3 Ways to be Intentional in Your Youth Ministry by Matt McCage


Here are a couple of practical tips I reminded her to keep in mind when attempting to intentionally plan ahead for optimal health and longevity in ministry:

1. Carefully gauge where your students are at spiritually.
This is going to be a general assessment. Yes, every student is at a different place in their spiritual journey. However, we should be able to have a general understanding of where our students are at. We’re able to assess this by prayerfully looking at the conversations we’ve had with them, looking at some lifestyle choices they been making, and by having healthy communication with their parents.

2. Prayerfully determine where God is leading your group.
Most of us are looking for a quick-fix solution on this one. Yet nothing replaces the discovery that only comes with prayer and reflection. This is the time when God speaks to the deepest part of our hearts in showing us not just where our students are at, but where he is wanting to lead them in the next season of life.

3. Intentionally plan ahead, allowing for flexibility.
Here is where things start to get really fun. Once we know where our students are at and where God is leading them, we can intentionally plan out the teaching (shepherding) path.


The New Compartmentalization of Teenagers’ Faith by Andy Blanks


When I started doing youth and college ministry in the late 90’s, there was a lot of talk about post-modernism and its affect on young adults and faith. One of the key factors of this discussion was the tendency of many (not all) teenagers to compartmentalize their faith. The conversation centered on the collective habits of a generation (mine: Gen-X) who would take their faith on and off as the situation called for. Teenagers would show up on Sunday or Wednesday and act one way, but live lives outside of church that didn’t line up with their faith.

To be sure, the idea that people live out their faith unevenly is, in itself, nothing new. This was a lot of what Paul was talking to the Corinthians about in the first chapter of 1 Corinthians. You could even make the case that Jesus was hitting this hard in the Sermon on the Mount, and in His dialogues with the Pharisees. Inconsistent faith is part of what it means to live with a sin nature.

But what we were seeing in Gen X-ers was unique in that it was happening wholesale. This seemed to be a trend impacting a lot of Christian young people. Teenagers were attending church. Going to youth camp. Engaging in worship. But could very easily (shockingly so) set this aspect of their identities aside as they lived their Monday-Saturday lives. The issue of compartmentalization in young people was discussed in youth ministry journals, workshops, and books throughout the late 90’s and early 00’s.

So how does this set up where we find ourselves today?

I write this post as someone who is deeply engaged with teenagers, youth culture, and youth ministry. I have been working with students and student ministers day-in and day-out for the last 16 years or so. And I have noticed something in the last couple of years that I think is significant when it comes to teenagers and the compartmentalization of their faith.

I think there is a “new compartmentalism” emerging. It seems to me that the tendency for teenagers to compartmentalize their faith is as strong as it has ever been. With one important distinction: They don’t inherently grasp why this is a problem.

What I remember about the late 90s and early 00’s is that, when faced with the issue, teenagers by and large saw the problem. They understood that being a new creation in Christ, someone whose identity was wrapped up in Christ, meant that you embraced the new life and let the old life die. For good. In all areas of your life. Were they perfect? Somehow more holy than today’s teenagers? Of course not. But they seemed to understand the disparity.

Here’s what I am encountering as I disciple teenagers (including my own children), and engage with youth workers across the country. Many teenagers today live extremely compartmentalized lives. But not only do they not seem to grasp the issue with this, it almost seems like it is an ideal way to live.

Oftentimes when I point out, as I have had the occasion to often over the last couple of years, that we have to view our faith holistically, many young people get a little squirmy. To think that they would be the same person on IG, and musical.ly, and Snapchat as they are at Summer Camp or Sunday mornings . . . well, it feels like this seems odd to them. My sense is that it feels unnecessarily restrictive.


I don’t know for sure. But what I know is that the disconnect is real (at least I think it is) and it has serious implications on the faith of our young people. Our culture values authenticity in people and brands and institutions. As much as anything, we are drawn to entities whose actions line up with their stated identities. And we are repelled by those whose actions do not. My fear is that we’re seeing a new compartmentalization that puts teenagers in the position of being inauthentic in their expression of their faith. Not only does this have negative side-effects on the brand of their personal faith, but it deeply impacts their ability to lead people to meaningful faith in Christ.

To be sure, when you make critiques of any generation, you paint with a broad brush. I personally know many teenagers and young adults who live authentic, holistic faith lives. But I do believe as I survey the next-gen ministry landscape, that this is an emerging trend. I believe it’s our responsibility to call it what it is, and lead our young people to embrace a faith-life with Ephesians 5:1 as the goal for every aspect of their lives.


3 Clues to Create What Your Students Crave by Tyson Howell


Do you like sitcoms?

I wonder what it is about sitcoms that we enjoy?  Is it the humor?  Maybe it is they’re a very convenient length?

The reason may be something totally different; something very powerful for you to understand if you are in youth ministry. It is so simple you may just miss it…

Think, what most if not all sitcoms have.  Cheers had it.  Friends most definitely had it.  You can also see it in Big Bang Theory.


