I have been told that it takes 21 days to change a habit or start a new one. Tis the New Year season for new habits. But rather than be the awkward person in the gym—the newcomer that isn’t sure how to use the machinery, who isn’t aware of the unspoken gym etiquette, and who forgot your locker combination—let’s work on some habits we are all much more comfortable with. Some of us will conquer that 3-week window and be well on our way to new and improved self for 2019, while others will spend some time right-sizing those goals you made while suffering from overstimulation and sleep deprivation on New Year’s Eve.
But in all seriousness, whatever goals you have decided on for 2019. Stick to it. You got this. But as a youth leader, have you thought much about how the goals you have for yourself effect those you minister to? What habits can you develop over the next three weeks that will pave the way to some tremendous growth opportunities for your students throughout the rest of this year?
It just so happens I have a few ideas for you. These are a few things, which over the years have challenged me, but at the same time, had tremendous benefit for my students and my ministry.

Go deeper

We spend plenty of time concerning ourselves with casting a wide net. We spend time and money to make sure that our games, our spaces, our events, and even our messages appeal to the seeker student, the unchurched, or even the anti-church—and for a good reason. We should be doing all that we can to bring in as many students into our youth spaces as possible. But on the flip side, we can never cast our nets so wide that we are forced to sacrifice depth.
Spend some time this year taking students deeper. Maybe it is your entire group, perhaps just a few. But if you don’t work for their brains to the patterns of Scripture, something else will capture their attention. The beautiful and most encouraging thing about the teenage brain is equally as dangerous. There is never a time where the brain is more ripe and primed for learning—much more than you and I. So what can often seem too deep by our standards is often not the case when introduced to students. You have incredible influence over what they learn.

Raise the standard

For the same reason, hold your students to highest of standards. Students want to know where the line is. In fact, all children do. If you are a parent, you know this all too well. One of my favorite parts of parenting are the moments after my kids are introduced to the consequence of their behavior. When they do something, they shouldn’t do they find themselves in trouble. As a parent, I have drawn the line of what is good or bad behavior. Kids will continuously test that line. So will your students. But no matter how mad my kids get at me for their consequence, after all, is said and done, my kids never fail to come over and give a big hug, say I’m sorry, and I love you. What they are saying is “thank you.” Whether they consciously realize it or not, they want that line drawn in the sand.
Our students are no different, but as leaders, we feel like we need to be the cool friend who is on their side. Be cool. Be on their side. But draw the line. And hold it. Even in those moments when it hurts to let the consequences do the teaching–even when they are mad at you. You will earn a level of love and respect that is virtually unbreakable.

Own Your Mistakes

Some of the best lessons I have learned in life have come from students. Some of those lessons I did not receive all that well, but in the end, I appreciate watching God work through them to teach me. Students are smart. They know when we are faking it. They know when we mess up—even when we hide it—they know it. As a leader, owning our mistakes can incredibly difficult, but it is entirely necessary. Students know that you are not perfect. They just want you to know it too.
It is important to let students see God working in you as well. We are all being transformed; we are being made in the image of Christ. These are present tense verbs. So walk with your students. Not only do you earn greater amounts of respect, but it also gives students a window into what adult discipleship looks like. We may be further up the road, but we are on the same road.


Read. A lot. Being fit is not just about physicality, but we are also called to be fit cognitively.
We all love a new year. A new year brings new beginnings, new chances, new opportunities, and new adventures. Have goals for yourself. Have goals for your family. But as your considering goals and opportunities this year for your ministry consider how those goals will impact your students. Although these suggestions are only minor adjustments, they can make an impact on you and every student you minister to for years to come.

Related articles
Sean McDowell Talks About the National Youth Worker Retreat
Here’s how CE National helps to equip pastors and church leaders.