I wanted to address something that is very important to me. Networking. Call it what you want, I call it survival. After many moons of student ministry, the things that I treasure most apart from my savior, my wife and kids, and XBOX Live…is my networking relationships with other Youth Pastors on the frontlines of student ministry.

There is a funny illustration that one of my good friends used while he was talking to one of my former students. I am sure he ripped off the story, but it went something like this. “A reporter was at a small paper and wanted to impress his friend by telling him that he had gotten an interview with the town mayor. His friend Bob was happy for him and said, “hey, when you see the mayor, tell him Bob said Hi.” The reporter was obviously disheartened when he found out that his friend already knew the mayor. Sometime later, after the reporter had moved up in the world of reporting…got an interview with the president. He phoned his friend Bob and let him know what he was up to. Bob was excited for his friend and said, “hey, when you see the President, tell him Bob said Hi.” The reporter was disheartened once again. Finally the reporter reached the zenith of his career and landed an interview with the Pope. He quickly dialed his friend Bob to let him know what he was doing in the hopes of impressing Bob. Bob was very excited for him. When the reporter got to the Vatican there was a large crowd gathered as the Pope was coming out to greet the people. The reporter was floored when he looked up and saw Bob coming out with the Pope. He looked at the guy next to him and asked, “hey, who is that guy with the Pope?” The man replied, “I don’t know who the pope is, but that guy next to the guy with the funny hat is Bob!” A funny story. My friend was telling my former student that I was Bob…referring to the fact that he thought I “knew” everybody. I was flattered, but I would like to think that it is because I genuinely try to connect with those that I have been blessed to run into during this fun ride called life.

Networking with others is essential in this thing called student ministry. We cannot think that we have it all figured out. We don’t. We don’t always have the best ideas. The moment I realized that I can learn much from colleagues, mentors, and friends…that is when I began to figure it out. Here are some tips for expanding your network and by default, expanding your influence and the influence others have on your life and ministry.

· Be humble. Be the first to pick up the flag of another individual with great talents and ideas and wave it high. This is the same if they are youth pastors in other towns or even in your own community. If they feel you are genuinely interested in them and their success, it makes it easier to work together and squashes any “turf” issues from the beginning.

· Stay connected. Don’t let the only time you call/text/message that person to be when you are “pimping” your own stuff or events. Get to know their families, let them know that you are accessible and available to swap ideas.

· Pray for them and their ministry. Rejoice in their victories and encourage them in their “bumps” in ministry. I know I appreciate it when a friend that really “gets” what I am doing shows his/her support. Sometimes this is a thankless job and to know that others have an idea what we are going through really helps.

· Be Real. At the end of the day, we have all had a tenth grader we have invested in for months or years decide to just check out and try their hand at the world, throwing to the wind everything you feel they have learned in your ministry. It is a tough job. So be transparent in your dealings with others and they will feel more comfortable networking with you.

· Be sensitive for God’s timing. I can’t tell you how many times I have met a fellow youth pastor and it has been just what we both needed at the time. God has a way of bringing the right people together to swap ideas and encourage one another to further His kingdom. So keep your eyes open for “resources” that He puts in our paths.

· Don’t be discouraged if you don’t “click” right away. Sometimes the closest friends in ministry may start rocky. My best friend in ministry, Scott Quimby, told me that he didn’t like me very much when we first met.  I am not sure why, maybe it was because he is an only child, but our differences have helped our friendship strengthen over time.  Sometimes youth pastors are  hesitant to engage with other ministries. Maybe you or the other have been “burned” by some 6 month flame-out and they are licking their wounds.

· Pick up the phone. Call around and see who is working with students in your area. Have lunch and share passions for students. Don’t worry if they are in a different denomination. The majority of us have the common ground of Jesus Christ. So start there first. Find out why they do what they do and then see the first recommendation above. Don’t wait for others to call you. Make that first step out in faith and see what God has planned.