What are some examples or truth statements that show people want or maybe better said, crave community?

 “The search for belonging is part of what it means for humans to be created in the image of God.  People need each other.  We are relational beings.  We not only want to belong, we only come to a true understanding of who we are in our relationships with God and with other people.  We must belong to be fully alive.” Reggie McNeal in Practicing Greatness

We must belong or be part of community to be fully alive!!!  That is a bold statement.

Take the time to press the link and read these passages about Jesus.

What do you notice about Jesus in these passages?

Your students who are part of the ministry and those that need to be part of the ministry desperately need you to help them belong.  They need you to create community.

Here are 2 senses to use and one quality to measure, to get a clue about how to help build community.


Here are some important questions you need to be looking at;

  • When was the last time you looked at a student or leader openly, without judgment or expectation?
  • When was the last time you tried to look at a student with the eyes of God?
  • When was the last time you allowed someone to see you as you really are?
  • Can someone come into your youth ministry and really be seen?
  • Who might people become if every Christian they encounter beholds them with eyes of love?


Some times we get so caught up in getting stuff done that we forget to truly listen to people.

I remember a student wanting to talk to me right before a youth service was supposed to start.  He had just found out that his parents were going to get a divorce.  I quickly stopped the conversation, told him we had to start the service but we could talk afterwords.

I regret it to this day.  I should have taken the time to listen to him.  Who cares if we start 10-15 minutes late.


Your students want honesty that is not mean.  There is an art to this, but it is worth learning.  Always remember that it is not what you say but how you say it.

Never hid the truth because you are afraid of hurting a students feelings.  Instead, find ways to be truthful while still creating dignity and being loving.  Someone recently said that we are kinder then Jesus when we talk.  Jesus was very good at being honest and not mean.  Reread the story of the women at the well.


Faith: How to Ensure Kids Are Getting the Message by Jill Williams for Children’s Ministry Magazine

Wonder whether kids are listening when you teach? Fear your words go in one ear and out the other? When it comes to faith, here’s how to ensure kids are getting the message.

Is your teaching in one ear and out the other? Maybe—or maybe not.

Children’s ministry looks a lot different to me now than it used to. Over the past few years my understanding of the purpose behind children’s ministry has changed — dramatically. The goals I set and the approaches I take in teaching aren’t what they used to be. And — this may make you cringe — I’m beginning to realize that no matter how well I teach a lesson, much of what I say to a child in Sunday school may actually go in one ear and out the other. But that’s not because teaching is a waste of time or kids aren’t learning. It’s because as much as the amazing truths of our faith are difficult for adults to grasp, they can be even more difficult for children.

Faith: How to Ensure Kids Are Getting the Message

If you grew up going to church, think back to your Sunday school days. Maybe you remember a handful of specific things from memorable lessons. You could probably recount some main events of the Bible. But you likely didn’t grasp the deeper truths of Christianity until you were older — things such as grace, forgiveness, and sacrifice. That’s not because your teachers weren’t effective. It’s simply because developmentally kids learn on a spectrum that begins with concrete concepts and develops into deeper understanding of abstract ones. Kids build that bridge from the concrete to the abstract over years. They do it using the tools of discovery and repetition in sync with their brain’s development.

Many of the most important concepts in God’s Word are highly abstract. So when you wonder whether kids are getting the message, they are. It’s just that kids will absorb what they can when they’re developmentally ready.

Examining the Framework

Christian tradition, or our statement of faith, is one basis kids can stand on as they begin their faith journey. Ironically, I’ve found this important information is often overlooked when it comes to children’s ministry because we’re home-blind to it; we tend to assume that kids will automatically absorb the basics of our faith along the way, even if they’re never directly articulated to them. These are basic truths such as, “God’s grace, not our good works, is what assures us eternal life” and “Jesus is the only way to God.” But if we fail to carefully instruct kids on the details of our beliefs, how will they fully understand what Christians really believe? And could this lack of understanding contribute to the fact that so many Christian kids grow up and leave the church when their faith is challenged?

These two questions became very real to me in conversations with college students about their experiences growing up in church. It was during these discussions that I realized people’s views of the church and of Christianity itself varied greatly — from confusion to superficial understanding to detailed comprehension. I began to wonder if we as Christian educators are missing something when it comes to teaching our kids. I wondered how we’re ensuring kids are getting the message about faith?

My curiosity led me to create the Christian Truths Survey, based on the foundational Christian beliefs of the Apostle’s Creed and on three main categories related to our faith: salvation, the Trinity, and general biblical truths (note the distinction between biblical truths and Bible trivia). I designed the survey to gain insights about 185 elementary-age churched kids’ understanding of our faith, and I enlisted the expertise of pastors and experts in children’s education and faith to build it. The questions ranged from factual questions (multiple choice and true/false), such as, “True or False: People can get to heaven by doing good things” to open-ended questions, such as, “How do we receive salvation?”

