(pretty much) We had our first ever middle school retreat at the beginning of November. Our student ministry has done Disciple Now Weekends, as well as a Girls Weekend, but the middle school students have never done anything like this before. We have never done a middle school only retreat, and it was SO GREAT! I think everyone loves it so much because it wasn't like any other event we put on during the year. This event was planned, but it was also very chill (for lack of a better term). Granted, it had some fun elements that hyped it up at times, but this weekend wasn't about a wild set and lights, or loud music and hype games. This weekend was about stripped back worship, authentic small group time, and surrender. I intentionally went into this weekend asking God to take away the elements that we might lean on, and produce something so real and authentic our students couldn't help but to experience the presence of God.
A lot of the time people ask questions like, "What was Retreat like?" and "What did you guys do?" I decided to give you our minute by minute schedule (with locations), and attach pictures. That way you're able to see all what was happening and know about what we were doing. *Pictures were taken by the incredible Ethan Johnson*
Even though I work primarily with student ministry, our church has many ministries that are thriving! Our women's ministry is continuing to grow, and I am so humbled to watch such amazing team of women who are beyond creative, dynamically talented work. They are shaping the way Knoxville views church by putting on such amazingly intentional events. I am not in charge of this ministry, nor am I in the meetings that shape this event, but from time-to-time I do get asked to be a part of the crew that is able to help execute brilliant ideas to help make event happen. I've taken a few mental notes the past couple of years, and here are some things you might want to know when planning...
Our highest attended student event of the year is “Elevate Weekend”, your church might refer to it as DNOW. As you look through our pictures of this event, it’s very easy to see the screens and it’s hard to ignore the lights. Through these pictures you’re able to see a room full of students ready to worship, have fun, and hang out with friends. You might look at these pictures and think that everything was planned down to the T, and that things were planned months in advance — and I’d tell you that you were right. I’d tell you that our student team worked tirelessly from October through February. I’d tell you we planned, plotted, projected, and prayed over this event from the very start. I could spend a lot of time and tell you about all the great meetings we had, all the obstacles we overcame, and all the personal triumphs when planning this event. But I’m not going to. Instead, I’m going to tell you that God moved through the failures and the things that we didn’t plan or have any hand in.
Leading up to this event, our prayers went a little something along these lines, “God, we want these students to see You. Bless every detail and every volunteer that touches this event. Soften our students’ hearts and be with all our staff as we prepare for this event. Most importantly, God, we want your will to be done. We want our students to see You in and through every single part of this weekend. God, we’ll plan and steward the time and resources we have, but ultimately, we want You to show up.” Before we began and ended every meeting, we prayed. Before recruiting volunteers, we prayed. We prayed over the rooms, our breakouts, our “pre-party” — this thing was slathered in prayer, to say the least. So, when things started to go wrong… we knew better than to stay in a panic mode, we let God work. And boy, did He ever!
Our tech was incredible, our speaker was a knock-out, our leaders were prepared, our host homes were the best, and our students came hungry for Jesus — it was looking to be a perfect weekend! Until the sky (randomly) began to fall out; rain just kept pouring and pouring and pouring. When the rain started on Friday night, the projected weekend forecast looked very grim. I wish I could tell you we prayed away the storm (we definitely tried to), but God clearly had other plans. Roads were closed, homes got flooded, cars were damaged — but GOD STILL MOVED. It was clear that we could plan and prep as much as we wanted to, but GOD WAS STILL IN CONTROL. GOD STILL MADE A WAY! HE IS FAITHFUL & HE STILL WORKS!
One of the best moments of the whole weekend was in the middle of service on Saturday night. If you serve or work with youth ministry, you know that at a weekend event, Saturday night is THE night, gospel night. Everything you work for and plan for is so that your students and their peers can hear a clear message of the gospel. But, when when the room suddenly loses all power, and when the back-up generator doesn't come on, you know that God is up to something. In that moment, when the lights went out, we knew this moment and this night was appointed by God. As much work and planning we went into this weekend, this was completely out of our control, but we were excited and expectant to see what God was up to! Our speaker (God bless Rob), kept going and you could genuinely hear a pen drop in a room of 700+ students. Rob gave the invitation and God moved. We had an acoustic worship set and God moved. The lights came back on mid-song, and God moved. We got all the power working again, and God moved.
