February 24, 2009 PhilBell

Sitting on the Steps…

Do you ever feel like you are constantly digging to find new ways to connect with students or find ways to get them on board with a message idea? Do you ever wonder if they are connecting with a youth leader who might seem ancient to them? (That’s you and me by the way). I think we all feel like that at times! I think to some degree there is some truth to the ancient feeling. However, in the next couple of days, I want to talk about some helpful ways that I have been learning to overcome this problem. Today, I want to talk about the best kind of message preparation you and can make… but first: 

The Reality

If we are out of college and over the age of 22, I believe that many students will look at us as being ‘out of touch’ with them and their peers. Perhaps they feel like we do not  understand their issues? However, I also hold fast to the truth that students will let you into their lives when they see a consistent love and care for them. When we speak, the best hours of preperation may not be in the message material itself, I believe it is the preparation we do when we invest in getting to know students and their lives…

When we stand in front of them, they will subconsciously know if you and I understand them well enough to address the issues in their lives. Because of this fact, we cannot short cut our relational time with them. If you have read ‘Hurt’ by Chap Clark, he speaks about the research he did at a school where he would sit and observe (and listen) to students. He found that students have their own world that adults are not party to. As he spent time and ‘sat at the steps’ of their world he slowly began to have conversations with them and discover a clearer picture of their inner teenage world. It took time…

In a similar way, as youthworkers, we need to sit at their steps and listen and learn. When students know that we understand their issues and that we care about them, they are more likely to listen to the truth that they desperately need to hear. 

Sometimes we think we need to put more hours into making our message ‘dyanamic’ and ‘catchy’, where in fact, we need to do our message prep by spending more time with our audience. We need to spend more time being their audience. We need to tune into their world and let them know we are following their story. Maybe then, they will tune into God’s truth that you and I deliver? 

Three Things I do to help me ‘Sit on the Steps of their World’ 

1) Ask Good Questions: I am always asking questions about them, their week, their friends and their opinions on events. I often use the phrase, “help me understand this..”, (even when I think I already do). I also use phrases like, “what do you think adults misunderstand about you guys”?  I find that so many adults want to tell kids what they need to know before they ask what they need to know… get it? 

2) Get into their World: As a youthworker we should all be reading and understanding the latest trends etc.  Walt Mueller at CPYU has a lot of great articles and updates that I find very helpful. I also try to watch what students are watching on TV and surf where they surf online too. This is helpful. However, I find that getting into their world happens best if I show up to their world. Planning a lunch, going to a game or school play sends a powerful message to the students we are trying to reach, but it is also a great opportunity to learn about students in their world. 

3) Meet with Them: No matter how big our ministry has become, I always maintain how important it is that the lead youthworker still meets with students regularly. When we do this, we send the message to students and their friends, that we care enough to meet with them. When I meet with them, I always ask them honestly, “how is our student ministry helping you?” I am often suprised, encouraged and challenged by the authentic responses I get at these times… Sometimes they give me my best message content…

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About the Author

PhilBell Phil Bell is a Family Ministry pastor with over 15 years of experience ministering to families. He holds a Masters in Christian Ministry and is a national speaker, columnist, author, and blogger. He’s passionate about investing in families and equipping parents to reach the next generation for Christ. He’s originally from England and now lives in Raleigh, NC, with his wife Lisa and their three beautiful kids.

Comment (1)

  1. Phill, because I am a youth pastor but also the father of 7 children, I struggle to have time to do a lot of contact work with teenagers in the evening. As you might immagine, my own kids need quite a bit of my attention. As of late, I have tried to use the last part of my day to connect with teens just after school (2:30 – 5:30 PM). I have also used facebook and myspace and text messaging as a way of “sitting on the steps”. I also give rides to some (male only) students to and from our ministry gatherings. This has given me a chance to ask a few of those key questions you mentioned in the blog. I appreciate all that you wrote about and will continue to become the audience to my audience.

    Grace and peace,

    Todd E. Hair
    Director of Student Ministry
    Crossroads Community Church
    Schererville, IN

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