The Right Tools

Elementary-age children have the potential to hold deep conceptions of God and can have a greater personal faith than most adults assume they can, according to researchers in the International Journal for Psychology and Religious Education.

What this means is there’s not necessarily a correlation between children’s cognitive development (perception, memory, judgment, and reasoning) and their spiritual development. My survey results agree with this: There is a significant difference in how kids age 10 and older scored compared with those 9 and under when it comes to understanding the more abstract details of our faith. Older kids scored higher in my survey when it came to questions focused on salvation, the Trinity, and biblical truth. While 85 percent of 10- and 11-year-olds demonstrated understanding of these things, almost 73 percent of 8- and 9-year-olds could. Specifically, 83 percent of 10- and 11-year-olds understood salvation concepts, while 70 percent of 8- and 9-year-olds did.

* Building Faith: Much more may be going on spiritually in children than is evident on the surface. Even so, how you teach younger elementary children-and your expectations of what they can comprehend — have to be different than with older children. Research shows that older children have a grasp of facts and may be ready to go deeper with more abstract concepts. With younger kids, however, focus on stating the basic tenets of the faith again and again in different ways so kids hear repetition and a reinforcing message — or the framework.

The Right Words

I figured that many people grow up with confused understanding of biblical events and a few moral lessons as the sum of their experience of Christianity. This was for a few reasons. First, many curricula focus on teaching traits such as honesty, obedience, and love. Though God desires all of these from us, this approach seems to aim to improve children’s character rather than increase their knowledge of God. The lessons expect children to “do good” and “be good” rather than giving them a sense of their true condition and utter need for God. In addition, my discussions with peers and experts seemed to reinforce the argument that many practicing Christians may not have a concrete, accurate understanding of the basics of Christianity and are therefore more at risk of walking away from their faith. And because today’s families are more transient than past generations, kids may travel through many different children’s ministries with many different philosophies — and fewer opportunities for consistent teaching and learning that sticks.

Kids understood a lot about who God is, though they struggled most with the abstract, Trinity-focused questions. Seventy-four percent of 12-year-olds demonstrated comprehension of the Trinity, while 64 percent of younger children did. Despite lower scores on the abstract nature of God, the survey revealed a very encouraging point to note: Kids could accurately use the terminology they’d heard used to describe salvation, even if they didn’t fully grasp the meaning of the words. So for instance, they knew terms such as grace, savior, and Holy Spirit, even if they couldn’t give a textbook definition.

Building Faith: Language is a key component of our faith’s framework for children who are learning about Christianity. By providing kids with the correct language and using that language frequently, you can give them a context for concepts they’ll grow to understand later. For teachers, it’s critical to acknowledge the importance of using faith-accurate language and to use it correctly, based on Scripture and tradition.

The Right Approach

The results of the survey data confirmed for me that our role as Christian faith educators is to provide a standard for content and a language for experience. Here’s a radical idea: Children don’t have to graduate from our ministries knowing all the content of the Bible, all the events that took place. They should, however, walk away with a plum line by which to measure their growing knowledge and experience. It’s our responsibility and honor to provide them with this tool. Shifting our mindset and re-evaluating our goals and definitions of success in ministry may prove necessary. Where before we may have felt a sense of failure if kids confused the facts of Noah’s experience or thought Job was really Moses, it’s important to remember that it’s not Bible trivia we’re teaching, but Bible truths. So if kids walk away thinking, God stayed with Noah, and he’ll stay with me when I’m afraid, too, you’ve scored a major win for your ministry. Our mission is relationship with Jesus — not trivia.

Building Faith: We don’t create faith — we frame it. Don’t get me wrong; becoming a “framer” doesn’t mean lowering your standards. In fact, the opposite is true. Framing faith for the kids in your ministry means you challenge yourself to learn anew the language and truths of our faith. It means you try even harder to articulate those complex truths in a way that’s kid-friendly and biblically and theologically sound. This is a huge task — and good reason for children’s Christian educators to be some of the best-trained people of your church.


7 Threats to Your Ministry—and What to Do About Them by Dale Hudson


Every ministry can be infiltrated, and every leader can become vulnerable. Here’s how to tackle the 7 most common threats to your ministry.

It’s a scary thought, especially when you consider how much effort, time, and care we put into our ministries. Infiltrated—by what? Vulnerable—to what?

The truth is, there are seven major threats to every ministry out there, biding their time, waiting to sneak in when no one is looking. So consider this your fair warning. It’s time to batten down the hatches of your ministry and prepare to use your leadership skills. Here’s how to give the boot to these threats before they ever get a toe in your ministry doorway.

Threat #1: Mr. Disunity

A lack of unity from within your team will seep in and crack apart your children’s ministry through gossip, division, backbiting, and slander. This threat is often the culprit behind church splits, “us vs. them” ministry divisions, and personal agendas that create strife.

