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 my XBOX 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 blessed to run into during this fun ride called life.

Networking with others is essential in this thing we do 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.

For the past several weeks I have had the opportunity to be shadowed by some new friends from Germany.  Jens and Steffi attend a Bible College in Germany that requires them to serve a 7 week internship each year.  Tobias, a great friend from Germany, knew Jens and Steffi and contacted me about hosting them at our church.  Good idea.  If all of Germany’s Youth Ministry oriented people are as quality as Jens and Steffi, then they have a very bright future!

I wanted to share a few thoughts in regard to Mentoring that I have been reminded of at this point.

  • Know why you do what you do.  Jens asks questions…actually that is an understatement.  He asks a lot of questions.  So there are many things that I do during the normal day-to-day routine that I just take for granted.  Having him around has helped me to evaluate everything I do on a step-by-step basis.  It has helped me to streamline my normal routine.
  • Learning and applying things to your life is only part of the process.  Evangelism has not taken place until discipleship has taken place.  The same goes for mentoring.  All the knowledge from peers/reading/studying/observing does not mature in value until you share that with others.  There is no such thing as “turf” in ministry.
  • Be transparent. Share the mistakes with the wins!  Revisiting past failures has been helpful to me and Jens as well. No one is perfect, don’t try to be.
  • Network!  I don’t know all the answers, I don’t even try to pretend.  But I have some great friends in ministry that have some answers as well and a world of knowledge to share.  So while you are mentoring, use your resources.  I have scheduled many meets with peers to allow them to see ministry on many different levels: from University Professors to Youth Pastors working in other churches, both large and small.  It is great for them to see servants at work and at play.
  • Evaluate.  Know what you both want to accomplish.  From the beginning there needs to be a game-plan for what needs to be accomplished.  7 weeks goes by fast…as does any length of time for mentoring.  Don’t get caught trying to fit it all in the last week.  Both of you will end up not liking ministry or each other very much.
  • Realize that it takes a lot of time.  So be patient and calm.  Don’t get overwhelmed with the feeling that someone is just following you around.
  • Have fun.  Life is too short not to.  Enjoy the time you have together.  Realize we are serving with the kingdom in mind.

I will be having Jens write about his stay and what he learned while in the States.  Pray for him and Steffi as they endeavor to serve in Germany.

Here is a good run down of an average Wednesday Evening service at “Flipside 517”. FS Black We are located in Stuttgart, AR (check out the street view to see our building), which is known as the “Rice and Duck Capital of the World”. You can take a look at the Ministry at a Glance to see the size of schools and community that we are actively working in.  We average 120+ students during our mid-week service and have 400+ active students that we see during any given time of the year (including other outreach events and programs).  Keep in mind, “Flipside 517” is specifically designed as a weekly outreach and topics/series are designed for that atmosphere, we strive to provide a safe environment where students want to invite their friends.  With that said, here is a rundown of what a typical Wednesday night looks like.

4:30pm-5:30pm: Student Leaders and the fiveoneseven band arrive for practice and set up.  Our student leaders are responsible for setup while the band runs through the set for the evening. 

  • Set up includes:
  • Stocking the soda machine with soda & water
  • Chairs (this is my least favorite part of the set up process and the STUleas do a great service for us each week)
  • The smaller “teaching” stage that I use (including a 1960’s Science Lab Stool that I have used for 10 years…jus’sayin)
  • Cafe’ setup (including making sure the Cafe’ register has adequate change)
  • Sign-in stand (this includes complete list of students with barcodes, hands are stamped as the enter the building)
  • Game Room Set up: Video Game Systems & making sure Pool Tables and Foosball tables have the proper equipment, Security Personnelfiveoneseven band stage Chairs are in the right spots, lights on, AC/Heat, and anything else needed to get this area ready to go for the night.
  • Bathrooms are stocked
  • Basketball Goals set up (Four basketballs with AIR in them are highly recommended)
  • AC/Heat
  • Sound Check/Easy Worship , IPods in place

Cafe' 15:30-6:00pm- Adult Leaders Arrive and in place (usually 15+ or so scheduled for each Flipside 517)

6:00pm- Doors Open/Student Check-In, IPod Music up and running, Stage Lights, Videos Running as needed (Interlinc Video Compilations usually). New students fill out N-Fo cards, teamed with a student (usually the student that invited them) to get a tour, and are given free soda or candy from the Cafe’.  Parents are welcome to stay for our service so we usually have quite a few adults and church members hanging around for this or to sit in during the music part of worship…it is just that good 😉

6:00pm-6:50pm- Free Time for students/Fellowship. Game Room, Cafe’, outside area are open (however all students are brought in from outside @ 6:30pm, this is the point that if a student leaves the premises they cannot return) Adults are actively patrolling both inside and outside facility

6:40pm-begin 10 minute countdown.  The band and support staff meet for prayer together.  During this time the house lights are brought down and basketballs are put away as students begin to find their seats.  At t-minus 2 minutes music is turned up and most students have found their seats.

6:50pm-Welcome and Prayer. 5-7 minutes max.  Pizza order is phoned in for those that will be hanging out after Flipside 517 at pizza place next door.

6:55-7pm- Worship Set Begins.  Students are invited “down front” to engage with the fiveoneseven band.

7:20pm-8pm- Teaching time. (This may include a game, illustration event, Room Invasion Video, etc. prior to me speaking)CJones Facecake

8pm- Final Announcements: Upcoming Events, sign ups, etc.

8:05pm-Chairs are stacked up and free time.  Occasionally large scale games are begun at this time until doors close

8:30pm- Students are picked up/Church Van takes students home/Music is off and clean up is in full effect.  Students also start moving toward pizza place during this time.  For $5 they can eat pizza and wait for parents to pick them up there.  I and other adults attend this as well. 

9:00pm-After students are all headed home, I make a final check of the building and lock up (several adults are capable of doing this) and I head to the office to input student attendance and new student emails/letters/info into Youth Assistant.

9:00-1am- I usually get a ton of work done in the office (with no one around it tends to be pretty quiet…except for scary church building noises that have led-more than once- to me walking around the church with a big Excalibur sword checking it out…no foolin’, so if you see me on Fox News sometime because I have run a Deacon through with my sword…you will know it is because they scared me late at night.)  It is a hectic schedule on Wednesdays, but worth every bit of the work when we see student’s lives being impacted for Christ.  Blessings, hope this helps. Dustin

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.