We live in a world of SO MANY OPTIONS when it comes to our kids.  We hear our student needs to be in sports camp in order to make team, they can’t miss the training in the work out room if they want to be seen, they want to go to camp with friends, and then, there is the hope of a family vacation.  OH, and the church is going on a mission trip.  It’s overwhelming and complicated calendaring!  Where do we spend our time and resources?

As a parent, my kids went to summer camps, sports camps, band camps, and family vacations. They also went to workcamp, not every summer, but as many as possible.  We had to look at the overall summer opportunities and choose.  When I look back now, they were all great in their own ways, but I’m so glad they did mission trips.  They were amazing, expensive, hard, learning experiences that affected their faith and gave them perspective.  I know I was their youth leader, but that’s not why we prioritized mission for our kids.

In the summer of 1999, I was a couple years into part-time middle school ministry and we were headed to workcamp.  Workcamp is a week of literally working in home repair while adding in camp elements.  It was my first one of this sort.  The youth group had served through Habitat for Humanity in our state the previous summer, and that was cool, but we wanted to do something that felt bigger.  We were headed to North Carolina to serve in a community through Appalachia Service Project, I think there were around forty of us in borrowed vans and trucks filled with tools, people, and gear.  We drove through the night (never again), had our walkie-talkies (thank goodness we have cell phones now), and while kids slept we made our way to the backwoods of North Carolina following paper maps (oh the wonders of GPS!).

When we arrived at the elementary school where we were to stay, I was introduced to my first experience of classroom floor sleeping (no air conditioning), dripping showers that never quite get warm, and the chaos and wonder of late night shenanigans and laughter. I fell in love with it all!  If I could live on these types of trips, I would.  The hot hard meaningful work alongside students, the significance it creates in our hearts, the depth of conversations, and the reality of what it means to serve Jesus with our hands in a tangible way.  These lessons are life-long and I wanted them for my own kids when they were older.

That year, my crew was assigned a farmhouse built in the 1800s.  It had sawdust insulation and our job was to pull off the walls, put in insulation, and then drywall. When we arrived, we met an exhausted, grieving family that felt the hopelessness of an overwhelming life after the loss of a child. 

We dove in and each day slowly made progress as we pulled off the walls, removed the wainscoting (which we put back up – whew!), swept out sawdust by the gallons, and learned the story of the family we served.  As we hung drywall, we talked about God and life.  As a crew, we also helped feed the cows, dealt with wasp’s nests on the second story, and one student even learned how to ride a pig.  We were filthy, exhausted, and filled with a sense of accomplishment as we sat on their porch overlooking the beauty of the mountains on our last day there. 

As we closed in prayer that final time, the family was overwhelmed with gratitude, tears filled their eyes as they again shared how amazed they were at what we had accomplished. There was a sense of hope as they looked forward to a warmer winter, but I know the hope really came from all the conversations and prayer during that week.  The students reminded them that Jesus sees them, He hadn’t forgotten them, and we were able to be an example of that love.

There is nothing quite like serving with students on this level.  Expecting hard work, teaching skills that will last a life-time, investing in a family that just needs love, and watching God work in hearts as students look outside themselves and make a difference.   We all need this in our lives, we don’t outgrow it, but when we can do this with teens we are creating a life-time of what valuing what it is to serve Jesus.

As I spent more time in ministry, I discovered so many opportunities for students.  Trips, camps, adventures!  I had to ask myself, what can the church offer that only we can?   In Michigan we have great summer camps, I’m sure other states do as well.  They are places with zip lines and incredible worship, deep conversations and conversions, and places where kids can experience a step outside of life into a 24/7 experience.  I didn’t need to compete with that, I love camp.  So, what could we do to offer something different?

I realized that I wanted students to have the opportunity to experience two things while they were with us in student ministry; serving at a high level and evangelism.   If we put our energy into these two things, and did them well, I felt like we were helping parents give their student an opportunity as well giving students valuable growing experiences before they left high school.

