Reject Your Volunteers’ Bad Excuses by Phil Bell


I meet a lot of great volunteer youth workers who lack confidence in how God can use them to reach and equip students. I often hear, “I don’t have what it takes,” or,  “I’m not young enough,” or, “I don’t understand students well enough,” or, “I’ve never worked with students before.” But those excuses are missing the point.

So many volunteers will compare themselves to some impossible or inaccurate standard of what it takes to be a great youth worker. However, they are using the wrong metrics to gauge what it takes to work with students: age, experience, and some kind of magical ability to understand students. It’s time to throw those old standards. Here are the foundational traits that can make an eternal difference as we reach and equip students. Continue reading


Unacceptable Answers for Your Thinking Teens


I spent Dec. 29–31 at the Youth Alive conference in St. Louis. About 300 students from Missouri youth groups were in attendance. It’s been more than a week since the conference, but I’m still recovering as I was a room sponsor for my home church, was on the Questions and Answers panel, taught a breakout session and played bass in the band. I’d like to share with you something I learned at this conference.

The youth group students in your church are thinking on deeper levels than you realize. They have to think deeply because being labeled as a Christian is not something that generates respect. It generates animosity from the majority of their peers and sometimes from teachers as well. “Christian” teenagers are not given initial labels of “nice,” “good kid,” etc., but rather many teenagers associate Christianity with “judgmental,” “closed-minded,” “bigoted” and possibly “stupid.” The Christian faith is not popularly assumed to be something that is true — it is not even considered morally good even if it was true — and so, for your students to hold firm, they need to be equipped to deal with hard questions.

Let me give you an example:

In my breakout session, I was speaking on Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (If you don’t know what this is, I implore you to research it. It is the default religion of America, especially teenagers.) to 12-to-18-year-old boys. They understood the material just fine. I asked if anyone had a question, and then I got blind-sided.

A 12-year-old boy raised his hand and asked in all sincerity something to this effect: “If God doesn’t want people to sin, but He knew that Satan would convince Adam and Eve to sin, and He knew that sin would cause all these terrible things in the world to happen to people, then why did He create Satan and allow him to go into the garden?”

Answer that off of the top of your head right now.

Having any trouble?

Now imagine being a teenager at school and being asked, “If your God is so powerful and loving, why are there children literally starving to death in Africa?” “If your Jesus loves you, why is he letting ISIS murder and rape thousands?” “If your God loves me, why are my parents abusive?” “Why do you Christians care so much about stopping two men or women who love each other from getting married? Isn’t ‘the greatest of these’ love? Aren’t you supposed to love your neighbor as yourself?”

The speaker at the conference is the pastor of a large church in a suburb of St. Louis. He told a story where a teacher at his daughter’s school literally made the class stand on separate sides of the room depending on their stance on same-sex marriage. Only his daughter and two or three others wound up on the opposed side. His daughter was later approached in the hallway by some girls from the class and was informed that because of her position, regardless of the reason, that she was a “f***** b****.”

This is reality for the American Christian teenager. What is your church doing to equip them? Your youth group has to be more than a holding tank with pizza and games before college. It also has to do more than continually preach the dangers of sex, drugs and alcohol. Those things are easy to avoid compared to the intellectual attacks your students are facing.

It is time to focus on the battle for your students’ minds more than just making sure they behave. Right thinking will lead to right behavior.  I’m not going to answer these hard questions in this column, but I’ll give three tips on what students don’t need and do need.

Your students don’t need: 

Pat answers: Clichés, clever one-liners and “Christianese” are not helpful. Hard questions need real, thoughtful answers. I sometimes wonder if these are avoided because the faith of the person who is supposed to be the mature Christian is shaken a bit.

You to know everything: You don’t know everything and that’s OK. You want to gain a student’s respect and trust? Learn and live this phrase, “I don’t know, but let’s do some digging and let the Holy Spirit guide us to the answer together.”

Watered-down theology: Youth are not as dumb as they sometimes act. They’re not. They need deep theology now, not when they are older. Big topics take big amounts of time. Go slow. If you want mature students, start feeding them real spiritual meals. Sometimes, we get it backwards and won’t take people off the “milk” until we think they are spiritually grown. How is a person supposed to grow to maturity on a diet of milk alone? Force-feed those kids some meat of the Word.

