Today, I’m blogging for Breeze Church Management Software on the topic of volunteer retention.  Here’s a sample…

In church world, we’re often scrambling to recruit enough volunteers.  It seems like there are never enough.   Here’s a thought:  What if our volunteers stuck around?  What if we didn’t have to recruit as many volunteers because the majority of our volunteers stayed engaged? What if our volunteers loved serving so much that they stayed involved?  How much more efficient and effective would or ministries and churches become?

I believe this scenario is possible.  In fact, I’ve seen it happen year after year in our church.

I believe any ministry or church can achieve high levels of volunteer satisfaction and retention by answering 6 questions that all volunteers are asking…

Check out the rest of the post here.

My boss likes to ask me hard questions.  It’s his thing.  And, it’s a good thing because his questions often keep me from doing dumb stuff.  He recently asked me to take a week and identify my stress indicators.  In other words, what are the things in your life that when they pop up, you know you are stressed out.  Why did he ask me this?  Because, stress free people don’t burn out.  We burn out in ministry because we ignore stress and act like we can handle it…until we can’t.  And then, it’s too late.

So, what are my stress indicators?  I’m glad you asked.  Here you go:


I’m sort of a ninja at sleeping, which is awesome for me and not so awesome for my wife.  You see, we have 5 kids.  She hasn’t had a full night of sleep in 10 years.  Meanwhile, anytime she goes away the kids sleep all night.  Or at least, I sleep all night.  To be honest, I don’t really know what the kids do.  All I know is that when I wake up at 6:00 am they are all staring at me.  It’s kind of weird really.

Anyway, what I mean to tell you is that I’m a ninja at sleeping unless I’m stressed out. In stressful seasons, I have awful dreams and wake up in the middle of the night and then can’t fall back to sleep. It’s essentially the worst.  Here’s a catalogue of the weird dreams I’ve recently had:

  • I’m at church and someone asks me if I’m ready to preach.  I totally forgot that I’m preaching.  I wake up hyperventilating in a cold sweat.
  • I’m at church and someone asks me if I’m ready to preach.  I totally forgot that I’m preaching.  I wake up hyperventilating in a cold sweat.
  • I’m at church and someone asks me if I’m ready to preach.  I totally forgot that I’m preaching.  I wake up hyperventilating in a cold sweat.

As you can see, my weird dreams are directly related to work stress.  It’s a stress indicator.


I’m not terribly proud of this stress indicator but it is a very clear sign that I’m running on fumes.  I like to think of myself as a fun dad.  I like to make my kids laugh, play with them and patiently listen to their 45 minute descriptions of what happened at elementary school recess.  But, the truth is that when I am stressed out, I’m a total crab.  I don’t listen well.  I get irritated easily.  I lose motivation to actually play with my kids.  Crabby Daddy is a stress indicator.


When I was a kid there was this character on Sesame Street named Forgetful Jones.  His game was pretty simple:  forget everything important.


I’ve noticed that when I’m stressed, I drop the ball.  For example, when you get a call asking if you’re still going to show up and speak at the Baccalaureate service in 10 minutes and you totally forgot and don’t even know what you’re going to speak on (obviously, this is a story about someone else), you might be stressed out.

Normally, I have a pretty solid memory, but I’ve found that one of my stress indicators is forgetting important details.



So, what about you?  What are your stress Indicators?  If you can’t identify them quickly, it might be worth asking people close to you what they are.  You might be surprised by what you learn.

Also, what exactly do we do when it becomes clear that we are stressed out?  My boss simply says, “Don’t keep doing the same thing.  Do something different.”  For him it might be as simple as changing the scenery.  Adding a walk into his daily routine or holding a meeting outside.

Here are a few things that recharge me:

  • Work from a coffee shop (I’m an outgoing introvert so productive alone time is like gold)
  • Go off the grid (For me, a a day or two of not even getting out of my PJs will get me back on the right track)
  • The Cottage (My aunt has a cottage in Northern Michigan.  It’s literally the best.  A weekend on the water cures just about everything for me)

Pay attention to your stress levels.  The only people who burn out are those who attempt to run too long with too much stress.  Pay attention to your indicators and act on them.  Do something different or do something that recharges you.  Your church, your ministry and your family need a healthy you.


image credited to Vural G. via Flickr

Hey Friends,

Today, I’m guest blogging for Breeze, which is a pretty amazing church management software, check it out.  Here’s a sample of the post:


One of the most frequently asked questions I hear from ministry leaders is:

“How do we get more volunteers?”