Mission is defined in two ways, according to the web, it’s an important assignment carried out for political, religious, or commercial purposes, typically involving travel.  And second, the vocation or calling of a religious organization, especially a Christian one, to go out into the world and spread its faith.  I felt that we needed to do both of these things with our students because they are areas that are usually only found through a church. 

Yes, we serve in our community and church ministries, but there is something about a mission trip that requires travel (road trips are incredible opportunities for connection), carries a level of importance, requires dependence on each other, and expects really hard work that changes perspectives and hearts and, in turn, opens lives to see Jesus.

Mission is also going out in the world and sharing our faith. Not every heart is awaked to missions, but if a student never experiences it – how will they know what it is to bring Jesus to others in this way and maybe discover the call for their lives.  This type of mission helps students (and adults) value their faith in a new way and see Jesus through new eyes.  The best part of international or extended evangelistic mission is that it requires full dependence on God and each other to accomplish it and this is a life-long eternal learning that isn’t found in many other places.

In the early 2000s, there wasn’t as much competition for a student’s time as there is today.  Today, school’s train almost all summer and winter, club sports and sports camps take up weeks of a student’s summer, there’s band camp, and, of course, there should be a family vacations in there as well.  All of this has a cost.  As a parent, it’s hard to know which choices to make and which to invest in…

As we partner with parents, I encourage parents to ‘parent with the end in mind’.  Think of middle and high school as one long journey with different stops along with way, what do you want them to experience and learn before they leave home?  If you’re like me, you want them to expand their sport skills, experience summer camp, and you want them to experience what it means to serve Jesus on a level that means hard work and sacrifice. 

Remember, parenting the middle and high school years is a marathon, what do you want them to have learned?  A better block on the volleyball court – you bet.  The formation for marching band – of course.  The unique fun and experience of summer camp – yes please.  How to serve like Jesus?  Absolutely.

With so many options, we can’t do it all every summer or school year, but, if we can do it even just once, it matters. 

Have you thought about the long-haul learning that summer opportunities can bring for your student?  Has Jesus weighed into those goals?

No matter the choices, may you remember to parent with the end in mind and hold onto the sweet moments of family time as you enter into this summer.



Photo by Vladislav Babienko on Unsplash

How do I talk to God? 

This is a simple but critical question students, and adults, ask all the time.  As a student ministry leader, I didn’t want one student to leave our ministry without knowing the answer to this question because they had learned it, used it, experienced it.  I bet it’s the same for you. There are so many books on this (and I encourage you to check them out) but here just a few ideas that we use to help our students experience prayer.

What follows are three ideas from our youth group, they’re not new or revolutionary but it they really us help us maintain an atmosphere of prayer.

  1. The Prayer Chair.

A prayer chair is a simple wooden chair, that is used by a small group for intentional prayer.  The chair is put in the middle of the group and anyone, leader or student, may sit in the chair and ask for prayer.  The request needs to be personal or directly connected to the person in the chair, not ‘my friend’s Aunt’s sister’s dog’ kind of request.  Once the request is given, the group prays for the person. We have used Waterfall Prayer, which is everyone praying out loud all at once.  Popcorn Prayer, which are prayers popping up from different people one at a time.  Or, one Leader or student prays. 

After the prayer, the person puts their name tag on the chair as a reminder.  (Yes, we use name tags every week.)  For the weeks that follow, their name is a reminder to check in on the issue and see how God is at work.  The chair stays with the group as they move up through ministry.  The chair pictured here was actually gifted from a senior class to a freshmen class so that they could  build on the prayers before them.  Those freshmen are now seniors, this chair holds eight years of prayers!