Your students need: 

Authenticity: Kids can smell a setup from a mile away. Don’t try to be cool. Just be yourself. If you are putting on a show for church, being hypocritical or your answers feel scripted, youth will tune you out.

Training in Christian philosophy: For many, these are uncharted waters. Why would I use the word philosophy? Because philosophy deals with logic and how to think. The world knows how to corner your students into a trap. Your students need to be able to recognize the flaws in logic that lead to the traps. For example, if a teacher asks students to pick sides on a moral issue, it’s likely a trap that will ostracize those on the unpopular side. But what if a student refuses to choose but instead says something like, “Teacher, I’m not going to choose a side unless we can first establish ‘What makes anything wrong with anything?’.”

You to do your homework: Are there things in this article that are foreign to you? Do you know anything about Christian apologetics? If you answered “no,” that’s fine! Just pick a word and go type it in Google and learn. There is always more to learn about the things of God. Force-feed yourself some meat of the Word.

Ultimately, all of these things must be done with the intention of reaching a lost world. Our initial reaction might be to pull away from the world and insulate our youth from it, but they are salt and light to a big mission field. And while it is hard, the gospel living through them still reaches the lost. Right thinking leads to right doing, and right doing gives glory to God, even from the unbeliever. (Matt. 5:16)

Let me finish the story about the girl who had to chose sides on same-sex marriage in class:

A few weeks later, one of the boys from that class, who had sided with the majority approached her in the hallway. He told her that he saw her at a gas station where a homeless man was sitting outside. He saw her go in and come out of the convenience store, but then she sat her car for a few minutes.  She then got out, went back in the store and bought the man a sandwich. He saw her also hand the man something else, hug him and say something in his ear. The boy asked her, “What did you give him? And what did you say?”  She told the boy the same thing as the homeless man; “Jesus loves you,” and handed him a card with the basic outline of the gospel on it.

Now, that boy has spoken up for her and those same girls that had called her a b**** have informed her that they think she is just about the nicest person they know.

Your youth can reach people whom you cannot. Let’s look past their youthful goofiness and invest in their potential.


Are You A Mere Youth Group? Or A True Spiritual Community? by Andy Blanks


So often, spiritual growth occurs through what we might call encounters with God. And when we think about how we encounter God, we can build a short list:

  • We encounter God primarily through the Bible, His Word.
  • We encounter God through the Holy Spirit, which dwells within all believers.
  • We encounter God through His creation (Rom. 1:20).
  • We encounter God through our circumstances & experiences.
  • We encounter God through other Believers.

Continue reading


Cultural Relevance and Youth Ministry: Know the Bible. Know Teenagers  by Andy Blanks


Lately I’ve listened to a conversation going on in youth ministry circles on whether or not it’s valuable to be versed in youth culture . . . to be “culturally relevant.” I think this conversation is of vital importance to us as youth workers. Give me 4 minutes of your time to share my thoughts (and I welcome yours, as well).

I believe youth workers must strive to be experts in two things: Scripture and culture. Let me explain.

We know the truth of Scripture is timeless. It’s as effective today at spiritual transformation as it was hundreds and thousands of years ago. However, culture is not timeless. Culture is fluid. It changes with time and geography. You would never attempt to reach a people group in another culture without considering that culture’s unique realities. You wouldn’t travel to rural Chongqing, China and teach the exact same lesson you would teach in Idaho Falls. While the underlying biblical truths have a universal application, the cultural “vehicle” through which your lesson is communicated would be wholly ineffective.

I believe as youth workers we should approach reaching our students with the same level of cultural awareness that we would take in approaching another people group in another culture. Why? What are the benefits of a commitment to cultural relevancy? Glad you asked. Continue reading


3 Incorrect Assumptions About Church Kids  by Leneita Fix


I have been speaking on the similarities of “churched” and “unchurched” students for years, but it has been like I am living in my own research project proving my points across the board.

Here’s what I am learning:  (Again remember: grown up in church, parent’s consider themselves Believers, some attend a Christian school.)

Students are experiencing these life circumstances:

  • Growing up in households riddled with divorce.
  • I’ve met students whose mother’s had been teens when they had them.
  • Students who don’t feel like parents listen, or even have time for them.
  • MANY student’s being bullied, harassed, and ridiculed.
  • Students struggling with deep insecurities, who admit they pretend to have it all together.
  • Students who are growing up in homes without fathers.