The success of our churches and ministries often depend on the quality and number of our volunteers.   The seasons in which we don’t have enough volunteers are both stressful and exhausting while the seasons in which our volunteer teams are full and healthy are often life-giving and fruitful.

So, how do we motive our people to move from sitting to serving? I have four strategies that have proven effective in our church.

Click here to read the rest of the post.

About 12 years ago I innocently walked up to the volunteer table in the lobby of our church and offered to help out with youth group.  I thought it would be a fun thing to do for a while – hang out with teenagers, lead group discussions, and maybe have a sleepover or two.  I figured I’d do it for a couple years and then try something else. I mean, no one commits 12 years to a ministry right?  You’d be INSANE to spend that long in student ministry right?  RIGHT?

Here’s the thing about student ministry; you need to be all in if you want it to matter.  I’m the type of person who jumps in with both feet.  That means that there were times I laughed so hard my sides hurt (and maybe one time I actually choked and threw up.)  Conversely, there were times that I cried, was angry, had my feelings hurt, and wanted to quit.  You really don’t get one without the other.  With the ups and downs, the 12 years I spent as a volunteer and church staff member were the happiest years of my life.

There does come a day, though, when you know it’s time to step down.  Contrary to what Def Leppard wants us to believe it’s not, in fact, better to burn out than fade away.  You should know when the time is right to let someone else take your place.   And, if you don’t know, the people around you do and are probably dropping hints like Acme anvils.  I knew it was time for me to go and didn’t want to overstay my welcome.  I wanted to be Derek Jeter, not A-Rod (If you’re not a baseball fan you won’t get that but I’m not sorry because you should be a baseball fan)

So, I said good bye and cried a lot and headed off into the sunset, never to be heard from again.

The thing is though, that didn’t happen.  Let me tell you what did happen.  I led my last mission trip and then unretired like Brett Favre because my students begged me to. Then, I led another trip the next summer, then I hosted a house group.  And you know what else, it turns out students, leaders and parents don’t care that I’m retired and still constantly text and call me.  I meet for coffee and go to college sporting events and talk parents in off the ledge when everything seems to be falling apart.  I run into kids where they work and get quick hugs and I reassure college students that they are smart and strong and are loved by me and their Heavenly Father.  I snuggle the babies of leaders when they watch my daughter play volleyball.  I attend weddings and funerals and graduations.  So much for retirement.

It turns out student ministry is relational…as in relationships…as in with people.  And so, I’m still all in and wouldn’t have it any other way.  These are my people and I love them and those kids are my kids and if you mess with them I’ll break your face.   So, I guess that means I’m semi-retired?  To be honest, it feels like trying to retire from the mafia – a good, friendly, spirit-filled mafia.  You wouldn’t understand unless, of course, you spent 12 years in student ministry, in which case, well, you know all about it.













Christina Thelen has been serving in student ministry for 12 years.  When she isn’t hanging out with students she can usually be found planning epic events or posting photos to her dog’s Instagram account.

Last week was a great week because I spent it at the Orange Conference in Atlanta.  If you are involved in student ministry or children’s ministry and you haven’t been, you really should come next year.  Here are a few highlights from last week:



One of my favorite things about the Orange Conference is hanging out with people who are passionate about the next generation and think like me.  Over the last few years, I’ve made a few great friendships through networking at Orange.  These people are invaluable when I’m feeling exhausted in ministry or when I have a crazy idea that needs perspective.


It might not sound terribly spiritual but I did enjoy making Jon Acuff laugh.  I was attending a bloggers breakfast where they served (of all things) cups of ice cream with those worthless wooden spoon thingies.  Holding one of the spoons, I turned to Acuff and said, “Hey, don’t you have a comedy bit about these things?”  He looked at me like I was a delusional fan.  I came back with, “Oh, that must be Gaffigan.”  He continued to stare.  And I clinched with, “I mean, it must at least make you feel good that I mixed you up with Gaffigan.”  He laughed heartily, sputtering, “That’s good!”  It’s the little things really.  I assure you I’m not actually a stalker.


Perhaps the best thing about the Orange Conference is that the speakers and experiences inevitably make me cry, cheer and generally get pumped.  Every year, I bank on the Orange Conference experience as an injection of inspiration.  I walk away with more passion, more focus, more drive, and more tools.  Here’s to you Orange for reminding me of my calling and for filling up my tank so I can keep running after it.