  1. Prayer Circles.

Mark Batterson’s book The Circle Maker changed my prayer world.  The idea of circling a person, a place, or even an idea challenged me to put physical steps around my words.  It helps me create holy space.  Hula Hoops work great to help visualize this.  At retreats, the worship team circles the room and draws a spiritual line around the space for God’s anointing and protection.  At camp, we circle the space for worship to draw a spiritual line around the learning and lives we are entrusted with for the week.  When I speak in big church, I walk a circle around the worship center drawing a spiritual line around the hearts of those that will come – asking God to help them hear what they need to hear whether I say it or not.

On trips, and in team meetings especially, we circle up and pray.  Leaders circle up and pray every week by linking our arms and standing together.  It’s a symbol of team, linked in Christ, standing together for our students.  On mission trips the entire team will link up for community, connection, and strength.  It’s a reminder that we are all one in Christ.  On trips, the first day in the circle is pretty quick and quiet, but by the end of the week we could pray all day as students and leaders pray out loud over everything.

Another part of circle prayer that is amazing to me is the laying on of hands.  In a world where touch is questioned and often not given, we can lay on hands in prayer showing care and connection to the person.  If you’ve ever stood in a circle and had the laying of hands on you, then you know the incredible power and deep feelings of community this brings.

As with all prayer, pray expectantly.  Look for the answers and celebrate them, no matter the answer.  Depend on them.

  1. Prayer Stations.

We all have different ways that we connect to God.  At my first National Youth Workers Convention years ago, I was able to walk a labyrinth and experience a prayer room. This rocked my world!  I loved the guided labyrinth and the physical responses to God in prayer in the prayer room that I hadn’t ever experienced before.  I enjoyed the personal creative ways that I could rest and listen as I worked with my hands, touched water, looked at art, or tore cloth.  I knew that if this worked in me differently, it would connect for students as well.  From the beginning, I’ve incorporated full experiential nights into ministry.  We need to touch, taste, smell, feel, and hear in different ways as we discover more of God.

I’ve always loved seeing how students use art to express their hearts in ways their words can’t seem to.  It’s a window into what’s there.  If art and music aren’t your thing, remember that you lead students that might need this outlet to connect to God in greater ways.

My son connects to everything through art and music.  When he hit middle school, I could see that he was struggling to do everything verbally – what he needed to be able to do is share through his hands.  His art spoke volumes…and so did many other students. 

Having art supplies, journals, prints of art, and a great playlist are fairly easy to put together yet so often we default to the simple message and questions.  Creating experiential moments takes time yet Brene Brown said once that creativity is the way that what is in our heads moves into our hearts.  It’s also the other way around, it helps us move what is in our hearts into our heads. 

As we walk with students in ministry, this is our hope right?  We pray that the movement of knowledge into lives of faith and the movement of heart-felt experiences into lives of trust will be a part of our student’s spiritual journey.

There are so many resources on prayer stations; the Book of Uncommon Prayer, Imaginative Prayer, Experiential Prayer, and more.  Use them.  They take work to set up, some planning and personal preparation but the effort is worth it.  The more you practice it, the more relaxed students will be in it.  The more open they become.  It’s also teaching them ways to connect with God that they can use long after they leave our ministries.

Pray with eyes wide open.  Pray in response.  Pray expectantly.

Do you pray expectantly?  What or who do you need to circle in prayer?

When your students graduate, do they know the value of prayer and incorporate this practice into their lives?

There’s no wrong way to pray, there’s no perfect way to pray – the point is – to pray.


Title Photo by Diana Simumpande on Unsplash

What do you want to be known for?  One of the things I would love to be known for is that I pray and have encouraged, taught, and experienced prayer in my life. Not because I think it’s all about me, but to know that I sought to depend on God in every circumstance and led others to do the same. I’m not there yet, but I can’t think of a better thing to be known for.

We know Jesus prayed.  He went off alone to pray (Matthew 14:23, Mark 1:35, Luke 5:16 and more).  He taught his disciples how to pray (Matthew 6:9-13).  He prayed before meals (Mark 6:41, Luke 22:17-19) and he prays for us (John 17:9).  I can just imagine Peter and John watching Jesus as he heads to the small hill behind the home of Mary and Martha.  They have seen him do this many times; he is going to talk to his Father. They watch as he paces, gestures with his hands, and speaks with his Dad before lying back on the grassy hill and resting in it.  They are having a holy conversation.  Prayer.

