Category Archives: Simply Strategic

Simply Strategic – Handling the Hecklers//The Speaker

If you’ve ever spoken in front of people, odds are you experienced people talking or being distracting while you were trying to pass on the wisdom of the ages (or just make an announcement about bathroom usage). Speaking to students (7-12) presents many challenges and one of which is dealing with students who seem to live to distract.

Here are some ways to “Handle the Hecklers” (see how I re-used the title for emphasis?) Look for the next installment called “The Leader” as I throw out some ideas for adult leaders who are out in the group to handle distracting students.

1. The Evil Eye – To avoid distraction beyond their immediate viscinity, try looking at one or more of them for an extended period with a look that says, “If you keep talking, I will make life real uncomfortable for you.” It is subtle enough to be missed by the rest of the group, and for the most part, the “offending parties” get the message.

2. Awkward Closeness – This allows you to single out the distractors, but doesn’t require you to even miss a beat in what you are saying. Just slowly make your way over to the talkers and stand about a foot away from them. Everyone else will think you are just moving around randomly, but for the kid that you are almost standing on his foot, he knows exactly what’s going on. This is much easier if you have wireless capabilities, because even the guys in the back aren’t off limits. This is most effective for groups of 5-200 (the bigger the group, the harder it is to maneuver around).

3. The Call Out – This is the least discreet because you are literally stopping what you are saying and calling out the talkers in front of everyone. While somewhat effective, it’s the riskiest of them all. Before you use this method, make sure you know have some sort of relationship with the student(s) because you’re about to publicly embarrass them. If it’s a visitor, I would discourage this method because I doubt this will make them want to come back. I have used “The Call Out” before, but only as a last resort. Use your judgment, but if the situation calls for it, then giddeyup.

Anything to add? What has worked for you? What hasn’t worked for you?


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Simply Strategic: Middle School Praise Band

Some of you might read the title and say, “Yeah right.” That’s okay, I used to think that too. But this is for the people who have or at some point would like to have a Middle School (or Jr. High) Praise Band. So I would like to share with you what has worked for me (us). Is this a “Do _____ and you’ll have success” post? No. I’m still a long way from where I’d like to be. But we’re moving in the right direction.

1. Clarify the Win – Yeah, all I do is steal stuff from books I’ve read (Stanley’s “7 Practices of Effective Ministry”). But before you embark on the Middle School Praise Band (MSPB) trail, you need to figure out what a “win” is. For me, a win is students on stage and leading other students. Everything else falls in line behind that. I think the #1 win for our group is to see their peers on stage, using their gifts to glorify God and leading others in worship. Learning new songs, dynamics, transitions, harmonies, and all the other stuff can be added later. If you can get a 7th or 8th grader on stage in front of their peers, that’s a win.

2. Have an Application – What an application does is add validity to your group. It says to the students and the parents that this is a real commitment with real goals and standards. Ours has a Welcome and a Theology of Worship section as well as a section about Expectations, a breakdown of who’s in what band (we have two that rotate), and calendar up through February, and of course, my cell phone number (just in case). The most important part is the Commitment page that is initialled by the student next to 10 statements about how they will conduct themselves while participating in the band. At the bottom, the student and a parent signs it, so I know they both have read the conditions. It sounds like a lot of work, but when you have a problem, you’ll be glad you have an application to fall back on and refer to.

3. Encourage your team EVERY CHANCE YOU GET – The sooner you understand that your band will NEVER sound like the Hillsong CD, the better. This realization will help you gage improvement among the participants in your group. Take the time before practice, during practice, after practice, while they’re standing next to their parents, whatever to encourage them and let them know that you’re glad they’re on the team and they are doing a great job. There will always be ways to improve and things to work on. But focusing on those things will only frustrate you because you are holding onto unrealistic expectations for your 7th and 8th graders. This goes back to you Clarifying the Win. Figure out what you want to do and do it well, with A LOT of encouragement along the way.

Do you have a Middle School Praise Band? Why or why not? What has worked for you? These are just some thoughts of mine. What are some of yours?


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Simply Strategic: Letters Home

When I was in college, I loved getting mail. It meant that somebody, at some point, was thinking of me. I still like getting mail. There’s just something about seeing an envelope or a postcard with my name on it that makes me want to read it right there in the road (not the best idea.)

Working with Middle School students, I know that they don’t get much in the mail. They get friend requests, text messages, emails, and voicemails, but probably not too much in the actual mail box. That’s why I believe that whenever you can send a HANDWRITTEN anything to a student, it’s a win. I emphasize “handwritten” because in their world of stale communication, a typed letter with a signature at the bottom doesn’t do the trick.

Let your students (or the people you work with) get to know your handwriting. Let them see you misspell a word that you have to scribble out or rewrite. Let them see a smiley face or a “PS…” at the bottom. Let them see that they are worth grabbing a pen and spending 1 minute to let them know that you’re thinking about them or praying for them.

Every Sunday we get prayer requests from students or responses from the talk and if they say, “Please pray for me and my sister to get along” or check the box that says “I want to be known as someone after God’s own heart”, I think they deserve something from me (not just signed by me, but literally from me) that says I’m praying for them.