I am a reader.  It’s my primary method of learning.  The Orange staff was kind enough to give a few of us bloggers a sneak peak at their new resources.  I’m pretty stoked.  Here are a few that piqued my interest:


I mean, Tripp and Tyler, all the music, laughs for days.  I just love it.


If you missed the conference this year, FEAR NOT because the Orange Tour is coming this fall!  Check out dates and locations here.  And, if you’re thinking of attending the Detroit tour stop, DO IT!  because I’ll be there and we can hang out and stuff.

My OC16 Breakout

April 27, 2016 — Leave a comment

Hey Friends!

Perhaps you found yourself so riveted that you couldn’t take notes?  Maybe you were bored out of your skull and fell asleep?  Or, you thought: “That guy sounds hideous, I’m picking a different breakout.” Whatever happened, I’m sharing my content.

Here are the slides, handouts and documents from my Coaching the Best out of Your High School Volunteers breakout at the Orange Conference.  If you’d like to continue the conversation, send me an email.  I’d love to connect.

Here’s the handout:  Aaron Buer Breakout

The slides:  Aaron Buer Breakout Slides

Our leader blog:

And, the expectations docs:  Resource Docs

Stay tuned.  Over the next few weeks, I’ll be blogging about these concepts, including all the genius stuff I was forced to cut out.

When it comes to improving as a communicator, practice has made a huge difference for me.  But, practice, while a very good discipline, isn’t as impactful as taking one additional step.  That step is inviting feedback.  If you’re working to improve as a speaker, it is absolutely imperative that you seek feedback.  Because, as the saying goes:  Practice doesn’t make perfect…it makes permanent.  You could very well practice for hours only to perpetuate distracting mannerisms, nervous twitches, or filler words like “ummm.”

Let’s be real, we all know that one communicator who always says or does super awkward and distracting things….you don’t want to be that guy and I don’t either!  So, we need to invite feedback.  But, let me warn you.  Feedback hurts.  It can be deflating but it is a crucial step in mastering the art of speaking.

So, if you’re interested in seeking feedback, here are two simple steps to get you moving in the right direction.


About three years ago, I became the primary communicator in our student ministry, which involves teaching through video 2x a month.  The funny thing about video is that you get to watch yourself.  Let me tell you how awful this experience was in the early days!  I found myself saying, “Why in the world do I move like that?”  “I blink my eyes every millisecond!!!”  “I have to stop saying ‘like.’  and “Wow, I used used the word ‘hugely’ 14x in a 7 minute video.”

It was incredibly enlightening (and humbling) to watch myself teach.  I discovered all sorts of things that I do that are distracting or confusing.  And yes, it was wickedly deflating.  But over time, I have improved dramatically just by watching myself.  Now, we video every teacher in every environment so that we can learn and grow as communicators.

So, I would encourage you to video yourself teaching.  At first, you’ll basically want to die.  And to be sure, you will be harder on yourself than anyone in the audience but I guarantee it will help you sharpen your skills and ditch a few distracting habits.



If there’s one thing we’ve done in the last year that has helped our student ministry teaching team improve, it is inviting critique.  In our ministry, every large group teaching gets a test drive in front of our team about a week before we go live.  And whoever that lonely soul is, who is practicing that day, gets a heavy dose of feedback from all of us.  In fact, we practice everything that will be said from the stage, including the welcome, games, and announcements.  This practice run-through has dramatically improved our program and the teaching in particular.

LL practice

I realize that many of you don’t work on a team of student pastors but I bet you do have other student pastors in your area.  And, I bet those other student pastors want to improve as communicators.  What if you created a network where the goal was to offer each other helpful feedback on your teachings?  Sure it would be awkward at first, but I’m telling you, the payoff would be tremendous.

If that sounds awful, invite a volunteer to give you feedback or ask a teaching mentor to watch a video of you teaching and offer you a few thoughts.  If you don’t have anyone in your life to help you out with this, I’d be happy to give you my 2 cents.  Just email me a link.


Recently, after speaking at a student conference in which I delivered a couple different communications without notes, a friend asked me about my preparation process for teaching without notes.  This post is a summary of my answer…

First, teaching without notes might not be the best practice for you.  As a communicator, the goal is to deliver a great communication.  For some, that means notes and others none.  With that said, I think everyone should attempt to go noteless for a season (don’t give up after 1 or 2 tries!) to see if it works because speaking without using notes will help you communicate in a more conversational and authentic voice.  For student ministry, this is paramount.