I believe that part of our job in ministry, and as parents, is to help teach and practice the disciplines that will help those we lead walk with Jesus long after they leave our ministries or homes.  I have learned that prayer is a key discipline for my own walk, so therefore it has become one of the key elements to teach and practice in ministry. The best ministry, the best parenting, flows out of what we have learned or are experiencing with Jesus.

Prayer is one of those mysterious elements of faith.  We, little-human-us, get to talk with the Almighty Creator God.  Think about that.  Little me and you, specks in the Universe, can talk with the Lord God Almighty and He actually wants to hear from us!  That blows my mind.  Another mystery, He answers. I’m not always a great listener, but I aspire to become able to hear his quiet whispers as well as I hear the loud words He speaks.

I wasn’t always this way.  I prayed, read my Bible, and served but I can see, looking back, that I didn’t truly value prayer.  I hadn’t yet experienced a level of connection in prayer that would change how I prayed.  I knew I was talking with God, I knew that Jesus prayed, but I have to say that I didn’t honestly respect the miracle we have by being able to have conversations with God.

What do you believe about prayer?

Prayer is defined as a solemn request for help or expression of thanks addressed to God or an object of worship (that’s the internet dictionary).  If you’re reading this, then you might know Jesus and have some kind of prayer in your life. You might even say you believe prayer is important, because it’s talking to God, and some of you may even say it’s foundational to your life.

I think there can be a lack of understanding about what prayer is and how valuable it is to our walk with Jesus.  Prayer is simple, it’s communication with Jesus.  It’s speaking and listening to the Lord Most HIgh. It is a discipline, it is a gift, and it can be learned.

When it comes to prayer, I never really doubted God could answer and even do miracles through prayer.  But, if I’m honest, I really believed that for other people.  It’s one thing to know God will answer someone else’s prayer, it’s another to know he’ll answer yours.

Now, ask yourself, do I do it?  I mean, I hope so – especially for your own walk with Jesus but I have found many people that believe in Jesus don’t actually find time to talk with Him. Maybe like me, you’ve noticed that when you’re busier, or life is good,  you seem to forget this discipline and when you’re in need you cling to it like a life preserver.  We all do, even the disciples did this at times. 

When my daughter was born, my son was three years old.  He had been experiencing night terrors as so many toddlers do and during that first week with a new baby, he woke us up screaming.  My mom was staying with us so she quick went to our daughter as we ran to my son.  He was inconsolable and overwhelmed with fear.  My husband picked him up as I went to make sure my mom was ok. I found her rocking our sweet baby and praying. 

When I got back to my son’s room, I found my husband sitting on the floor with our son in his arms, I could tell he felt helpless. Our little three-year-old’s body writhing in a fear we couldn’t understand. Then, we realized we needed to pray.  I know, that should have been our first thought, but at least we came to it.  I laid my hands alongside my husband’s on our son as he commanded fear to leave in the name of Jesus.  As soon as he said Amen, my son went quiet and was sound asleep.  No lie!  We learned our lesson.  Every night as we tucked our kids into bed, we prayed protection in Jesus’ name.  There has never been another night terror in our home.  I have read that we are in a battle against principalities and I knew it was true. When that becomes a reality in the bedroom of your child, you pay attention!  Jesus also tells us to ask in His name and we will receive.  The reality of this moment became a defining point in my life.  The power of Jesus and the understanding that he hears is truly amazing.

If you believe in prayer and you do it…do you teach it?  Model it?

By that I mean, do you create purposeful practices, experiences, and expectations around this spiritual discipline?  Do you incorporate it all the time or is it a one shot moment that helps you check the box and move on? 