Don’t just be satisfied to send mass communication out to everyone and think it’s doing the trick. People, regardless of age, like to feel valued, and one of the best ways to do that is with a HANDWRITTEN postcard or a letter home. I was reminded myself of this as I was reading Simply Strategic Stuff (Chapter 78, Pg. 162). Thanks Tim and Tony for the reminder to keep it up because it DOES matter.

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Simply Strategic: Parent Interviews

Every year, half my group moves on into high school and I get a new batch of incoming 7th graders. And with them come parents who are just as unsure about their student’s new surroundings as the students are (sometimes more). And it’s up to me to quickly acclimate them to our Middle School culture and what they can expect from me as a leader for the next 2 years.

To accomplish that, I’ve developed (with some help from my homie Nick) the 30 Minute Interview. It’s a quick and (somewhat) painless chance for me to get across from new students and parents in a (somewhat) non-threatening way.

It’s basically 15 minutes with the parent(s) and then 15 minutes with the student. It’s nothing too elaborate; but it serves the purpose of me getting to share a little of my heart and them getting to share a little of theirs.

And ultimately, this time is for the parents; many of whom I’ve never met before in my life. And this is one of the ways to show them that we are in this together and that I care about their role in my world. I’ve come up with a list of questions that I like to draw from while I’m meeting with the parent(s). It keeps them sharing their hearts as well as cuts down on “So, uh…..” time. Here they are in no order whatsoever:

-What’s been __________ involvement in church/youth group up to this point?

-How does __________ feel about what we do?

-What do you pray/dream for ___________ for the upcoming school year? Beyond that?

-Is there anything I should know that would help me in my ministry with __________?

-What are ___________ strengths? Weaknesses?

-Where/How do you see __________ fitting into our group?

-How does _________ interact with people?

-Who are _________ friends?

-How can I be praying for you as parents and for ____________ as we begin our 2 year-long journey together?

Now, in 15 minutes, I can’t get to every one of those questions. But I’ve found that if there’s one thing that parents love to talk about, it’s their kids. So by giving them a chance to talk about them shows them that I’m not just all about my programs and what I can get from them. You also get some great insight into the lives of the people that you’ll be investing in for the next 2 years (if you’re Middle School/Jr. High).

If you don’t have something like an interview in place for incoming students into your group, I would encourage you to put something in place. It has worked really well here (into Middle School and into High School) and makes the transition a lot less of a stresser on the family.

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Simply Strategic: Meetings w/Jr. High Students

I recently started reading a book by Tim Stevens and Tony Morgan called: Simply Strategic Stuff. First of all, it’s great because the chapters a like a page and a half long. Second, they just are hitting on some key stuff within the church that I’m already jazzed about (and I’m only on #8 of 99!). Anyway, I know I’m like 6 or 7 years late on this book, but good stuff is good stuff, right? Absolutely.

Anyway, I was just thinking about things that I’m doing within my ministry to Jr. High students and thought I would periodically throw in my own “Simply Strategic – ___________” with a Jr. High twist. I don’t know how many of these I’m going to come up with, but you’ll know when you read them. So here’s my first of hopefully many Jr. High tidbits to help you out in your ministry (because they’re helping me with mine).

So; meeting with students. Usually we like to reserve this as a reactionary measure when something goes wrong in their life. We establish ourselves as “the fixer” with phrases like, “If you ever have something come up, give me a call.” And yes, that’s what we should be doing. We should be in their lives when they feel it’s falling apart (which can be anything from fighting with a best friend to accidentally erasing their contact list on their cell-phone.)

But something I’ve been challenged with since I started here at Wooster Grace is the idea that if the only time I’m getting across from students is when they have a crisis, then I’m missing it. First of all, a meeting with you will be more like a meeting with the principal than a meeting with their youth pastor. It will carry a negative conotation and then when you ask a student to get together when there isn’t a crisis, they believe that they’re in trouble.

A possible solution (or at least an idea) is to meet strategically with students all the time, when their life is somewhat stable. This accomplishes a couple things. First, it gives them a chance to interact with the “pastor” outside of the Sunday morning or Wednesday night setting and gives them a chance to see a different side of you and more than likely, you’ll see a different side of them as well. Next, it allows you to give one person your undivided attention for however long you meet. And if you have a group that’s bigger than 20, this is probably something that they’re not used to but desperately seek. Third (but not last) is that it lets you into their lives a little bit before the bomb drops and the relationship is already there when you need to make or receive the hard phone call.

Does this solve all my problems. Haha, does spell check catch all the mistakes in your papre? Of course not. But as we work towards having a hearing in students’ lives, this is a great way (that I’v’e found) to get that, and get across from some students that I otherwise would hardly interact with ever. So I try to meet with at least 4 students every week for about an hour at a time. We talk about the fair, how sports are going, LeBron James, and how their time with Jesus is going. It’s a chance to get a glimpse into their life because you never know when they’re going to need someone to talk to; and I want that person to be me (and of course, God.)


PS – I misspelled “paper” in the last paragraph on purpose. It was a feeble attempt at wit, and I understand if you never want to speak to me again. Just kidding, we can still chat. : )


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