· Use these connections to share your concerns and/or “vent.” We often have to be careful sometimes in ministry by being perceived as “complaining” by members of our own churches. I get advice and bounce ideas about situations with my colleagues without getting into a gossip session. It helps a ton and I am a better youth pastor because of it.

· Share resources. I have many friends that are in churches that may not have the budget that I have. We have all been there, trying to stretch a budget. So give freely when you are blessed. Loan books, share props, large ticket items, and resources. Don’t be afraid to ask either. Take interest in their ministries and I have found they will take interest in yours. Recently, I have had several conversations with guys/gals that have struggled with tragedies in their ministries. This is a great time to share resources, experiences, and wisdom that battle scars from years of ministry leave us with. It is a blessing in the end, it doesn’t seem like it when you are going through a church split, firing, or the wisdom we gain from laboring through the loss of a student’s life in your community and ministry. We all have “I will never do that again” moments and if that wisdom helps someone else from making the same mistake, then that is a win-win situation.

· One final thought for now. Go to conventions and conferences. Even ones you may not necessarily want to. These are great places to network with like-minded people. The network of youth pastors that I have now have been my shoulders to lean on during my ministry time. Some of them have grown into wonderful mentors that can speak wisdom into my life and ministry. Give them the freedom to do just that, have a few people that you can rely on to speak the truth into your life…even if it hurts sometimes. We all need our card pulled sometimes and it is much easier coming from someone that you have a close relationship with and not just someone taking pop-shots at you from the peanut gallery. Networks of friends help you make it through the peanut gallery days.

As I am gaining altitude in a jet that seats about 60 people, I am grateful for space.  I am in a two-seat row by my self in the back of the plane.   Good times.  I just left the airport in Little Rock on the first leg of this trip to Germany.  On to Chicago and then to Frankfurt, Germany!  My friends Jens and Steffi will be picking me up tomorrow sometime I hope.  I will be speaking at Teenagerfreizeit Rehe 2011.  I was told there were approximately 90 students from all over Germany attending this annual event that is sponsored by Wiedenest Bibleschule.

I can hear many of you thinking…I didn’t know Dustin spoke German.  Well I don’t.  I can butcher the language with the best of you.  But about 10 years ago I was privileged to make a connection with my friends in Germany while I was a Youth Pastor in Florida.  A pastor that was on staff with me in Titusville, FL had also served in Germany.  An acquaintance of his had a friend that wanted to learn about student ministry in the united states…with a few phone calls and favors being promised to me, batta bip…batta boop, Bob’s your uncle and I had my very own German!  I took care of him and loved him and called him Toby.  Toby stayed with my wife and I for 6 months or so, working alongside me and absorbing all he could about ministry in the USA.  This was the beginning of life long friendships and investment in the next generation of leaders in Deutschland.Continue reading

What an important reminder that youth ministry is happening beyond our own little circle, our town, our state, and even our country!  This is a global thing, and people need to know Christ!

Dustin Sams is now in Germany, and will be speaking for “Teenagerfeizeit Rehe 2011”.  Dustin will be there from July 21st – August 1st.  He is bringing the Word to teenagers throughout the week by way of a translator.

This is an exciting opportunity to share Christ with teens and young adults who desperately need to know Him.  This will also be a great way to inspire those in Germany and introduce new and exciting ways of doing youth ministry.

While teaching at “Teenagerfeizeit Rehe 2011”, Dustin will also be speaking a few times at a local church, and meeting with other student ministry leaders to “brainstorm” youth ministry ideas. Through this they will be able to share ideas with each other, gaining insight about what is and isn’t working.  As any youth pastor knows, building relationships and sharing knowledge with other youth pastors is invaluable.  There is so much to learn from each other.

With all of this exciting news, lets take a moment to pray for Dustin as he speaks to these teenagers and young adults.  Pray that what he speaks will be translated clearly and accurately, and that the Holy Spirit will be the author.  Pray that the students will be receptive to the Word and that lives will be forever changed, that they will become new creations.

Lets also pray for the area youth pastors in Germany, that through meeting with Dustin, they will gain insight about how to better reach their students.  Lastly, pray that though these youth pastors are in Germany, relationships will be built, giving us new people to share our passion and ministry with.