Then there is the Biblical knowledge. When interacting with students on “basics,” here are some of the responses:

  • Blank stares over and over again.
  • Students don’t know facts from their Bible or confuse one for the other.  (Like David was in the lion’s den).
  • When asked about different “Christian” words and phrases and what they meant like, “sin,” “temptation” or “living in the flesh,” they can not explain what they mean. They say something like, “I sort of know. I just can’t explain it.”

I hear these questions and answers often:

  • “How do you know you belong to Jesus?” I get a verbatim answer like,  “Jesus saved me from my sins.”
  • “What does it mean Jesus saved you from your sins?”  I get an answer like: “Jesus died on the cross and rose again from the grave.”
  • “What sins can you say specifically you feel like Jesus saved YOU from?”  I get:  Blank stares.
  • “If I were to ask you if Jesus is in charge of your life what would you say, honestly?”  I get,  “NO, I want to be able to make some decisions on my own.”

There is an interesting trend I am seeing from students growing up in the church. They fully understand the “stuff” you do to “act more Christian.” They go to church, serve, volunteer in the nursery, and go on trips to camp and missions. Some will even come and tell me they, “Want to go into ministry.”

Yet, when I say, “Tell me about your relationship with Jesus,” I hear a list of things they DO FOR Him.

I have tried rewording it and asking, “How well do you feel like you know the Lord?” Again a list of “stuff.” It is rare that I hear someone talk about love. They don’t tell me they are overwhelmed with the love Christ has for them or the love they have for Jesus.

Finally, here is what might be MOST fascinating. In encountering late High School and college students I hear this comment often, “People just assume that I don’t need anyone to talk to.” The ones who are growing up in great homes and serving on the front lines are often the ones who feel like all adults in their life are assuming someone else is “talking” to them. Youth pastors, teachers and coaches think it’s the parents, while the parents think it’s someone else.  Parents are often just trying to juggle living with a teen and have a habit of dealing with facts and ignoring emotions. Why? Take it from a parent of teens: Emotions are exhausting. You can’t fix them and you feel like you are always saying the wrong thing anyway.


Let’s stop:

  1. Thinking the “churched kids” are fine.
  2. Assuming that “no behavioral issues” means they are close to Jesus.
  3. Believing because we talk about the Bible, they understand it (or even truly take the Word to heart).

The irony is that I talk to youth people all the time who are frustrated with the shallowness of their students’ faith. I am wondering if we can change it up a little?

Can we have true discussions about the deepest matters bothering our teens?
Can we see just because they have “heard it” for a “million times” doesn’t mean they KNOW HIM?
Can we stop trying to “get through” lessons and curriculum and take the time to allow students to wrestle with their faith?
Can we allow students to feel safe to share their deepest doubts, fears and emotions?  What if they are angry at God for something or don’t know how to trust Him? Will we let them feel and direct them to the truth? Does this make us “nervous” because these are the kids who are “supposed to get it?”

I think for me I have been most convicted at how easy it is to walk into a group of students and wrongly compartmentalize their needs based on their background.

I spoke with a college student yesterday who said, “I was angry at God for years. I kept waiting for someone to notice. I guess when you are growing up in the church and know how to go through the motions, no on thinks to stop and really see if your relationship with the Lord is in a right place.”

This is worth thinking on. Can we stop thinking our churched kids are close to Jesus just because they can act like it?

When is the last time you stopped to ask them what they’re really feeling?


The Importance of Not Wasting Our Ministry Opportunities by Andy Blanks



That’s how many hours are in a week. 168.

Let’s play a game of sorts. Let’s try and make some generalizations about how our teenagers spend their time each week. Trust me, there’s a point . . .

  • Let’s assume that the average school day is 7 hours in length. Add another 2 hours a night for homework (five days a week), and we’ll say that time spent in school = 45 hours per week.
  • And let’s further assume, though there’s really no way to know for sure, that the average teenager sleeps 8 hours a night. So, time sleeping = 56 hours per week.
  • Let’s take a wild guess at how much a teenager spend each week eating. Let’s call it an hour and a half a day. So, time spent eating = 10.5 hours per week.
  • Finally, let’s assume that teenagers spend an average of an hour a day on personal hygiene. Let’s call it 7 hours a week on making sure they’re clean and pretty.

