Reflecting on Youth Ministry: 3 Tools I Wish I Would Utilized as a Student Pastor

Someone asked me the other day, “How does it feel to be out of ministry?”

Acknowledging in my heart that no one called to ministry is ever really “out of ministry,” I just smiled and responded, “It’s different. Good, but different.”

At the beginning of July, my family and I stepped away from youth ministry to pursue a life-long dream of ours to become missionaries associates. After stepping away from serving for over five years in pastoral ministry (most of that time being student ministry), I have had some time to reflect on all that took place over the last half-decade.

I believe anytime anyone enters into a new season of life, they have these moments of reflection. Our contemplation is centered around questions like, “What would I do differently? What pitfalls would I avoid if I could do it all over again? How could I have leveraged my influence to leave a more lasting legacy?” Followed by probably the most perplexing question: “What did I leave on the table?”

What did I leave on the table?

My goal here is not to delve into a spiritual synopsis, but the most obvious answer is this: I wish I would have spent more time in prayer. Prayer is a simple concept that may even seem elementary to some, but I could NEVER overemphasize the importance of prayer and intercession or their far reaching effects on your ministry. However, as meaningful and necessary as prayer may be to the pastor, that is not what I want to share with you. Rather, I want to take a more practical approach and share some tools that could aid you in your ministry pursuits. The following are tools that I either underutilized or didn’t use at all during my season in student ministry. If I had to do it all over again, I would leverage these resources to strengthen two areas essential to ministry effectiveness: my time and my level of influence.

Each of these tools are digital and dummy-proof, easy to access, and simple to manage. In fact, all of these tools have an app that you can download and two of them are free.

Let me tell you how YouVersion, Mail Chimp, and Audible can revolutionize the way you do ministry.

YouVersion

Try telling someone that you have access to 1,600 versions of scripture in over 1,100 languages. Now try betting my grandma that you can fit ALL OF THAT in your front pocket. I am sure that is a bet she would take and I’m equally sure that you’d win.

That is the wonder of YouVersion. YouVersion is the greatest tool that I ever discovered in youth ministry. I’m ashamed to admit that I only used it during the last six months of my tenure. When I found out how versatile it was, I started asking my youth pastor friends, “Why didn’t you tell me about this?” The sad reality is, most of them weren’t using it either – and that is why I’m writing this.

Not only do you have hundreds of downloadable versions of Scripture, most of those versions have audio for those students who don’t like to read or struggle with reading comprehension. Those features alone are great, but they’re not even the best parts of the app. The greatest aspects of YouVersion are the plans and events.

Plans

The YouVersion app gives anyone with an account access to thousands upon thousands of Bible Plans. These plans are devotionals written by some of the most prestigious Bible teachers in the world. Finding the right plan for you is easy: Just search their catalog based on a number of criteria – from topic, to age, to gender, to mood. You can even invite people to join you in completing a plan. At the end of each day’s reading, you have an opportunity to “talk about it” and discuss what you felt God was speaking to you through the devotion. My favorite part is that it gives you a sense of accountability. Each day, you can see who completed the devotion and who didn’t. If you’re like me, you’ve probably wondered if your students were actually reading their Bibles. With YouVersion, you don’t have to wonder.

Events

I heard a veteran youth pastor teaching a breakout session once and he said, “When I was younger, I would take my students’ phones away because I thought they were a distraction. I’ve realized something: that is just how they communicate. If you want them to communicate what you’re teaching them, don’t take their phones away.” This was revolutionary to me. In fact, I used to feel the same. While I didn’t physically take students’ phones away, I would call them out during services when I felt they were being distracted by their devices. When I made this shift, I stopped asking students to put their phones up, and started asking them to take their phones out.

“If you have your Bibles, open them up. E-version or tree version.” This is how I would open each message. I would continue, “Don’t forget that all of our announcements, scriptures, notes, graphics, and our Bible reading plan can be found on our YouVersion event. You can access that event by opening your YouVersion app, clicking more on the bottom right hand corner, then clicking events, and you can find our event by using your location.”

You: Cody, are you telling me that I can put everything pertinent to my youth ministry on each one of my students phones?

Me: Yes.

You: You mean the phones that they have in their hands almost every moment of every day?

Me: Yes, I know, revolutionary. Now go and download the app.

Mail Chimp

Mail Chimp is a free (up to 2,000 subscribers) and easy to use marketing tool. With Mail Chimp you can create emails, landing pages, Google marketing ads, Facebook/Instagram ads, and postcards. It can also work as an integration directory, as well as automate some of the busy work that always seems to absorb so much of your day. What I want to specifically highlight, however, is how MailChimp has helped us communicate through emails.

To get started, you create a mailing list. Again, you can have up to 2,000 subscribers on your mailing list before Mail Chimp charges you a dime. Within your list, you have “tags” where you can categorize the contacts in your mailing list into different groups. As missionary associates, we have our tags broken up into six different categories: individual supporter, church supporter, individual lead, church lead, family/friends, and job security. We can send emails to “All” or just to individual tags.

Once you’ve created a mailing list and tags, you create a campaign. You set up your campaign by giving it a name and then creating a template, or building your email from the ground up. For less creative people like myself, the templates come in handy. You end up with a very professional-looking email and no one will ever know that it was put together by someone who can’t even match their own socks.

The best part of Mail Chimp is the depth of the analytics. You can view your open percentage rate, as well as see who opened your email, how many times they opened your email, and which links they clicked on within your email. You can also see if any of the emails bounced, if someone unsubscribed, or if someone forwarded your email to a friend.

Mail Chimp is one of the most effective and efficient communication tools I have ever used. The days of wondering who read your messages are over. The days of wondering who clicked on your links are over. Wonder no more. Download Mail Chimp.

Audible

Audible is the last tool I want to share. This one is really simple, so I’ll keep it short.

You search their library for books that you want to listen to, you purchase them, and you listen. With Audible, you pay a monthly fee of $14.99, which includes one book credit. That’s twelve books a year. Above that, you have the option to purchase additional books at a discounted cost. Many times, you can find Audible offers for two free books when you subscribe.

So why audible?

One of my mentors told me many times, a leader is a reader. I am completely sold out to that idea. When my son was born 18 months ago, I found it hard to find the time to read like I once did while helping my wife care for a newborn. As he’s gotten older and more mobile, the problem is no longer the lack of time. The problem is that he rips every book I pick up out of my hands. My solution: audio books. I believe reading or listening to one chapter of a book a day will enrich your life as an individual and as a leader. Often, the only way I can get my daily chapter in is to listen to it. Maybe you’re in a similar boat. If you are, come and paddle with me. Download audible and start listening today!

(I would like to note that none of these companies have paid me to endorse their products. I genuinely enjoy their products and hope that other people like me can benefit from their tools to advance the kingdom of God.)

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