To keep up with what Dustin is doing in Germany this week, be sure to follow him on Twitter: @dustinsams

Stay tuned for more updates as Christ speaks through Dustin, and lives are changed in Germany!

Hey friends…don’t miss an opportunity to be at this back to school conference on 8.28.2010.  It is well planned, cheap, great personalities, and local!  Here is the info.  Several tracks that I know you would like to have your adults and students plug into.  We all look for quality events to strengthen our local ministry and this is one of them!  Check it out for only $20.   DVS

You are a student leader for a reason. Maybe you chose to be, maybe someone else chose it for you—no matter how you got here, God has a plan to use you in ministry.

You and your youth worker know that you’re new at this thing. You have leadership abilities, but you’re still a student—so how do you do it?Continue reading

Thought I would highlight a game our adults used recently:

Ingredients: Oreos and Gummi Worms

Set Up: Crush 4 (four) Bags of Oreos (not double stuff)…you will find that they begin to look like potting soil.  If it doesn’t begin to look like potting soil…then you are doing it wrong.  Obviously, if you are doing more than four bowls of dirt…then you will need to get more oreos.  Add as many gummi worms as you want to the mix and bingo!

The Game:  Add four students and no hands…they got to see how many worms they can get in a selected amount of time.  We used one minute and it seemed to work well.  Give bonus points to the cleanest worms and such.  You may want to make sure they don’t pick up the bowl or various other limits on the game.  The cool thing about some of these games is that they are fast and furious and get over with quickly while still providing lots of laughs.  Make sure and get some pictures or video of the game to use later.  Put them up on the wall or send them to the students with a note saying thanks for eating dirt.  Have fun.

Hey friends…switching to a more “magazine” based format for the blog.  Please bear with us as our team of researchers and techies get the final look down…thanks for helping us hit 15 different countries and 42 states in the USA!  This has been lots of fun and I will continue to put up content daily/weekly…so thanks for stopping back by.  Would love to have you coDustin & Erikamment on the posts that you view if you have the time.  It seems that the “youth room decor” post and the “speakers/bands” articles are the most popular with the hits.  Some of you surfers have stayed and looked around for almost 20 minutes…sweet.  Currently in the works are articles on music, vblogs, and a large one on our “LIFE” emphasis that is getting some requests for more info.  More soon my friends!  A special thank you to the guys at www.youversion.com for tweeting the blog out to 7000+ followers!

JFYM Book

The third part of Student Leadership is Discipleship.  It can be argued that there are many more facets to Student Leadership than just the three that I have written about and that is true.  But most of those issues are ones that I call “teaching moments” in the life of the relationship that I call Student Leadership.  So assuming that you have students with the will to lead and they now have a “job” in your ministry, the next phase of development would be considered Discipleship.

I take each student that is involved with our ministry (STUlea) and try to develop a tailored path that depends a whole bunch on them and their decisions.  They must be willing to enter into the relationship with open eyes and a willing heart.  A lot can happen over the span of four or five years of adolescence and our leadership is committed to be there with them through every phase.  Before, I only allowed older, committed students to pursue this phase…then I realized that a 7th grade student was just as willing and capable to commit and serve as older students.  This has become a joyful and passionate part of my ministry to students…while also challenging me to deeper levels of my faith, testing my patience as a leader, and increasing the desire to see students become more like Christ.

Some of the things that is common across the board with these students are as follows:

  • Commitment to growing in the Word.  I provide all I can for them to continue to be challenged in reading scripture.  Quiet Time booklets and other reading materials that are age/growth appropriate.  A “Personal Survival Guide” that has been written by a friend of mine, Eric Ball is the starting point.  The Moving Towards Maturity Set from Reach Out Youth Solutions is top notch and I love it.
  • Continual input and pointed conversations with the student to make sure and keep up with their walk.  I wish I could put this into words, but I am sure you get the feel of what I am talking about.  This includes everything from how their grades are doing in school, how their relationship with their parents is going, to their peer relationships and how that affects their daily walk.  I find this to be the most effective way to pick up on areas to work on, both in their lives and mine.
  • Specifically designed events for the Student Leaders to build relationships among themselves and with our Adult Leadership.  Cookouts, Bonfires, Florida Trips, small group events, and retreats to dig deeper and challenge them further.

