How to Minister to Kids in Crisis When You Don’t Have a Counseling Degree by Donald Welch for Children’s Ministry Magazine


You don’t have to be a mental health professional to help troubled children — you only need a deep commitment to Jesus and kids, and a whole lot of empathy…

Imagine your Sunday school class — all the kids are engaged in the lesson, intently focused on what Joseph’s father is going to do to him after the way he’s behaved. Then suddenly, your reverence-filled room disintegrates into chaos. Elizabeth — who’s experiencing some challenges outside of class — slaps Pedro in the back of the head and calls him stupid. Some kids giggle, but others fidget uncomfortably — they wanted to find out what happened to Joseph. A volunteer scrambles toward Elizabeth, hoping to stop yet another out-of-control impulsive outburst. After the dust settles, you see Elizabeth smiling and looking oh-so-proud of what she’s created.

I’ve encountered kids with a lot in common with Elizabeth in my time in children’s ministry. In fact, an established “troublemaker” was one of my first assignments when I signed on as a volunteer.

As a marriage and family therapist and professor, I thought I knew the necessary skills for working with troubled children. Why, I’ve helped dozens of families work through issues in family therapy, I thought. It’ll be a piece of cake.

But some of these lads frosted my personal experiences and professional expertise. I had to dig deep into my pockets of patience and creativity for skills that would work with troubled children. From temper outbursts to overtly unbecoming behavior — you name it, I experienced it. And I’ll tell you what, I now express my respect and appreciation more openly to children’s ministry volunteers — the unsung heroes of our churches.

What do you do when you know a child is hurting or doesn’t fit in with the other kids? If a child is suffering because of a physical or emotional challenge — or both — where do you turn? And how do you know whether the challenges are beyond your resources?

You can make powerful connections in kids’ lives, even when they’re burdened with emotional, physical, and social problems. You don’t have to be a mental health professional to help troubled children — you only need a deep commitment to Jesus and kids, and a whole lot of empathy.

Here are three profound principles I’ve learned in my journey as a children’s ministry volunteer and professional counselor: Continue reading


3 Things That Influence How Kids Use Social Media Today by Jacob Eckeberger


1. We live in a world with no technological boundaries.

In my generation, we grew up with some really firm boundaries on our technology. Phones had cords that plugged into walls. The internet was only available through dial-up. Big box televisions were the only way to watch TV shows. Those literal boundaries around our technology helped us come to understand who we were outside of it. Today, there are zero boundaries to our technology. This constant, 24/7 access to technology leaves a huge impact on our kids, inviting things like social media to become an important part of their personal, mental, and sociological development.

2. Social media becomes a window through which we see and experience the world around us.

This means that apps like Instagram aren’t merely used to post pictures. Instagram becomes a window through which we answer important questions like: Who am I? Where do I fit in? Does my life matter?

We aren’t just consuming answers to those questions through the images we see on Instagram, we’re actually creating our responses. We create images to tell stories of our daily life and then compare it to what everyone else is creating. This is a significant thing for kids who are just starting to figure out who there are and where/if they fit in.

3. The fallacy that everything on line is temporary.

Darrel Girardier shared a GREAT POST that touched on this. Apps like Snapchat tap into this idea that content on the internet can be easily deleted. But we know from experience (SNAPCHAT LEAKS 100,000 PHOTOS) that it’s not always the case. Once we post something, we have very little control over what happens to it.


1. Recognize that the issue isn’t the technology, but how that technology is used.

Most of the technology available to our kids today, and specifically things like social media, aren’t necessarily evil. It’s all in how the technology is used. When we give our kids a smart phone, we’re giving them technology that comes with a ton of responsibility. We can’t protect our kids from all the bad ways that this technology can be used, but we can help them live into the incredible amount of responsibility that they’ve been given. To borrow from Walt Mueller, it’s all apart of helping students think critically and Christianly about what they post before they post it.

2. Create boundaries around technology.

Sit down as a family to create blackout times and locations in your house where every screen is turned off, and the phones and tablets are put away. Have family game nights, or dinner times when you intentionally connect with one another. Buy an old fashioned alarm clock to have in your room so that you don’t need your phone at night.

3. Be the example.

Ideally, parents would be modeling healthy uses of technology for their kids. So set boundaries that your entire family can agree on. That way, as a parent, you can be the first one to step away from your phone or tablet. By being the example, you can show what a healthy relationship with technology looks like.


How to Fire Your Volunteers by Doug Franklin


When I was a youth pastor, the hardest thing I ever had to do was remove an adult volunteer. Student problems were easy to deal with in comparison. There’s no easy way to tell an adult that their behavior is inappropriate and they need to take a step back.

