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Dave Paxton's List - "101 Things In Student Ministry (To Do & Not Do)"

On Monday we gathered to remember the life of our dear brother and long-time minister of the gospel Dave Paxton. Dave had served over forty-years in student ministry in churches from Tennessee, Texas, and Florida. Over the years he impacted thousands of students and adults for the sake of Christ and he is dearly missed. A few years back he told me about one of the conferences he led at the Conclave in Chattanooga, Tennessee. This annual conference for student pastors draws thousands and Dave's breakout titled "101 Things in Student Ministry (To Do & Not Do)" always filled the room. 

DAVE 3

He shared this list with me. Of the items on the list, he experienced many of them, but a few were collected from other student pastors over the years. What I do know is that each is true and not just a made up illustration. And...as you read them, you too may be saying "I want to know the story behind that one." Sorry, I don't know the stories, but i do have the list. Enjoy.

  1. Love students. Work to build an atmosphere where students love one another, their families and those in need.
  2. Contact students. Contact students on a weekly basis. Seek ways to do this.
  3. Live expecting God to work supernaturally within the students and yourself—fulfilling God's vision for the community.
  4. Know Christ. Invite every student into a personal and transforming relationship with Jesus Christ.
  5. No animals/pets/reptiles may be brought along or purchased on trips.
  6. It does not matter how great a communicator you are or how awesome you are at hanging out with kids, if you cannot administrate the daily needs of the ministry. If you cannot do these administrative tasks parents will not trust or respect you to take care of their students.
  7. Do not just randomly show up for a prepackaged summer camp without first being sure that you have the dates correct.  (A youth minister in our area arrived at BigStuf in Panama City Beach with his students on a bus. The camp staff stepped on the bus to welcome them searching for their church name. They could not find the church name on their list. The youth pastor made a joke saying "Wouldn't it be funny if we are here the wrong week." They checked the camp database. Sure enough, they were scheduled for following week. BigStuf worked it out. Fortunately for the youth pastor.)
  8. Never talk about church members to other church members unless you know them well.  You never know who is related or good friends.
  9. Be careful about contacting parents about a student’s choices or lifestyle.  Have a rule of thumb and use much discernment and wisdom in knowing how to proceed.  Do what is responsible...but maintain ministry options with the student if possible.  (Some new guys are too quick to overreact - I was.)
  10. Never host a Christian rap group for a bunch of white, preppy, rich kids.  It just does not work.
  11. Bad volunteers are hard to get rid of.  It is better to take the time and make sure you have the right person for the job on the front end.  It is easier to have never enlisted them than to have to "fire" them later.
  12. Don't just show love to and befriend the popular kids.  Do what no one else is doing and reach out to those who are tough to love!
  13. Don't mess with the pastor's kids...just let it go.
  14. On trips–Don’t ever allow girls and guys in rooms together...anywhere, anytime.
  15. Always be sure that you have checked out the people involved with you and your ministry. No exceptions.
  16. Plan ahead….far enough ahead to get the word out. Last minute stuff usually stinks.
  17. Once you set a ground rule for trips….don’t blink!
  18. Never be alone with a student, use the two adult rule.
  19. Never punch a student in the face in front of a deacon.
  20. You teach what you know but you reproduce who you are.
  21. Be sure the work you are doing for God is not hindering the work of God within you.
  22. People are more important than programs. Remember the value of relationships.
  23. Treat youth with respect and kindness. Someday they will be adults, who are treating youth the way you do.
  24. Take a serious approach to your ministry, but not to yourself.
  25. Cultivate flexibility and a willingness to change. Avoid the “concrete syndrome”.
  26. Be Patient. God can use time, people, and new beginnings to cure a lot of ills.
  27. Take care of yourself and your family or risk losing your ability to minister to others.
  28. Invest in a support group because you will need to make a withdrawal when times get tough.
  29. Care for and affirm your adult workers. They will stay with you longer.
  30. Equip youth and adults to take ownership of the youth ministry. Use the “BEST” approach to developing leaders.
  31. B - BELIEVE in them
  32. E - ENCOURAGE them
  33. S - SHARE with them
  34. T - TRUST them
  35. Make yourself more available and approachable.
  36. Spend more time nurturing and supporting Sunday School.
  37. Pay more attention to parents of youth.
  38. Devise strategies for enabling youth and adults to take ownership of the youth ministry.
  39. Avoid requiring volunteers to do anything. Instead, ask them to make a commitment to a set of expectations.
  40. Invest more time in equipping adults to equip youth to reach, teach, care for, and minister to their peers.
  41. Learn to care for, instead of ignoring or getting rid of troublesome people.
  42. Deacons are not your enemy. Be careful about jokes pointed their way. Develop positive relationships with them.
  43. Senior adults can be a major support group. Set an example of showing love to senior adults. You will be one someday. Oh…and by the way……they have a lot of scholarship money available for students. Enough of the “Blue Hair” jokes.
  44. If you cannot fully support your pastor, get out.
  45. Have frequent meetings with the pastor.
  46. It is YOUR job to communicate with the church your successes and goals. Teach the church to respond to kids who don’t look like the rest of the church.
  47. Parents are the number one influencers in the faith development of a teenager. It is not your job to disciple them, but to equip parents.
  48. Don’t expect what you don’t inspect.
  49. "Whatever else you do, if you do not take kids to the cross frequently, nothing else matters." - Dawson McAllister
  50. Ignore your baptism numbers and they will decline.