I say all of this to say… when you plan an event you can (and should) plan everything down to the T. You should steward your time, money, and resources responsibly because that is what we’re called to do. You can plan and you can prep, but it all means nothing if you don’t pray. If you don’t allow and invite God to move, don’t get me wrong He will inevitably still move, but you will miss the blessings that come with allowing God free reign over your event. So yes, plan. Please prep. But most importantly, pray!
Looking ahead is something every healthy ministry must do to survive. However, in order for a ministry to thrive in the upcoming year, I think it's very important to look back, reflect, and debrief the past year.
1. Puts things into perspective // It's very easy to get caught up in the day-to-day. However, when you take a step back and look at the big picture, you're able to get a better and healthier grasp on what you and your team really needs to focus on for the upcoming year.
2. Help others // Learning from your past mistakes, failures, triumphs, and successful ventures makes you more knowledgeable to help someone else succeed.
3. Harnesses effectiveness // What worked? Okay, now what really worked? The only way to make something great is to improve the "good"
4. Avoids the same mistakes // If you identify your mistakes, it's pretty simple that you're less likely to repeat them!
5. Creates a sense of accomplishment // People love accomplishing things. Experts tell you to start your day and to do list with a simple, quick task. By accomplishing a task, we're statistically more likely to have a more productive day. If this is true for the day-to-day, we should probably apply this when looking ahead to the new year.
SPIRITUAL THEME // Every single girls night, we plan with girls specifically in mind (obviously, lol). We usually start with prayer, followed up by asking questions like, "What do we feel God calling us to speak about?" and, "What spiritual perspective do our girls need to talk about? Specifically subjects that we can't usually talk with guys around." Obviously, comparison and other topics aren't exclusive to females. However, we start with that mindset, and from there we make a list of potential topics, research scripture, and pray about what the Lord is calling us to talk about. Our spiritual theme for this event girls night was comparison.
MESSAGE // For this event, my high school girls' counterpart and I split the message. She read and broke down the passage and I had the privilege to make it applicable to their lives. Our message of comparison was based off of the Old Testament story of Rachel & Leah. I sprinkled about 4 to 5 group questions throughout my talk and hit a main point in between each one.
GROUP QUESTIONS // We had our girls sit on the floor not only because we wouldn't have fit everyone in the room and not only because it went perfectly with the Bohemian theme, but mostly because we wanted to have the accessibility to have small groups! We strategically placed leaders throughout the room and around groups of girls to naturally help them create groups.
DECOR & FUN THINGS // Our goal with each girls night is to make them all unique and different from the ones prior. So our theme was Bohemian themed, or "Boho". String lights, tapestries, wild flowers, yarn wall art, fuzzy pillows, and candles are just a few fun things that come to mind with the word Boho. If you are unfamiliar with the term or decor, CLICK HERE. With this decor theme, we were intentional to have lots of flowers! These were not only a pretty takeaway for the girls, but flowers tied into my lesson of comparison as well!
PLACE & TIME // This girls night was specifically aimed towards our core group of girls (of course, they were encouraged to bring friends). Because of the timing and specific audience we wanted to draw, for this Girls Night we chose a more intimate location. We specifically picked a "non-prime time" to hit our girls who were a little closer to home.
I JUST GOT ENGAGED!!!! It's insane to say, and crazy to think that in approximately four months, I will be married to THE BEST PERSON EVER!! But before the craziness of wedding planning sets in (okay, it really already has), I think it would be kind of cool to talk about something that I feel gets talked about with a lot of men vocational ministry, but not so much women. A lot of blogs and books are written about the qualities men / pastors should look for in a future spouse, regarding having a partner in ministry, but I thought it would be fun to address the flip side of that. What if you're a woman working in ministry seeking a spouse to support you and your call? What should you look for when you're called to vocational ministry and he isn't? What qualities should you look for? What should be important to you?