Also, this is my 13th year of full-time student ministry.  I have been a primary teacher for 8 of those years.  I just started teaching without notes two years ago.

Anyway, here’s my preparation process for speaking without notes:



Step one in teaching without notes is to work way ahead.  I’m at my best when I…

  • Map my teaching content for the entire year during the summer
  • Write outlines a month out
  • Work through edits three weeks out
  • Write full scripts two weeks out

Working way ahead creates mental space for creativity and memorization.  For me, cramming will always yield an inferior teaching.



When it comes to preparing notes, I…

  • Write in my speaking voice.  This helps with internalizing the material.
  • Write a full script.  This script is word for word, exactly what I want to say, but never exactly what I will say when I teach.
  • Translate the full script into practice notes, which is an outline of keywords and phrases.

The process of writing an outline, then a script and then practice notes helps me memorize the content, and even more importantly, the flow of the content.  Specifically, this is what I memorize:

  • Intro
  • Transitions
  • Bottom Lines
  • Conclusion

If these elements are memorized, the rest will fall into place.



During the week I will be communicating, I…

  • Practice three or four days out using my practice notes
  • Practice repeatedly while driving around in my car (this makes me look like a crazy person at stop lights)
  • Do a full dress rehearsal three hours before teaching (on the stage with lights, mics, slides and everything)

In order to teach without notes, I simply have to practice a lot!  The key here is that I’m gradually moving away from my notes and adjusting as I go.


For me, learning to teach without notes has dramatically improved my delivery.  It isn’t terribly complicated or difficult, it just takes a whole lot of discipline.  Give it a shot and let me know how it goes.


image credited to Matt Roberts via Flickr

Check Your Flow

April 12, 2016 — Leave a comment

I’m currently blogging about the secret sauce of speaking…at least my secret sauce.  I don’t pretend to be a guru.  Anyway, so far, I’ve written about engaging the internal conversation of the audience and the importance of tension.  Today, I writing about flow.

What do I mean by flow?  I’m talking about the structure of the teaching.  I believe that every good communication is a journey from a starting point to a destination.  It should move because the purpose of preaching and teaching is to motivate people to move, change and grow.

One of the most difficult aspects of writing a good communication is creating a clear flow of thought that moves from starting point to destination.  Too many communications have rabbit trails and side notes that detract from the overall flow.  One thing that I’ve learned is that what makes sense in my head won’t make sense to the audience unless the flow is logical and linear.  An audience that is confused is an audience that will tune out.


The way I was taught to write a sermon or teaching is not at all how I write today.  I was taught: introduction, 3 points and conclusion.  In my opinion, there is too much potential for confusion when we write and deliver this way.  When I write, I think journey.  There may be 2 or 3 stops along the journey toward the destination but there aren’t 3 unrelated points.  So, instead of writing a point and then writing a second point, I write thought by thought.  Each thought flows into the other.  As I write, I use a conversational voice because writing in the voice I speak in helps me remember the material.  And, writing thought by thought keeps everything I write in relationship and therefore connected and linear.  In other words, you will be clear.

I do often have 2 or 3 “points’ (although, I never call them points) but they flow into each other and are all on the way to the destination.


Another technique that I use, that I was taught by our senior teaching pastor, is to simply tell the audience what you plan to do.  Why keep it a secret?  When the plan is known, people can follow more easily and also have better expectations for how long you’re going to talk.  Here’s an example from the teaching I plan to deliver this week:

My goal for tonight is to describe 3 different friendships that we all need.  In each of these friendships, I’ll show you how your friends shape your future.

They know upfront that there will be 3 different friendships that I’m going to talk about, they have a general idea of how I’m going to try to influence them, and during the 2nd friendship conversation they will probably say, “OK, he’s almost done, I can hang in there for a few more minutes.”


I get pretty violent with my scripts.  I firmly believe that less is more and any ideas that aren’t directly related to your destination will be distracting at best, and confusing at worst.  My best communications have been parred down for the sake of clarity.  I try to keep in mind that within two days my audience is only going to remember one or two things that I say anyway.  Cut every rabbit trail, side note and parenthetical idea.  Clarity is better.


If you’re like me, something can read brilliantly on paper but fall flat when communicated verbally.  Over the last two years, my communicating skills have grown significantly, largely because I’ve begun to practice out loud.  Nearly every time I practice, I find myself saying, “That doesn’t make sense” or “I don’t think these two ideas are as connected as I thought.  Basically, practicing out loud is another way to improve the message and make sure that the flow of thought is clear.