I am a believer in the Jesus Focused Youth Ministry strategy and have been involved with it for several years.  There are numerous resources and tons of reliable accountability with these guys that help me be a better Youth Pastor/leader and keep from falling into the event-to-event style ministry that so often leads to burn out.  If you haven’t checked it out…please do so prayerfully and I think you will find a strategy that helps Youth Pastors become more effective in their calling and passionate about the students we minister to.

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I will be adding and refining this as it fleshes itself out on paper in the near future…If you have any questions and/or comments, please feel free and let me know.

Student LeaderStep Two: Accountability
I recommend that you have this well planned out ahead of time, because there will always be that one student that tests something not thought through. It will happen. So plan for it. I have the same standard plan that most Youth Pastor’s have. I have a certain mental picture of what I feel God wants a student to be prepared for before leaving our ministry and entering the next step, whatever that may be. It could be college or the workforce or military life. Each student is different and I tailor ministry to each one that I meet but there is a general set of expectations that I have for students that plan on sticking with Student Leadership here.
1. They have to show interest in it. I do not seek out students at this point. Encouragment is at all levels of our ministry and this has been successful in moving students from one level to another. So the questions usually go like this, “Dustin, what does it take to be a student leader?” Bingo. Next Step.
2. I sit down with each student and go over the expectations very quickly and then let them think on it. I cover the high points and let them know that by “signing” on with Student Leadership they are agreeing to all of the above. Here they are. a)Faith in Christ. I allow them to share their testimony with me. b)Church attendance. We have several different denominations involved with our weekly ministry, so attendance at their home church is required. If they don’t have a home church, they must be at ours. At least 3 out of four Sundays a month. I set the bar high. If a students starts to slack off in this area, I always check in and see what is up. c)Attendance at all Student Ministry Events is required for them. Obviously, not everyone can be at all the events all the time, so they just need to let me know what is up. So basically, there are times that Student Leaders are excused. d)By being a Student Leader, they are held to higher standards than others. They are giving me permission to call them on the carpet for their behavior…this includes online, school activities, anything that may affect their witness is fair game. I am up front about this and obviously I handle all of those issues individually and with grace. Teaching opportunities should never be wasted.

**Additional thoughts on Accountability: I often ask for report cards/mid-term grades and make sure that they are keeping up with the studies (No Pass/No Play). If they get in trouble at home/school, then there are ramifications on this level as well.

This will get them to the next step, Discipleship see pt 3

StudentsI get asked a the question a lot about our Student Leadership style here, I wanted to take a little time and really flesh out what it is that we do strategically. Student Ministry is different in each church, so before we discuss all the aspects of it, I needed to get down our overall plan for Student Leadership. So here goes. Please take it at face value…if there are aspects of it that you can use, then feel free. If you have a comment, then feel free to leave it and maybe we can come out with a better understanding of what Student Leadership is.
Student Leadership began here out of necessity. Things needed to get done and I was only one person. When I moved into this ministry venue in 2003, I had to establish my style here. I moved from a larger church situation to a smaller church and community here on the edge of the Mississippi Delta and some of the “resource” changes caused me to evaluate what was important and what was urgent. What I mean by resources are not just with money/budgeting changes, it means different people, different buildings, and a different local culture. I had a handful of students that didn’t know me and I didn’t know them…so that was the place to start. With the few students that were attending, I found it easy to establish expectations early rather than having to “retrain” a large group. The image that comes to mind is steering a small dingy verses trying to turn a large ship around. Obviously it is easier to set the course with the small boat.Super Summer Orange

