministry. 

The second one is tougher, and I don’t say this lightly, but I think the big reason is that they are actually not called into ministry. I’ve seen so many people think it would be fun to be a youth pastor only to bail when it gets hard. All that time and money at school seems to be washed away with the first road bump, and I think it comes down to calling. If you’re called, your IN, period. There are no questions nor doubts. The natural question is, “How do you know if you’re called?” and that’s a hard one to answer, but if I could try, I would say someone who is called can’t imagine doing or being anywhere else. It doesn’t mean they will always be happy or like it, but no matter what happens, they’re not going anywhere. 

  1. What is the most fulfilling aspect of doing youth ministry?

For me, the two great joys of being a pastor are getting to baptize students (that 100% never gets old) and seeing a leadership student pass on what they have learned to the next generation, without your prompting. 

  1. What are some things to look for when selecting a church to be a youth pastor for?

Here is my list of questions to ask the church in no particular order:

  • Is your church budget heathy?
  • How will you help meet/protect my family life?
  • What’s your vision for the youth group?
  • Where are you headed as a church?
  • What are
  • your 3 biggest strengths and weaknesses as a church?
  • Has the Sr. Pastor ever mentored someone?
  • What will my compensation package look like?
  • Can I ask 3 students and 3 leaders about this youth group?
  1. What are some of the necessary characteristics of a successful communicator to youth?

Outside of their actual ability to speaking, one must hold some level of student attention. I think the most important thing to look for is authenticity. I’ve watched students time and time again lose interest in the “perfect speaker” because they come across as perfect. When you stand up in front of kids and are just yourself, the same you as when your off stage, that’s when you get their attention. Authenticity breeds attention. The question is, now that you have their attention, what are you going to do with it?

back to the archive 

Jesse Signiture
If you would like to know more about this topic or learn how to implement this in your youth program feel free to contact me.

5 Big Questions: Part 3

We are continuing to answer some of youth Ministries biggest questions 5 at a time. This week there are a number of questions about managing volunteers.

  1. How do I deal with a pastoral staff that is not supportive of my ministry? 

This one can be hard, depending on who you’re talking about. The easy answer is to work through it with them according to the Biblical model. I would check out one of our guides, Guide: Letting A Leader Go. Though it’s about letting a leader go, it’s helpful in dealing with the conflict side of this question. If the unsupportive person is your boss, the answer is a bit similar, but the ending is tricky. You still need to work through the Biblical model, but at the end of the day, if it’s less about conflict and more about support/trust in how you lead the ministry, you may need to consider changing churches. It’s almost impossible to get things done if your boss is 100% unsupportive. When leaving any system, make sure to leave well and work hard to keep relationships intact. 

  1. How do I deal with immorality in my volunteer staff?

Firstly, this is similar to question #11. Secondly, it depends on the immorality. Some things can be worked through, such as too much alcohol, porn issues, etc., but if they have done something to or with a student, automatic dismissal is the only course of action. However, restoration should be part of the conversation. The best piece of advice I can give you is ALWAYS involve your senior leadership in these kinds of conversations. They will have your back and can give you guidance on what to do.

  1. What are the advantages and disadvantages of having an all ages youth group vs. separated ages? 

In 18 years of youth ministry, I have tried both ways and every other combination I can think of. I have seen successful models for them all, and what I have discovered is that it 100% comes down to two factors: 

  1. The first is your own personal taste. Some pastors like it separate because they can focus on a dedicated group of students. Some like it together because it puts all their manpower and resources into one night. Regardless, it’s about chasing one method and owning it. 
  2. The second is that your church culture/community will often determine this for you. 

However, no matter what you choose, you will LEAVE KIDS OUT. You will never get 100% compliance and you need to be okay with that. When making this decision, I recommend starting with the following questions:

  • What works with our church schedule?
  • What works for my leaders?
  • What works for my core families?
  • What works for my students?
  1. How can I best prepare for and avoid temptation/sin in my ministry? 

Accountability, acceptability, accountability… oh yeah, and accountability. The most important thing you can do is create a community of people from outside of your ministry that you can be 100% open and honest with. They can ask you the tough questions, and you know that they are a safe place because they are not connected to your job. 

  1. Is there a wrong way to do youth ministry? What does that look like?

I’m not sure that there is a wrong way to do youth ministry, but the closest thing I can think of is when youth becomes 100% relationship time, and Jesus is hard to find. It’s easier to have this happen to you than you might think, especially in smaller settings where the “party” draws a crowd over the Bible study night. When this happens, you essentially become the “boys and girls club” with a sprinkle of Jesus. 

Jesse Signiture
If you would like to know more about this topic or learn how to implement this in your youth program feel free to contact me.

5 Big Questions: Part 2

We are continuing to answer some of youth Ministries biggest questions 5 at a time.

INTRO: A class of 1st year Youth Ministry students asked 40 questions at a recent panel discussion I was part of. We were able to answer only a fraction of the questions, so I decided to take the time to answer all 40 of them. Here are the answers 5 at a time.


  1. How do you love on the kids who show nothing but hostility and aggression towards you or others?

I’m reminded of what Jesus says in Mark 2, how he has come for the sick. Every student ministry will have kids that are hard, hostile, and may not like you. But those are the kids that need Jesus the most, and God has placed them in your group for a reason. Here are a few things you can try…

    • Pray for them daily
    • See if they connect with another leader better
    • See if they connect with a core student 
    • Find out about their world! Oftentimes this helps us empathize with these kids.