There you have it.  That’s my basic methodology for creating a communication with a clear flow of thought.  Next time I post, I’ll share a few ideas on how to speak without using notes.


photo credited to drestwn via Flickr

I’m currently blogging about what I’ve learned about teaching over the last few years.  My last post was all about engaging the internal conversation of your audience.  Today, I want to share a little more about tension.  You should probably know that these ideas are stolen from my senior teaching pastor, Jeff Manion.

As we teach, it’s crucially important that we answer the question every listener is asking, “Why should I listen to you” by creating tension in our introductions.  But, that initial burst of tension only buys us 5-7 minutes of attention.  In other words, your introduction, even an amazing introduction will only buy you, at the max, 7 minutes until your audience will start asking, “Why should I continue listening to you?”  If we fail to answer this question, our audience will begin daydreaming and in the case of middle schoolers, probably throwing something..  Opportunity lost.

Movies utilize tension in the way I’m describing.  There is an initial burst of tension and then tension is reintroduced every few minutes.  For example, Star Wars…

  • Initial Tension: Darth Vader captures Princess Leia
  • New Tension:  Luke can’t go to the Toshe Station (what a whiner!)
  • New Tension:  Luke gets attacked by the Sand People
  • New Tension:  Luke’s struggles with whether to become a Jedi
  • New Tension:  Stormtroopers attack Luke’s family
  • New Tension:  Han shoots first…
  • New Tension:  You get the idea.

A great movie reintroduces tension every few minutes, and while preaching or teaching is considerably different than Star Wars, the same principle applies.  If you want to capture and keep your audience’s attention, you must reintroduce tension every few minutes.  So, how do we do it?

One of the easiest ways to do this is through transitions.  There is a way to use transitions in a way that reengages the minds of the audience and points back to your central question. If you’re unfamiliar with this idea, it might sound like crazy talk.  Let me explain.  I’ll use the example of John 11:1-7, and the transition between Jesus’ apparent lack of concern for Lazarus and then his emotional response and the resurrection of his friend.

First, a typical transition that does nothing to help reintroduce tension and reengage the mind of the audience:

“Jesus gets word that His close friend is desperately sick.  Surprisingly,he waits for two days. But then Jesus goes to his friend.  Let’s read what happens.”


Here’s an example of a tension loaded transition using the tool of a question:

I just have to ask a question here.  Is this how Jesus responds to his friend when they are desperate?  Is this how Jesus will respond to me when I’m desperate?  What’s going on here?

The imagination of the listener is drawn into the drama of the story and they put themselves in the story.  The purpose of a question transition is to ask a real or imaginary question that the audience is or could be asking.  When you use this technique, tension is reintroduced to the communication.


Here’s an example of a transition statement that raises an objection:

As we read this story, I know that some of you are thinking, “This is exactly why I walked away from the church.  This story about Jesus confirms my experience with God.  When I needed Him, He was silent.  When things fell apart in my life, He went missing.”

The idea behind an objection transition is to raise a real or imaginary objection that members of the audience are or could be asking.  Even if the listener hasn’t personally experienced the objection, their mind will be reengaged in addressing the objection.  And, if you address a real objection that your audience is actually asking, the impact is tremendous.


A reverse is when you draw a contrast between what is expected and what actually happens.  Think football.  Here’s an example of a reverse from John 11:

Lazarus’s sisters send word that Lazarus is dangerously sick.  Everything we’ve read about Jesus to this point would lead us to believe that he’ll drop everything and run to save Lazarus but, if you’re familiar with the story, you know that’s not what happens.  What in the world is happening here?

A reverse can be effective when you’re sure the audience is expecting something other than where the text or a story you are telling is going.  You’ve nailed it if the internal conversation of the audience says, “Wait, what?!?”


These examples may sound too simple or perhaps even silly but I am telling you they work.  And, think of what’s at stake here.  So many sermons and teachings start out strong with a good introduction, plenty of tension and then gradually run out of steam as tension evaporates and the audience engagement wanes.  One way or another, if you’re going to teach effectively you must reintroduce tension and one easy and effective way to do this is through transitions.

There is another way that communications run out of steam and that is when the audience gets confused.  In my next post, I’ll share some ideas on teaching with clarity.



Image credited to Kham Tran via Flickr