Step One: Responsibility
The first part of establishing my expectations was responsibility. Clear and very real. Student Leaders have a job, or should have a job to do. Each responsibility has very real expectations and evaluation. For an example I am going to use the job working the lights for our stage in our facility. It seems easy to some and difficult to others. I look very closely at the way a student is “wired”. If keeping up with details are not a big strength for a particular student, then that may not be a good place for them to plug in. Careful and correct placement is a win-win for both the ministry and the student, this will also help keep that student from burning out or becoming frustrated with serving. The responsibility involved needs to be clear and evaluating “job” performance is a great teaching moment.
“If you, as the youth leader, are not able to be specific about what leadership looks like, acts like, how it spends its time, what results are expected – then don’t ever expect your students to be able to do that for you. Set the vision of where you believe God wants your ministry to go, then make a list of functions in your group/ministry that need to be done in order for that vision to be accomplished. Then begin praying for God to raise up the students who can be trained to fulfill those functions.” Eric Ball, Youth Communicator & Student Ministry Consultant

Another piece of the responsibility puzzle is that as that student gets older and more proficient in the area of lighting, he/she is responsible for training a replacement before they graduate. This is a big one that helps keep the ebb and flow of graduating out talented ministry oriented students in check. If they are the only ones doing the job after they figure it all out…then you face a huge hole in your leadership and back to square one when that gem leaves you pushing the light buttons by yourself or worse, it lowers the quality in the presentation of the Gospel, if even for a short time. So keep them recruiting and training new blood. Some will wash out and decide not to be a part of it…but the ones that keep with it are truly worth their weight in gold for sure.
The responsibilities in our ministry have moved from two or three “jobs” to literally dozens of places for students to take ownership of our ministry. Year one involved setting up the couches and making sure the Xboxes were on. Now I am truly amazed at how “adult” they seem to be. The first three student leaders weren’t even called that…they were just solid students that wanted to be around and help out. Now I have a list of nearly 40 students that want to be a part of something bigger themselves…God has truly blessed. My time now is spent building positive relationships with students and less time setting up the chairs (and I truly hate setting up chairs) for our ministry activities. We have now established a “Lead” Student Leader…I am not sure how that sounds, cause to tell you the truth I am having difficulty naming it. I don’t want to have a “president of the youth group” so I explain it this way. I now don’t have to go to each individual to make sure things are squared away, I go to one student and ask. It works surprisingly well. For this article I will call it the office of “the guy who’s tail is in a wringer if something is not being taken care of for Flipside 517,” how’s that. It’s great, everyone should have one. My philosophy is this, if you want a job you can have one…but be prepared for the next step. Accountability will be taken care of in pt 2.

Dustin & Dalton Here you go. This is something that I developed during College as we discussed time management with one of my professors and it is very detailed. It even included what times during the day I planned to have my prayer time/quiet time. Currently my schedule doesn’t look nearly this detailed and my work week usually flows about the same each week…with the exception of students in crisis and different un-planned events that occur all the time.
This is what a typical week looks like now.

Monday: Staff Meeting, Letters/emails, Lunch at Po’Dave’s, afternoon reading/prep and general layout of Wednesday Services.

Tuesday: Writing, Message Prep, multimedia, Facebook, Ministry Communication.

Wednesday: “Flipside 517” finalizing, illustration/props, stock cafe’, miscellaneous ministry.

Thursday: Video Editing, Blog, Ministry Tech, and Research.

Friday- Off.

Saturday- Off.

Sunday- Church Services, Small Groups.

That is a general look at a current weekly schedule that doesn’t include hanging out with students and visitation that is scheduled throughout the week. Keep in mind the flexibility of student ministry. From just foolin’ with the spiritual gift of hangin’ out to students in crisis, keep it all in perspective and be prepared for God to put you in the right place at the right time to used by Him. Isn’t it incredible? I love my job.

I must add that I am very easily distracted and use any and all tech devices to keep me on track. So the “weekly schedule” has gotten more and more high tech over the past few years…yay!

Here it is in word format. Feel free to use it, copy it, or throw it away. Just let me know if it helps. Click Here. Weekly Work Schedule