Defeat Mr. Disunity

  • Understand-and help your team understand-that unity is key. God’s power and his blessings flow through unity. (See John 17:21, John 13:35, Psalm 133:1, and Acts 2:42-47.)
  • Set goals. Establish a common vision that people will support and rally behind.
  • Enlist core values that identify your ministry. These core values, such as friendliness and grace, will strengthen your unity and help your team know what you expect of them.
  • Model and expect direct communication. Unity doesn’t mean you agree on everything. But it does mean there’s open, direct, loving, mature communication when issues or disagreements arise.
  • Create a culture where people go to their direct leader with questions or concerns rather than having side conversations with other staff, volunteers, or parents. Lovingly confront people when they aren’t following core values.
  • Don’t tolerate or enable divisiveness, gossip, or bad attitudes. Once your team makes a decision, everyone stacks hands. If someone can’t stack hands, encourage that person to leave quietly.

Threat #2: The Abuser

The Abuser is a deadly enemy who seeks to destroy your children’s ministry through the abuse of children. He’ll not only hurt a child’s life, but also severely damage your ministry in the community.

Defeat The Abuser

  • Make safety first. Place security for kids as a top priority in your ministry; get your leaders and team on board, and publicize it.
  • Prepare. Establish secure buildings and proper plans and safety systems before something happens, not after.
  • Know who you’re dealing with. Complete a thorough screening for volunteers that includes a background check, a personal interview, reference calls, and training. Maintain the two-adult rule so no volunteer is ever alone with a child. This protects kids and also the volunteers who faithfully serve in your ministry.

Threat #3: Mrs. Inwardly Focused

This threat constantly attempts to shift your attention away from those outside the walls of your church. She’s most comfortable in a holy huddle. She can be very outspoken. You’ll hear her critiques in phrases such as, “the teaching isn’t deep enough” or “we need to care for our own rather than worrying about getting more new people in” or “I don’t care if new people like the music-it’s too loud!”

Defeat Mrs. Inwardly Focused

  • Remember what matters to Jesus. He has the world on his heart. He came to seek and save those who are lost, and your church is an avenue to achieve that. It’s not about numbers. Rather than focusing week in and week out only on the number of kids who are attending, also focus on who’s outside who could be attending your church.
  • Keep a balanced ministry. Provide pathways for kids to grow in their faith inside your program while reaching out to your community.
  • Be a hospital…not a museum. Your ministry can’t be a spiritual museum where perfect Christians are on display. It’s a hospital where the spiritually sick can come and find healing.

Threat #4: Mr. Calendar

This threat (and it may even come from you) wants to fill your ministry calendar with random events and programs. His mantra is “the busier the better.” He’s the dad who has a great idea. He’s the music group that’s going to be coming through your area. He’s that little voice in your head telling you should be doing more, more, more!

Defeat Mr. Calendar Crowder

  • Just because someone wants you to do it doesn’t mean you should. Don’t say “yes” without first seeking God in prayer, getting his confirmation, and talking with your leaders. Find your niche and do a few things well. It’s a fact: You can either do a lot of things with mediocrity or a few things with excellence. What you say “no” to is just as important as what you say “yes” to. Sometimes good ideas have to die so great ones can live.
  • Be process driven rather than program driven. Think from the perspective of “pathways to growth” rather than “quantity of programs.” Ask yourself these questions. How would the new program impact resources and staff? Is the opportunity based on the personal interest of a few or the well-being of the whole? Is it a “good” idea or a “God” idea?

Threat #5: Cousin Complacency

Cousin Complacency tends to approach you after you’ve been in ministry awhile. She lingers in familiarity. She loves to whisper, “Been there, done that, no problem” in your ear. She wants you to put the ministry on cruise control, kick back, and relax. Why strive to grow spiritually and as a leader? You’re doing just fine. No need to reach more kids and families for Jesus…just hold out until Jesus comes.

Defeat Cousin Complacency

  • Increase the time you spend with God. Your next level of ministry is waiting in your relationship with God. You’ll become a better leader on your knees.
  • Ask a trusted friend or mentor to be brutally honest with you about weak areas they see in your leadership. Debrief with this person after events and programs to look for ways to improve.
  • Constantly bring in new volunteers. New volunteers bring new energy, excitement, and passion.
  • Be a thermostat rather than a thermometer. It’s up to you to set the spiritual temperature rather than simply reflect it. Stay fired up yourself if you want to see your ministry on fire.
  • Keep sharing your vision. A vision left unfueled will go out. Constantly remind people why they’re doing the work of the ministry. State your vision clearly and repeatedly.

Threat #6: Mr. Pride

Mr. Pride’s goal is for you to stop depending on God and start depending on yourself. He wants you to believe the press and take credit for what’s happening. He wants to render you unteachable. And why wait for God’s help when you can help yourself now?

Defeat Mr. Pride

  • Remember: The way up is down. If you humble yourself, God will lift you up in his time (1 Peter 5:6). Own your mistakes and be quick to say “I’m sorry.”
  • Stay teachable. We all say we’re teachable…until there’s a lesson to be learned. Admit when you don’t understand or know something.
  • Listen a lot more than you talk. The old saying is true: God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason.
  • Ask for others’ opinions. Ask others to join in conversations and contribute. Don’t boast. Push others into the spotlight. Know that the commendations and condemnations of man will come and go. Don’t let either sway you.

