Words That Build Students In Youth Ministry

Tim Balow
September 29th, 2020

One of the most important lessons I learned about words is very simple: words do things. If you’ve been a youth worker for even a short while, you know certain words and phrases linger with people.

Who hasn’t had the experience when a former student comes back to you after months/years and shares with you, “I remember when you told me…” or “I remember when you taught us….” Certainly those are success stories,  but what if we started collecting words and phrases and we knew could impress new life into the people we serve?

Isn’t that the point of ministry – to point and share with students, families, volunteers, and the community you serve that there is a different life with God through Jesus and it’s available right now.

When I think about all the different opportunities in which to share short phrases and conversations with students, my brain is overwhelmed by how many moments are captured.

Whether it’s before or after a service, on the road to a mission trip or retreat, or even as a student stops by the office after-school, these are all opportunities to bring life out of deadness, healing from brokenness, empowerment from marginalization.

These can be phrases that students own for themselves, and consequently, can use those phrases to share with their friends and family.

Here are a few words/phrases you can use that build students.  Here we go:

“I see you have natural leadership ability”

This can tap into a new influencing reality for them.

“Those are important feelings you’re sharing”

This creates a safe space for them to continue to share their emotions.

“Remember when…”

This isn’t just a remember when game, but to create true memory sharing experiences.

“Your story is meant to be shared with people”

A phrase that empowers students to care about the value of what they are experiencing.

“It’s not about feeling messy, it’s about navigating a messy world”

This begins to open a students’ eyes to the brokenness around them in the world, and how they are not alone.

“You can make someone feel different about themselves”

I’ve often shared that God doesn’t always make things better for people right away, but rather creates a different way for them to live (that can lead to something better). You can use this to empower students to share that message with their friends.

“The feelings you are experiencing today doesn’t have to be the feelings you continue to experience”

Similar to the values from the above phrase, but employed as an attempt to grow them out of a hurting perspective.

“I would love for you to take ownership of this”

This is about empowering students not just to influence a situation, but to take the initiative in a situation or opportunity.

“You don’t have to fix yourself/others”

Life with God isn’t about fix-it-now solutions, but about long-term transformation in relationships.

“I’d love to be with you while you are…(insert feeling)”

The ministry of presence is one of the most valuable gifts you can give to a student.

“Your hurt can be healed in relationships”

This challenges students to consider how turning to each other and healthy relationships can be therapeutic and bring healing.

“You belong to this community”

This communicates the very basic reality that a student belongs where you are in community.

It should always be a part of our calling to impress life-giving words to students. It’s one of the greatest small (Big) gifts in ministry.

What are some phrases you’ve been able to share with students? What life-giving words can be grafted into your everyday conversations with students?

Tim Balow

TIm Balow is has served in a variety of youth worker roles between Chicago and Minneapolis over the last 10 years. Tim currently serves with Youth Specialties working on projects focused on customer and content operations. Tim's passion is to serve the under-resourced youth worker and to encourage the next generation of students to step into a transformative relationship with Jesus.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.