Firing a volunteer starts when you “hire” them. That may sound like a tough way to start a relationship, and some of you are probably thinking, I never actually hired them; they just appeared. Or maybe they were already volunteering when you first started in the ministry. But if you never explain expectations, cast the vision of the ministry, outline policies and procedures, or give them a job description, then how can you expect them to be the kind of volunteers you want them to be? How can you hold them accountable?

If you “hired” this volunteer the right way, sit down with them, go over what they are missing, and explain how it is affecting you and the ministry. Share your heart. Hopefully they will listen and be open to correction. If they respond in bitterness and nastiness and you can’t work with them moving forward, take a mature staff or ministry member with you and ask the difficult volunteer to leave for the sake of unity in the ministry. Help them find a new place to serve that better fits their gifts.

If you didn’t “hire” them properly or they’ve been around longer than you, sit down face to face and explain your expectations. Be open and honest about the problems. Start over by giving the vision, expectations, and a description of the volunteer duties required. Then meet with them weekly or monthly based on the severity of the issue. Use these meetings to give them feedback and accountability.

Consider using the following steps when you think you have a problem with an adult volunteer.

Step 1: Be Preemptive.

Almost every problem with adult volunteers starts with unmet expectations. Unless you are clear in your communication, your volunteers will create their own expectations. Most youth workers are so focused on students and logistics that they forget to communicate expectations to their volunteers.

Step 2: Be Consistent.

After communicating your expectations, it is important to uphold them consistently. Make sure volunteers understand the reasons behind what you are doing. Hold yourself and them to a high standard.

Step 3: Be Decisive.

When the time comes to take action, don’t hesitate. The longer you wait, the worse things will get. Decide on your course of action and follow through. Volunteers will appreciate your honesty, and consistency will convey care to the rest of your team.

Often the best thing you can do for a volunteer is to fire them. We learn the most important lessons in life from these pivotal moments. The other volunteers will be happier too. If you’ve noticed an issue, chances are, they’re being hampered by it as well. Being a leader requires commitment to your team, so pledge to always doing what is best for all of your volunteers. Just watch how it helps the whole team.


Three Parental Acts That Hinder Students From Becoming Leaders by Tim Elmore


I just finished meeting with a group of university students. My goal was to ask them how they had adapted to college life. I chose this group of students because every one of them served in leadership roles during high school. I wondered if they’d continued in college. The overwhelming message I received from them is they didn’t feel they were keeping up with expectations. Due to this reality, half of them had not even applied for a leadership position, and the other half had quit their positions.

This might be predictable, but it’s also a pattern.

Faculty on university campuses are reporting that needy, less resilient students have shaped the landscape for staff and teachers—in that educators are expected to do more handholding, lower academic standards, and not challenge students too much. Even the student leaders have switched into survival mode.

Dan Jones, former president of the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors, is concerned for the mental and emotional health of ordinary students. In an article for The Chronicle of Higher Education, he reports:

“Students haven’t developed skills in how to soothe themselves, because parents have solved all their problems and removed the obstacles. They don’t seem to have as much grit as previous generations.” 

This Generation of Parents

I remember my parents raising me forty to fifty years ago. They were part of the “Silent Generation” who’d grown up during the Great Depression and World War II. Building resilience and learning to solve problems was part of their agenda for me. These skills had served them well. They wanted me to be ready for life.

My generation, however, grew up in the post-World War II era. Things were better, the economy was stronger, and television told us we “deserved a break today.” So as parents, we focused on our children’s happiness and self esteem. We wanted them to have a better life. Unfortunately, we now see the by-product of this parental philosophy. As kids grow into adulthood, they’re often neither happy nor ready.

What a sad irony for these emerging adults who could be leaders!

What Employers Say

Recently, a San Francisco-based nonprofit called YouthTruth conducted a multi-year survey on college and career readiness with a sample group of over 165,000 high school students. The results of their work were rather surprising: only 45% of the students felt positive about their college or career readiness. In short, fewer than half felt they’re ready for life after high school.

As we work with employers, they tell us their three greatest needs on teams are:

  • Resilience
  • Problem solving skills
  • Interpersonal skills

Executives continue to implore us to help students cultivate these skills sets—some are hard skills, and some are soft skills. Unfortunately, they are conspicuously absent, and if our young people are going to be leaders, we must make some changes.