Threat #7: Miss Solo Superhero

Miss Solo Superhero wants you to do ministry alone, even if it kills you. Rather than training and investing in others, Solo wants you to do everything yourself and never take a break. She’ll try to convince you to spend all your time doing, not showing. She’ll whisper in your ear that no one can do it as well or fast as you. You know Solo’s been at work when you begin to feel like a willing martyr.

Defeat Miss Solo Superhero

  • Don’t do ministry alone. Always have someone by your side who you’re investing in, mentoring, and preparing to lead.
  • Empower your team and give away ministry. You may be able to go faster alone…but you’ll always go farther together.
  • Make yourself unnecessary to the success of the ministry. Set your team up for success so they don’t rely on you.
  • Make a dream list of volunteer positions. If you could have every support role you wanted, what would it look like? Pray and invite people one-on-one to join you. Then watch God fill your list.

One or more of these threats may be breathing down your neck right now. They may even have you backed into a corner. Take heart! You can defeat them. Implement these steps and watch God bring the victory.


Harvard Prof Outlines Skills Every 18 Year Old Needs by Ron Powell


Begin with the end in mind

As we prepare our kids for the real world it is great to have some clear goals. A Harvard Prof provides a useful list of skills we should help teens develop before college or university. I think that for Christian students there are a few more that we should add to the list. Take a look at how far along your teen is…

The Harvard List

(If you would like to take a look at the original article you can find it here “What are the skills every 18-year-old needs?”  )

Here is a quick overview of the 8 –18-year-olds must be able to:

  1. talk to strangers
  2. find their way around
  3. manage their assignments, workload, and deadlines
  4. contribute to the running of a household
  5. handle interpersonal problems
  6. cope with ups and downs
  7. manage money
  8. take reasonable risks

Without unpacking each of the 8 items above, I imagine that you can see why each is so important. Young adults who do not master these skills will suffer consequences. If we constantly do these things for them or bail them out when things go wrong, we will find that they do

Other Items for Christians

For Christian young people, there are some additional items that God expects.

Every 18 year old believer should be able to:

  1. Explain why they believe in Jesus
  2. Maintain a daily routine of prayer and bible study
  3. Volunteer in the church or community at least one hour a week
  4. Practice godly discernment of media, money and lifestyle choices
  5. Give a percentage of their money regularly to God’s work in the world
  6. Participate in worship at a church each week

Many parents would be thrilled if their son or daughter would just get out of bed on Sunday to attend Church. Despite what they have taught and modeled for their teen, their son or daughter has chosen a different path. Even this is a possible outcome, I have found that working toward these goals from a young age makes them more possible.

We want to produce responsible adults. We also want to ensure that we are also making disciples as Jesus commanded us before we returned to heaven.

It is true that sometimes we have to readjust our expectations but the ideal is that by 18 years a teen will own their faith and take responsibility for serving, giving, and participating in the life of the church.

If we aim for nothing we are certain to achieve it. The same way that we stopped spoon feeding our toddlers we need to help teens to learn to develop regular spiritual disciplines.

I think the process goes something like this:

  • Do it for them and they watch
  • Do it with them
  • Let them do it and you watch
  • Let them do it and report back

Ultimately we want to see our adult children pass on their faith to their children. Aiming for responsible Christian disciplines by 18 is a great way to see that happen.


Helping Teenagers Move From “I’m Not” to “I Am!” by Kurt Johnston


One night when I was in high school my youth pastor handed each student in our youth group a little sheet of neon-colored paper. On it was a list—a list he hoped would encourage the junior high and high school kids he cared so deeply about.  I’ve seen similar lists countless times since, but that night was the first. It read something like this:


Beloved…Jeremiah 31:3

A Child of God…1 John 3:1

Delighted In…Zephaniah 3:17

Forgiven…1 Peter 2:24

Washed Clean…Isaiah 1:18

Free…Galatians 5:1

Adopted Into God’s Family…Romans 8:15

Set Apart…1 Peter 2:9

A Masterpiece…Ephesians 2:10

Wonderfully Made…Psalm 139:14

Holding a Secured Future…Jeremiah 29:11

A Temple of The Holy Spirit…1 Corinthians 6:19

New…2 Corinthians 5:17

Whole in Christ…Colossians 2:10

The 80’s weren’t a whole lot different than today….my youth pastor’s youth group wasn’t a whole lot different than ours are today. It was filled with teenagers trying to find their place in the world, asking themselves the timeless question, “Who am I?” Did we know we were asking ourselves that question? Probably no more than your students do.  Perhaps teenagers AREN’T asking the question…but they are certainly answering it; some of them multiple times a day.

“I’m not tall enough.”

“I’m not smart enough.”

“I’m not attractive enough.”