1 Thessalonians 5:17 tells us to make our life a prayer.  (TPT).  Pray continually.  What if we did that?  It seems to me that most families only pray together over meals and bedtime.  Since many families don’t seem to have time for meals together, this would limit prayer opportunities.  Bedtime prayers with parents fall away when either the child or the parent decides it’s time to end that ritual because the child is old enough to do it themselves.  Kids know that God listens to their prayers as children, but when they get older, they seem to lose sight of this.  Whether it’s because parents stop modeling it or the church hasn’t helped them practice, we have an opportunity to help those around us learn the value and necessity of prayer.  I believe it is a completely under-utilized part of many ministries and families.

I’ve had incredible role models in my life.   When I was little and got up early, I would find my mom in the living room sitting in her favorite chair spending time the Jesus.  We weren’t allowed to interrupt, in fact, if we came into the room she would just pray a bit louder so that we’d know that we needed to wait.  If we didn’t get the hint, she would pray louder.  Jesus came first. I didn’t value my time with Jesus like she did back then, but she was teaching me an important priority.  My dad has always led with prayer. He faithfully modeled this and continues to today.  As I got older, I began to understand the value of their time with God.  I didn’t necessarily do it but I couldn’t say I didn’t know of it.

In college, I did the whole pray when you need something kind of prayers and I tried to start a habit of prayer many times. It’s so apparent when someone is praying out of a relationship or praying out of duty.  There was something different about the way they prayed that I wanted.  I knew my parents had it, but I came to desire that kind of connection for myself.  I discovered how you get there – practice, belief, and trust. 

I wanted the be able to pray with the expectancy and urgency of someone that realizes the incredible power and wonder of God.  I wanted to hear him and see his answers.  Don’t we all?  The more I dove into prayer, the more I realized I had to learn but I did know that if I wanted this, others probably did as well.

Over time, I began to incorporate prayer into ministry in more meaningful ways so that students were learning how to pray as well as experience the precious gift it is to talk with God.  Jesus died so that we could have direct access to his Father, a real on-going relationship. When we pray, we are utilizing one of the very things Jesus died for.  As we pray, our eyes are more open and we look expectantly for answers.   The first tangible answer to a prayer is so powerful for everyone.  It’s that moment when we realize that God really did hear us and we need to take note and remember for those times when we feel like God isn’t listening. I wanted students to have those moments like I had – not only like the one in my son’s bedroom but so many more.

One of my underlying goals in student ministry was to help students practice, experience, and prioritize prayer.  We get to talk with and listen to the God of the Universe and I wanted students do know how incredible and powerful this is!  What isn’t practiced, isn’t kept.  If you feel you always have to be the one to pray, then your students will grow to believe that you have to be the leader in order to have a voice in prayer.  If you never expect students to pray out loud for each other, they might not discover the incredible blessing of praying over someone else’s needs.  If you don’t pray expectantly, then you won’t see the answers. I have found that although I can teach on prayer, it’s more powerful to actually just pray and, through that, we teach. 

We have prayed for God to bring people to events with a specific number and watched as he delivered.  I’ve also seen prayers for healing that God chose to answer in different ways.  I’ve watched as God changed the direction of rain storms and I’ve stood soaking wet  in cold rain. We expect students to use their voices to speak into it and we allow quiet.  The point, pray.  When it begins to be the first line of defense, the first way to help, and the first reaction to a problem – then we’ve made a dent.

People that pray together, stay together.  This isn’t a new phrase but it is still true.  The more our students and leaders pray together, the more we pray as families, the more connected we are to each other and Christ.

Pray with eyes wide open. 
Pray in response. 
Pray expectantly.

May you discover the wealth of blessing that comes as you bring everything to the Lord in prayer.  Not because he answers like you’ve asked, but because it gives him your trust and control.  If you pray, then you get it.  If not, I challenge you to begin. My mom is a bit over 80 years old as I write this and she would say that she still wants more through prayer…it’s the example I seek to follow.