If we think that our above assumptions are even close, the average teenager will spend somewhere in the neighborhood of 118.5 hours each week doing things they have to do. School. Sleeping. Eating. Showering and getting dressed, etc. These fixed hours represent about 70% of their week.

And so, according to our rough math, that leaves 49.5 hours of “free” hours each week, or, roughly 30% of their weekly time.

These are hours dedicated to sports or band practice, playing video games, working a part time job, hanging out with friends, watching TV shows or movies, and so on.

This is a snapshot of how our students spend their lives. And yet, something is missing in our addition. How much time do your students spend with God each week?

Of course, there’s no way to definitely say for sure. We can guess. After all, that’s what we’ve done so far, isn’t it? So, let’s guess. Let’s take a stab at how many hours our students spend each week focused on their faith.

Let’s start with our superstar teenagers, the most committed of our group. If they come to church twice a week, let’s be generous and say they get 3 hours of “faith time.” And let’s say they spend 30 minutes each day in prayer or Bible study. That’s another 3.5 hours they spend growing their relationship with God. So, we can define the most-committed among our teenagers as those who spend something like 6.5 hours a week dedicated to pursuing God in some way. This represents close to 4% of their week. Less than an hour a day on average.

We can only assume that your students who are less committed to attending church, and to their personal time in Scripture, would spend less time than this pursuing God. What would their average be? 30 minutes a day? 15?

This little exercise is admittedly not scientific. But I did it to prove a point. I wanted to help us consider how our students spend their time each week. I wanted us to visualize just how little time they spend, from the perspective of overall percentage, attending church or meeting God in prayer or in Scripture reading. I wanted to do this for one reason . . .

For many of your students, the time they spend in your ministry is the main (or even only) time they’ll spend interacting with the Bible. Which is why it is absolutely imperative that you are intentional about the time you spend with your students.

Everything you do should be aimed at leading students closer to Jesus. There’s nothing wrong with having fun. We’re in youth ministry, after all. But when we realize just how few moments we actually have with our teenagers, and when we realize what a small percentage of their weeks these moments are, we should be gripped by a sense of urgency.

The time our teenagers spend focusing on God is so precious. Let’s do our part to make sure we’re good stewards of the time we have.


What On Earth Am I Here For?  by Rick Warren


Everyone in your congregation wants to know if life really matters. Members, visitors, even your staff want to know, “What on earth an I here for?”

They’re asking three basic questions:

First, there’s the question of existence: Why am I alive? For thousands of years people have asked this question. Many people of the Bible did. Jeremiah asked this question, “Why was I born? Was it only to have trouble and sorrow? To end my life in disgrace?”

Second, there’s the question of significance. Is there some meaning and purpose to my life? Is all that I’m doing just a waste of time and energy? Is my life significant?

In Psalm 89, David asked, “I remember how short my life is [in other words, it’s not that long]. Why did You create us? For nothing?”

Job asked the question, “Why should I work so hard for nothing?” If there’s no meaning and purpose, why am I even doing this?

Solomon even questions the significance of pleasure. He says, “Laughing and having fun is crazy. What good does it do?” Is there any significance to what I do? Why keep going? Without meaning life is petty, trivial, and pointless.

Third, there’s the question of intention: “Is there a purpose for my life?” Isaiah said this: “My work all seems so useless! I have spent my strength for nothing and for no purpose at all.”

The British philosopher, Bertrand Russell, who described himself as an atheist, said, “Unless you assume a God the question of the purpose of life is meaningless.” In other words, if there is no God, there is no grand scheme or significance to anything. If there is no God, your birth was an accident. You simply represent a random chance. If there is no God, there is no right or wrong and no Heaven or Hell.

This is why it is so important that we teach our people that God made each one of them for a purpose. They need to know nothing matters more than knowing God’s purpose for their lives and nothing can compensate for not knowing it — not success, wealth, fame, or pleasure.

We need to teach that, without purpose, life is motion without meaning, activity without direction, and events without reason; yet, it’s never too late to discover our God-ordained purpose. They need to understand God makes everything with a purpose. Every plant has a purpose, every animal has a purpose, and if you are alive, that means God has a purpose for your life.