  51. Connect with a local network of youth ministers, even if you get nothing personally from the relationships.
  52. You are not the hottest thing on the block and the former guy was probably not a ditz. Not everything he did needs to be done away with. Build on it.
  53. Insecurity is a very poor motivator and a terrible way to run a ministry.
  54. Old guys in ministry made a lot of mistakes before you came on the scene. Learn from them.
  55. The five “W’s” (who, what, where, when, and why) are important on every advertisement. Remember them. Too many flyers with inadequate information are sent out every week by student ministries. It makes you look stupid.
  56. Do not accept cash or registrations from students. Have a drop box. One of our staff lost a student’s registration in his own pocket.
  57. Clearly communicate expectations to parents and workers.
  58. Too many rules create a legalistic ministry. Too few create one that is out of control.
  59. Trust is a wonderful thing. Set proper boundaries, but operate on a beginning of trust. Students respect that.
  60. Have medical consent forms on file for any out-of-town trip.
  61. Hall walkers (adults who do little else) at youth camp allow you and the volunteer staff to head to bed at the end of the day at camp. They free you up to get much needed rest and help assure volunteers for next year. Hall walkers get everyone in bed, and make sure they are up the next morning. They sleep during the day.
  62. If you can let someone else drive, do it. Spending time with students is more important than driving.
  63. Don’t assume anything on contracts with bus companies or retreat facilities.
  64. Be careful with a cash drop in the sanctuary. Kids will kill each other to grab a dollar bill.
  65. Always proofread everything.  There is a difference between Proverbs 3:5-6 and Philippians 3:5-6.  (the latter was proudly displayed on a t-shirt for one of my D-Now weekends)
  66. Do not keep the pastor in the dark about youth events.
  67. Do not serve chili dogs early in a lock-in.
  68. Carefully word your announcements when you get the microphone in big church.  “The big girls retreat” is not as effective as “the girls retreat for everyone.”
  69. Do not try to be someone you are not, in order to “fit in” to the youth culture.
  70. Do not discipline the whole group when it is just a few who are at fault.
  71. Do not speed in a church van.
  72. Do not speed in your own car with students on board.
  73. Never watch a rated R movie with a student, even if it is only rated R for violence.
  74. Do not get naked with the kids, even as a joke.
  75. Do not cuss in front of the kids no matter how bad you mashed your finger or stumped your toe.
  76. Never reserve spots for kids for a camp or retreat without payment in advance. People who don't pay, don't show!
  77. No matter how much they loved, trusted and respected your integrity and abilities at your last church, none of that is transferable. You start from scratch at a new church. (Hard lesson)
  78. When a student asks you to pray for them, do it then! Take their hands, standing in the middle of the hallway and pray. An immediate response shows you care, and too many adults say “I’ll pray for you,” yet never do.
  79. Don’t allow coed seating on long bus trips – especially on long bus trips during the evening hours. And spread your leaders out on the bus.
  80. Going along with the above, don’t think just because they are a minister’s son on your staff that they can be trusted. I caught one of our minister’s sons making out with a girl at about 3AM one morning on the bus.
  81. While at camp, if rooms have fire extinguishers, do not forget to make an explicit rule that they are not to be messed with or used unless a fire actually exists.
  82. Going along with the above, once again, don’t think just because a student is a minister’s son on your staff that they can be trusted. One of our minister’s sons and some of the boys from another room decided to have a fire extinguisher fight in their room.
  83. While on a student trip and you are running low on gas, don’t think that you can make it to the next gas station. Stop while you can. Five minutes invested can save an hour on the side of the road.
  84. Do not just take any sponsor that wants to go with you on a trip. Pick and choose your sponsors carefully and with great wisdom.
  85. Do not ever be shocked at what you may see or have to deal with while at camp or any other student outing. And don’t let it flavor the entire event.
  86. Do not ever forget that what you are doing matters and does make a difference in young people’s lives.
  87. Do not make promises to students that you cannot or will not keep. They never forget.
  88. Do not be so quick to think the grass is greener somewhere else. There is great blessing and satisfaction in longevity in student ministry at one place. I am celebrating my tenth year this month at our church and it has been a huge blessing to see students who have come through our ministry and grow into some of the godliest young adults I know.
  89. You cannot take the credit or the blame for student ministry until you have been there more than three years.
  90. When you first go to a church, there will be some upperclassmen who may never follow your vision. They are still mad the last guy bailed out on them (their perspective.) Love them anyway. You may win a few, but for some, you will just have to outlast them. 
  91. Do not become a full time minster and a part time follower of Christ.
  92. Do not send out a poll to get information. They always come back split.
  93. Do not believe that everyone is against you just because you have a few loud complainers.
  94. Do not believe everything your biggest fans have to say about you.
  95. Do not speak badly about the person who had the position before you. Build a relationship with him. He can become a great friend and resource.
  96. Do not forget to celebrate with your volunteers and staff.
  97. Know that if you are leading well not everyone is going to like you.
  98. Do not let your boss be caught off guard by an issue or problem in your ministry.
  99. Do not give up your day off.
  100. Do not forget to date your spouse.
  101. Do not finalize your youth calendar unless your wife approves it.

Wise words from a wise man.

Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future. - Proverbs 19:20

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