“I’m not popular enough.”

“I’m not athletic enough.”

“I’m not _______ enough”

Here’s something interesting about my high school youth pastor: I don’t remember him ever trying to talk me out of some of the things I felt about myself.  He NEVER said, “Kurt, you ARE tall enough,” because I think he was smart enough to realize that I was in fact, quite short, and trying to pretend it away would seem simplistic and naive. Instead, he would constantly remind me and everybody in our youth group to quit focusing on what we weren’t and instead focus on what we were.

The teenagers in your youth group aren’t a lot of things.  They know it. Their friends remind them of it. So do their parents, coaches, teachers, and society as a whole. As a result, they can rattle off their personal list of “I’m not _______ enough” with ease.  And the reality is some of their “I’m not’s” are true.

But there is another list; one they’ve likely never thought about. I hadn’t.  At least not until my youth pastor handed me that little sheet of neon-colored paper.

What can you do to help your students shift their focus from “I’m not” to “I am”?

 Hint: Neon-colored paper.


How to Last in Youth Ministry by Andy Lawrenson

In 1992 I signed up as a volunteer Sunday school teacher for our joint junior and senior high class. I took the volunteer spot out of a sense of obligation to the church. The youth needed some consistency, not a different teacher every six months to a year. But, as a pastor’s kid, I had zero desire to work in full-time ministry.

After a couple years teaching youth, going to camps, and leading trips, I had an “Aha!” moment: this was what God wanted me to do with my life. Here I am 24 years later, still serving as a youth minister. I have been in my current position at the same church for almost 16 years.

How do you survive lock-ins, camps, mission trips, retreats, angry parents, apathetic students, middle school boys, and so much pizza? Last week I sat down with (here comes a name drop) Sean McDowell, assistant professor in the Christian apologetics program at Biola University. He asked if I was a youth ministry “lifer.” This was my answer: “I’m not sure I know how to do anything else.” Student ministry has been my world for all these years, and even after I retire, I plan to work with student ministry in some way.

So how do you last in youth ministry?

Take Geritol. Just joking. Here are nine ways to make sure you don’t burn out after only a few years working with students.

1) Don’t do it alone. Always make sure you have other adults who care for and love students serving alongside you. Invest in and serve with a team long enough and they become like family. Whether you have five students or fifty students, you need a team to serve with.

2) Find balance. Have a life outside of youth ministry. Find hobbies that have nothing to do with youth ministry. Take time to invest in friendships.

3) Make family a priority. If you have a family, make sure your spouse and children take priority over your job. Don’t give them the scraps of your schedule. Make your home your fortress of solitude—a place you can go to take a break from professional ministry.

4) Take breaks. God took a day off after creating our universe, and we need to follow his example. Use your vacation time. Take a day off each week to disconnect from the ministry at your church. Each month go find some solitude to read and pray at the beach, on a mountain trail, in a state park, or even in your backyard. Our church has a sabbatical policy for pastors. Look into taking a sabbatical every five to seven years at your church.

5) Keep learning. Don’t stop learning. Read books, study the Bible, go to conferences or retreats, and continue to grow both spiritually and professionally. I found LeaderTreks’ Refuel Retreat and a recent retreat at The Cove to be two of the best youth ministry conferences I’ve been to.

6) Pray. Pray for your students, your team, your church, and the staff you serve with. Make prayer part of your daily office schedule.

7) Listen before you speak. Think before you talk. Our words can build up or they can tear down. We can encourage or we can cause damage. Be extra careful when you vent. Make sure you have a trustworthy person or network outside of your church to whom you can speak freely about your ministry struggles and the things that bum you out.

8) Don’t forget your calling. We can get so busy organizing, planning, and doing administrative work that we can forget what God called us to do in the first place. We need to make sure we are investing in students’ lives. Go to the occasional ballgame, sit down for a meal with some students, find out how you pray for them. Find good curriculum you can use for a series. This will give you time to write your own series, but will also free up some time to spend with students. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel, especially when it keeps us from the students we’re called to minister to.

9) Press on. We all know ministry has highs and lows. If God has called you to a lifetime of youth ministry, you can do it with his help and strength. Youth ministry in my upper 40s is so much better than youth ministry in my 20s.

“I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.” –Philippians 3:14


10 Principles for Managing Conflict in Youth Ministry by Dave Blanchard


In ministry, conflict is inevitable. When we work with enough people for enough time, we’ll get our share—I promise. We serve a Lord who faced conflict throughout his ministry—conflict that ultimately led to his death. If people clashed with Jesus, and we’re to pattern our ministries after his, why would we expect anything different? Paul was beaten and imprisoned, Peter was reportedly martyred . . . and youth ministers are occasionally yelled at by parents. (This should put our conflicts into perspective.) If we wish to be effective student ministers, it’s important to develop healthy means of conflict management. Conflict will come—we must be ready.