The Bible teaches that God had five purposes in making us. These five purposes are explained by Jesus in the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. They’re demonstrated by the early Church in Acts, chapter 2. They’re explained by Paul in Ephesians, chapter 4, and they’re prayed about by Jesus in John, chapter 17. Continue reading


Teen Online Dangers by YouthMinistry Media


In the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz in which Dorothy states “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”

That is how I am feeling today in the digital world that we live in.  It isn’t like anything else in the history of the world.  We are in a new era.  I often wonder if the changing times today are similar to periods in history where cultures were transformed by the tools they created.  Tools like the writing language, and the printing press.

Times are changing.  I am currently 31 year old, and I am the last generation to not be raised natively in a digital world.  I am raising kids who are.  These are interesting times.

This is an infographic called: Teen Tech Dangers and the infographic is from the company called PhoneSheriff.

Here are a few things that standout: Continue reading


Leading Teenagers Out of the Overflow of God’s Work in Us by Andy Blanks


One of our purposes as youth workers is to help teenagers know God more. And yet, many of us actively handicap our own ability to be successful at this. 

What do I mean? Simply this: we can’t take teenagers where we aren’t. We can’t instill something in them we don’t own ourselves. We can’t teach teenagers to seek God if we aren’t seeking Him.

Here’s a truth: We teach, and speak, and minister out of the overflow of what God is doing in our lives. If we aren’t actively engaging with God on our own, our ability to minister to students will suffer.

If we have ceased to pursue God, it is virtually impossible to implant a desire to pursue God in our teenagers. Sure, we can fake it. But I am convinced that teenagers can tell when we’re faking it. At some point, you can only draw so much water from a well that’s going dry. Eventually, the bucket will go down and will come up with no water.

To be an effective disciple-maker we have to first be committed to daily growing a relationship with God. More than anything, this is the foundation of effective youth ministry. It is not necessarily a new truth. This isn’t news to you. But there is a good chance you’re struggling in this area. I get face-to-face time with hundreds of youth workers a year. And I can say with confidence that many of us struggle to find time to meet God on a daily basis with no other agenda other than getting to know Him more.

This is normally the time in a blog post where I transition to the practical steps you can take to apply whatever it is I am writing about. Not today.

Who among us needs to truly be told how to draw close to God? We know that prayer is the language of relationship. We know that God gave us His Word as the most complete way we have of knowing Him. And yet, many of us, including me, fail to pray as we should. We fail to search for God in His Word on a daily basis. Our problem isn’t that we don’t have the knowledge. Our problem is that we have the knowledge and fail to act on it.

And so, instead of giving three or five steps on how to make sure you’re drawing closer to God, let this post serve as conviction for you. If this is speaking to you today, if you find yourself in a dry place, distanced from God by your own inaction, do something. Make a change. Start praying. Start meeting God in your Bible.

Your ministry and your faith will benefit greatly from it.


Misfit or Miss Goody Two Shoes? Adolescent misperceptions abound, Stanford researcher says by May Wong

Researchers at Stanford and UNC-Chapel Hill find that teens are influenced by “caricatures” of their peers’ sex lives and drug use.


It’s true: teens are misunderstood. But apparently, teens themselves have dramatic misperceptions about what their peers are doing when it comes to sex, drugs and studying, possibly prompting them to conform to social norms that don’t exist.

That’s according to new research that shows that adolescents overestimate the amount of drug and alcohol use and sexual behaviors that many of their peers are engaging in. At the same time, they underestimate the amount of time their peers spend on studying or exercise.

“When they are judging the popular crowd, the jocks, the burnouts or the brainy kids at school, the gist is that students in these crowds are misperceived,” said Geoffrey Cohen, a professor at Stanford Graduate School of Education who co-authored the psychology study along with researchers at Tilburg University, the Netherlands, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, including lead investigator Professor Mitchell Prinstein.

“They tend to misperceive what their peers are doing,” said Cohen, the James G. March Professor in Organizational Studies in Education and Business. “So they are conforming to norms based not on reality but on stereotypes.”

The study examined the perceptions and behaviors of 235 10th-grade participants at a suburban, middle-income high school. Continue reading