NOTE: If they are physical or verbally hostile/abusive toward others, then they cannot stay. That’s a hard conversation to have, and one you will need to walk into it with your Sr. Pastor and church leadership, but if people are going to be harmed/bullied, that’s unacceptable. 

  1. How do you have meaningful conversations with youth in small timeframes?

You need to shift your thinking from a sprint to a marathon. Think of every conversation as an opportunity to build momentum. Over time, you will get to a place of depth, but the short bursts mean it may take a while. So, don’t get discouraged and keep at it. 

  1. What if no youth are coming to youth?

Check out this post: https://freshministry.ca/2018/06/14/its-not-about-you/ 

  1. How do you get parents to respect you?

The word you’re looking for is not respect, but trust. I think trust is a better word because if you have their trust, you not only get to speak into the lives of their child, but they will let you speak into their lives as well. The only way to do this is to be consistent over time and remember that every student has a parent. So, if you’re blowing past your time every week, parents waiting to pick up their children will get frustrated. If you’re telling kids to ignore their parents, they’ll get mad. However, if you regularly and over time champion parents and students together and respect them, they will all trust you. A good resource for all of this is http://thinkorange.com.

  1. How did you find a job as a youth minister?

My very first job came off a flyer on my Bible school’s job board. But, that was a long time ago. These days, the best approach is either going through a district office or by word-of-mouth. Many church jobs don’t get posted outside of the church or denominational circle. So, talking directly with denominations or networking key church leaders is key to finding a job. Relationships are powerful tools, and remember to always pay it forward when someone asks you for help one day. 

Jesse Signiture
If you would like to know more about this topic or learn how to implement this in your youth program feel free to contact me.

5 Big Questions: Part 1

Answering some of youth Ministries biggest questions 5 at a time.

INTRO: A class of 1st year Youth Ministry students asked 40 questions at a recent panel discussion I was part of. We were able to answer only a fraction of the questions, so I decided to take the time to answer all 40 of them. Here are the answers 5 at a time.


  1. Do altar calls have a place in middle school youth ministry retreats?

Yes, I 100% believe altar calls have a place not only in middle school but at all student ministry levels. The challenge you will always face is finding the balance between students genuinely coming forward because they feel God tugging on their hearts vs. coming forward because their friend came up first. The social pressure to respond is always a possibility, but that shouldn’t keep you from doing it. 

My suggestion is to mix up the options you provide. Maybe it’s coming forward in a classic “altar call,” but next time it’s talking to a leader in the back, or filling out a card where they are sitting. No matter what you do, make sure you follow up with whoever responds. 

  1. How do you find balance between having fun & spiritually equipping your youth?

As a rule of thumb, I’ve approached this question based on group type. For middle school students, I aim to be active 75% of the time and teach 25% of the time. For high school students, we teach 75% of the time and play 25% of the time. Activity time can consist of games, team building, etc., and the teaching time can be small group, sermons, and even worship. We do this both on a weekly night basis and a monthly calendar planning. Here are some examples (MS = middle school, HS = high school):

WEEK NIGHT – MS

    • 7:00 Students arrive
    • 7:15-7:30 Welcome / Announcements
    • 7:30-8:15 Games / Activity
    • 8:15-8:45 Small Group time
    • 8:45-9:00 Social Time

MONTHLY – MS

    • Week #1 – Games / Small Group
    • Week #2 – Games / Small Group
    • Week #3 – Game / Worship & Sermon / Small Groups
    • Week #4 – Big Event

WEEK NIGHT – HS

    • 7:00 Students arrive
    • 7:15-7:30 Welcome / Announcements
    • 7:30-7:45 Mixer Game
    • 7:45-9:00 Combination or Worship, Sermon and Small Groups 

MONTHLY – HS

    • Week #1 – Mixer / Worship & Sermon / Small Groups
    • Week #2 – Mixer / Worship / Small Group
    • Week #3 – Big Event
    • Week #4 – Mixer / Worship / Small Group
  1. What is the best ratio of bible study to games?

I say this question sounds a lot like, “How much fun can we have at youth?” (see question #2). I think Bible study can be fun and engaging, and games can teach and challenge. This is all about prospective and how you chose to approach it. 

  1. How does a youth leader show that they are genuine without oversharing?

I have a golden rule about student ministry, and it goes like this: “Students are students, not adults.” It’s meant to remind me and my leaders that my students are not my peer group. I’m leading them, and they are following me. For me, that means what I share is intended to “lead them somewhere”. The issue with oversharing comes when we start to treat the group like they’re peers and not students; hence, the golden rule. 

The second thing is that you need to share “age appropriate” stuff with your students. Don’t talk about your marriage problems with your 6th grade boys or your worries about starting to have kids with your grade 12 girls. But, do share your life experience when you were their age. 

  1. What are the necessary qualifications to be a youth leader?

I struggle with the word “necessary” in this question, because when I think about it, I think all you need are two things: you need to be a Christian, and you need to like students. That’s it! Everything else can be worked on, coached through, or encouraged. Every youth group will be made up of every type of kid you can think of, so you need a variety of types of leader. All that really matters is if they love Jesus and have a heart for students. 

Jesse Signiture
If you would like to know more about this topic or learn how to implement this in your youth program feel free to contact me.