I’ve reflected on my own experiences, and I wish someone had prepared me for the mistakes I would make and the challenging personalities I would encounter. Many of my conflicts could have been avoided with patience and a little maturity. For all the rest, I’ve learned—often the hard way—to embrace the following ten principles for managing conflict in ministry:


Healthy leaders appreciate occasional disagreements, understanding the benefits that come through shared ideas and group processing. Our ideas won’t always be the best ideas in the room. Disagreements can feel uncomfortable in the moment, but they might bring healthy returns in the long haul. May we be patient enough to consider different perspectives and humble enough to embrace ideas better than our own.


Sometimes the conflicts we’ll experience are a symptom of deeper conflicts in others’ lives. Why did that parent make such a scene when the youth group arrived ten minutes later than planned? Maybe that parent is in the middle of a nasty divorce, has recently lost his or her job, and just narrowly avoided a car accident between home and the church. Before we take things personally, we must consider the possibility that the presented conflict (parent making a scene in church parking lot) is a symptom of deeper, more challenging conflicts behind the scenes (divorce, loss of job). May we have compassion and be understanding in these moments.


I think we all should live by this principle—with or without conflicts on the horizon. And when conflicts are present, this principle becomes even more important. My mouth often gets me in trouble to begin with, so when trouble comes, the last thing I need to do is open it again! Conflict resolution is easier when we commit to listening more than talking. May we find control of our tongues in these moments.


Conflicts often arise from misunderstandings, and sometimes clarity is the only missing ingredient for peaceful resolution. When we ask questions, we show genuine interest in others’ feelings and perspectives. Furthermore, we may discover an easier solution to the problem once we sort out all the details. We must be careful about embracing assumptions or jumping to conclusions without closely listening to details and carefully inquiring to ensure accurate understanding. May we have ears to hear.


I can’t emphasize this point enough: We must not try to resolve conflict through text messages, e-mails, or phone conversations. Body language, facial expression, and tone of voice are crucial elements when we seek to understand another. We can’t hear inflections in a text message. Sometimes these subtleties make the difference between resolving conflict and things becoming even worse. When possible, it’s important to address conflicts while looking the other person in the eye. May we be bold enough stand face-to-face with others.


I prefer dealing with conflict quietly—involving only myself and the other party—in a private enough place so as not to attract others’ attention. Sometimes conflict arises in public gatherings and open venues—we must deal with these moments carefully, considering others present. It’s ideal to reserve conflict conversations for more private and appropriate settings. I’ve met with people in their homes, at my office, and in local coffee shops. We must avoid being completely alone (for accountability purposes), but it’s also important not to rush headlong into an argument after Sunday morning worship as people mill past in the church lobby! Coffee shops may be preferable, as they combine the accountability of a public space with the security of a private conversation. As for timing, while it’s best to resolve matters as soon as possible, it’s sometimes wise to allow a day or two to pass before engaging the other party. A day or two spent in prayer while emotions settle and perspectives clear can be invaluable. May we choose the right times and places for optimal dialogue.


Apologize when necessary. Sometimes our own words and actions are to blame for conflicts. When we mess up, we need to own it. Over the years, I’ve privately and publicly apologized on many occasions. When we make stupid decisions, we lose a little trust with the people we serve. But we can regain trust over time, and the best way to begin this process is by displaying the integrity required to take responsibility. May we have the grit to admit it when we’re the ones at fault.


Here’s the other side of the coin—the complementary perspective to point number seven. When we’re to blame, we need to take full responsibility. But other times, the conflict lies somewhere else. The older I get, the more comfortable I’ve become with (gently and lovingly) calling others out for their own faulty ideas and bad behavior. We don’t have to accept the responsibility of others, and sometimes it’s important to help others see their own errors. Here’s a harsh reality in ministry: if we earn a reputation as passive or weak, we must expect some “well-meaning” people to eventually eat us for dinner. Jesus called people out. Jesus stood for truth. It’s possible to be humble, gentle, patient, and peace loving without becoming a doormat. May we have wisdom to discern when to back down and when to stand firm.


This principle comes directly from MATTHEW 18:15-17. We must strive to handle conflicts directly and face-to-face. But sometimes conflicts will become too challenging to resolve by ourselves. When we’re unable to effectively resolve conflict on our own, it’s wise to employ a mediator. The third party may be an elder or deacon, a trusted church leader, a fellow staff member, or a small group of mature adults committed to resolving the conflict and restoring the relationship in jeopardy. Sometimes conflicts are just too nasty with too many details or too much history. A third party or trusted small group can help bring perspective and lighten the tension to enable healthy dialogue. May we have godly, loving people around us to help in times of need.


I’ve tried this with good results! Jesus told us to pray for our enemies. Hopefully the people we serve in our churches are never truly “enemies” in the technical sense. However, there are those who bring perpetual conflict, and many times these people feel like enemies. Many days, the only prayer I have for those people is for them to find another church home with some other student minister to hassle! In recent years, I’ve tried to more intentionally pray for blessings in the lives of those who bring me challenge. I’ve prayed for God to bless their marriages, their children, their homes, and their careers. I’ve also prayed for God to bless my relationships with these same people. I can’t tell you this has produced overnight returns in every case, but I can tell you these prayers have made a noticeable difference in many of these relationships. When I pray for others, I find greater sensitivity toward them. This is a good thing. May we be intentional to pray for others—especially those with whom we have conflict.