Now, I could lie and say that I have all the answers, or that I have the perfect personality combo to make sure your ministry thrives, but I don't and I won't. All I simply have is my experience from others around me, and my own ~future husband~. DISCLAIMER: I specify vocational ministry, because I believe we are all called to minister to our sphere of influence! ANOTHER DISCLAIMER: These are just my personal opinions. These are just simple things I urge you to think about / consider. These are 3 qualities I appreciate, that you may too.
1. Jesus Focused // This one is the most important, that really should be a nonnegotiable. If the guy you're dating or engaged to doesn't love Jesus, it might be wise to seek council about your current relationship status. If you're in ministry and the man you're married to doesn't love Jesus, start praying (or, I should probably say, continue praying)! Everything stems from a relationship with Jesus, so be sure to have a spouse that love Him [Jesus].
2. Leadership // Spiritually, relationally, in your household. Your husband is supposed to be the leader. I'm sure that working in a church, being surrounded by Jesus all the time can make it difficult, especially as a woman. Not only do you have to find someone who is chasing after Jesus as hard as you, but it's good to have someone who knows at the end of the day, that you have to submit to their godly leadership. You're a unit and a team, but at the end of the day, the Lord has given him the responsibility to be the head of the house to lead your family.
3. Servant's heart // It's nice when your spouse works in your area of serving, but it's all about the heart. If he absolutely hates serving with babies (okay, idk who HATES babies, but maybe he's afraid he'll drop them), he can and should serve somewhere else! It's all about the heart behind it. Look at his demeanor and attitude when he is serving. Is he doing it with a joyful heart? Is he jumping in to help wherever he can? Again, your future spouse may not like those things at all, but I definitely think this is something important to consider.
Whether it's brand new 6th graders or upcoming freshmen, promotion is a big deal for all involved! Students and families are about to go through some major shifts this upcoming year, and it's your (our) job as a student ministry to assist and communicate with parents and students about what's to come for the new year!
With all the changes and transitions, communications is key! I suggest having an upcoming parent meeting. Here are a couple of things to consider talking about with parents and students.
- State of the Ministry // Use this opportunity to let your parents and students know why you do what you do.
- Yearly Schedule // All your big events on the radar, let your parents know so they can plan and budget accordingly.
- Upcoming Plans // If you have dates, specifics are always welcomed and encouraged. So, if you have dates, be sure to share them. As far as upcoming plans, if you know what series you'll be covering during the semester, be sure to let your parents know. This helps them be proactive in talking to their student.
- How They Can Serve // This is one of the best things to talk about at the best times you could talk about it! It's definitely a smart move to let parents know about the needs you might be having, when it comes to holes in serving spots you need to fill.
Camp schedules can be tricky. Here's a 5 day mockup of what your camp could look like.
Here's a quick list of good, Christian reads that have release within the past 1-2 years. There's fun and easy reads, biographies, inspirational stories, and more! I hope you'll enjoy some of them like I have!
1. Martin Luther: A Spiritual Biography by Herman Selderhuis
2. 12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You by Tony Reinke
3. A Reader’s Guide to the Major Writings of Jonathan Edwards edited by Nathan Finn and Jeremy Kimble
4. In His Image: 10 Ways God Calls Us to Reflect His Character by Jen Wilkin
5. God’s Wisdom for Navigating Life: A Year of Daily Devotions in the Book of Proverbs by Tim and Kathy Keller
6. Everybody, Always by Bob Goff
7. The Messiah Comes to Middle-Earth: Images of Christ’s Threefold Office in The Lord of the Rings by Philip Ryken
8. Into His Likeness: Be Transformed As a Disciple of Christ by Edward Sri
9. If Only You Knew: My Unlikely, Unavoidable Story of Becoming Free by Jamie Ivey
10. Reading the Bible Supernaturally: Seeing and Savoring the Glory of God in Scripture by John Piper