Seven Ways to Remain Relevant to Your Child by Tim Elmore


Everywhere I travel, I meet parents who are interested in developing leadership qualities in their children—regardless of the child’s age. Many have concluded that thinking and acting like a genuine, servant-leader is a differentiator in today’s graduate.

If we hope to develop our kids, we’ve got to find ways to communicate in a language they understand. We must become relevant to Millennials and Generation Z. I suppose this is the challenge for every parent in every generation. How do we pass on principles that are universal and timeless to a young population that seems to be totally caught up in the “now?”

I believe this is critical for us to understand if we hope to nurture the leader in our child. Our generation must both cling to the timeless values we know are essential, and also find ways to pass them on to an ever-changing culture of kids. Ask yourself: What are the essential principles of life you want your kid to know? Then, ask: How will you best transfer those principles to them? What will help them really get it? Your response will force you to become relevant, and use the right tools to arrive at your goal. So what can you do to remain relevant to your kids?

Seven Ways to Stay Relevant

1. Become a student of the culture. 

Your first decision should be to study the world your kids live in. Start to listen with more than your ears. Read magazines, newspapers and online articles to look for patterns. Interview your kids. Learn their language. Watch what they do, what they esteem and where they go. You might even try to watch an hour of MTV or the popular videos on Youtube (I know that may be pushing the envelope a bit!). But you will be amazed how quickly you will understand the world your kids live in.

2. Learn to distinguish what is cultural and what is timeless. 
Both kids and adults struggle with this one. Each of us is immersed in our own cultural issues, from our own generation—your kids included. Like a missionary in a foreign land, you must decide what you can do to bridge the gap between two cultures, yours and your kids. Know what you are willing to die for and what you won’t—so you can teach the same to your children. Be flexible like the Golden Gate Bridge, but stand on your foundation—and pass on that foundation to your kids.

3. Look for redemptive analogies. 
Since we adults are “missionaries” in a foreign culture, I thought this principle was relevant. I learned it from a friend named Don Richardson. Every culture and every generation has within it some redemptive analogies—pictures of truth; events or people who illustrate a timeless principle. Keep in mind that these analogies can be positive or negative, and still be redemptive. For instance, in the 1990s, parents received a vivid opportunity to talk to our kids about character during the impeachment trial of President Clinton. The lessons had nothing to do with a political party. Since that time, parents have had lots of platforms to talk about integrity via Lance Armstrong or the Wall Street scandals. Each illustrates the importance of integrity and trust. It just may be that our kids did learn a lesson from it all. William Strauss reported that the Millennial generation “had harsher opinions about the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal than any other group.”

4. Create a leadership gymnasium. 
Once you come up with a redemptive analogy, find or create a place to practice the principle. I call it a leadership gymnasium—a place to exercise your kid’s leadership muscles. In short, this allows you to convert good ideas into practice! On a large scale, the United States Constitution can be viewed as a “gymnasium” that translated the ideas and values of the Declaration of Independence into action. As we mentor our kids, we must find ways to translate good thoughts into everyday life. These will always accelerate the learning curve for your child. To do this, start by asking the question: What can we do to activate this principle in our child’s life? Here’s a hint: their school could be a perfect laboratory to get started.

5. Communicate from their world. 
Once we arrive at redemptive analogies and find the leadership gymnasiums, we must communicate with our kids. I believe we should always teach from what we have heard from them. As I bring up questions and start discussions—it is always based upon what my kids have said already. Further, my goal is seldom to give them more information. (They usually have plenty of that!) I want them to apply what they know; to practice what they’ve learned. Transformation comes from application. We don’t want them to forget what they’ve learned or to lose what they’ve gained.

Instruction without application is destined to fail.

6. Never assume that what worked yesterday should work today. 
Change happens so quickly in today’s world, we are foolish to assume we can continue to do what we have always done with our kids. They are growing and changing. Their world is growing and changing. We must show some creativity and try new things to communicate and mentor them. As I converse with my kids, I try to discover just how deep they are willing to go with me—in regard to the current topic. My rule of thumb is that their attention span is about the same as their age. Sadly, in today’s reality, a teen’s attention span is little more than 6-7 seconds. So you have to make a quick assessment of how well both of you are connecting.

7. Measure success by connection—not control. 
Finally, be sure to measure the right stuff. Our goal is not to control our children’s lives. Our goal is to connect, so we can give them all the tools they will need to reach their potential. Be sure to evaluate how well you are relating to them; how safe they feel to talk transparently with you; how secure they are with themselves and with your love; how much they feel you understand them; and how much they seem to understand you when you share. These factors are the true measure of connection success.