Three Parent Mistakes 

Let me suggest three unwitting parental actions that diminish a student’s ability to become a leader, both in and after school:

  1. Resilience – If I never let them fail, they won’t develop resilience.

In my book 12 Huge Mistakes Parents Can Avoid, I share that most parents work to insure their child never fails. Ever. In a class, on a team, at work, you name it. Sadly, if we don’t allow them to experience failure, resilience is only a theory they’ve heard about in older generations. They crumble at the first sign of adversity. We must let them fail in the safe environment of homes so they cultivate resilience for the future.

  1. Problem Solving – If I do things for them, they won’t build problem-solving skills.

Although employers value problem-solving skills most, somehow graduates come to the job afraid to even try. Why is this? I believe it’s because most of their lives, up to this point, have been virtual. What’s more, too many moms or dads have done the problem solving for them. Parents must encourage their kids to see problems clearly; imagine how to solve it, then develop the steps to reach it. They won’t learn to solve problems if someone does it for them.

  1. Soft skills – If I don’t balance their screen time, they won’t cultivate soft skills.

Finally, supervisors are hunting for young employees with soft skills: the ability to work with others, to communicate well, to look someone in the eye and listen, and to resolve conflict. These are fundamentals—but they involve face-to-face interaction. Parents must balance the time their kids have on a screen with the time they spend in the presence of people of different ages.

A Case Study

Last year, I met a couple who told me about their teenage daughter. They confided that she was feeling entitled to a car, a smart phone, spending money, and all the perks her friends received. If she didn’t get them, she’d accuse mom and dad of being horrible parents and threaten to leave home. The couple was in a quandary.

I encouraged them to gently and lovingly take their daughter up on the threat. They had created a safe environment for her, but one that prevented her from realizing how life really worked. There’s nothing better than a dose of reality to give one perspective. The next time their teen daughter threatened to leave home, they said they didn’t want her to go—but maybe that would be the best way for her to learn the life skills she desperately needed.

They called her bluff. Reality stared her right in the face.

Their daughter left for only one day and soon returned. Her mood was different. There was a new Sheriff in town. They helped her solve her own problems and become resilient when life got tough. The good news is—this teen would learn the skills either way: by leaving home and doing it on her own, or via loving parents who equipped their little girl with the skills she’d need for life. Now, she’s becoming a leader at her school because her parents stopped enabling her.

Let’s make this our story, too.


Doug Fields’ Top Ten Commitments for Youth Ministry by Ron Powell



–if we pursue the right ones, our lives have purpose and meaning –without them, we spiral into confusion and despair. Here is my take on Doug Fields’ top ten commitments for youth workers…

  1. I will move slowly. Rushing will cause more harm than good—trust God. Do things few things and do them well.
  2. I will regularly check my motives and evaluate my heart. –If you are not doing it out of love for God and love for students. Please stop and do the right things for the right reasons.
  3. I will steer clear of the numbers’ game. It is a dangerous game and makes youth pastors do foolish things. Instead focus on health. Growth will follow naturally.
  4. I will not criticize the past. This can be a petty blame game. Take the high road. Pursue the vision God has given you for your group and don’t look back on past victories or failures.
  5. I will avoid the comparison trap. We wrote about this in a blog called dangerous comparisons. God has a will for your unique group. Pursue that and don’t copy cat the biggest youth ministry in town.
  6. I will focus on priorities. Hopefully loving God and loving people are at the top of your list. Make sure that God is honoured and every student is cared for personally.
  7. I will pace myself. This goes with commitment number one. It is easy to throw your life out of balance. There is no end to good things you could do 20 hours a day. Instead prepare for the long haul. Do God’s will for you today and then get plenty of sleep.
  8. I will serve. If you do you are in good company! If you are looking for power and position you are in the wrong business!!
  9. I will be a learner. Stop learning today and you will stop leading tomorrow. There are so many ways to learn today through blogs, podcasts, e-books, you tube videos –make learning a regular habit.
  10. I will pursue contentment. Contentment is a choice. Joy should not be based on circumstance. Don’t wait for some great thing to happen to make you happy. Find your satisfaction in Christ.

I hope that these will help you to refocus and recommit so that you having greater effectiveness and balance. God bless, –Ron.

Ps. If you want to see what Doug Fields says about each of these commitments follow this link or download a copy of Your First 2 years in Youth Ministry.


What Americans Believe About Sex by Barna Group


From the modesty debate to the mainstreaming of “twerking,” the American public has a complex relationship with sex. Ever since the sexual revolution of the 1960s, the liberalization of social and moral attitudes toward sex has met with a conservative backlash troubled by the impact of an increasingly sexualized culture.

So what do Americans think about sex? What is its purpose, and where should we have it? And what do people think about traditional sexual ethics? Are they outdated? In a recent study, Barna Group asked about these and other questions related to sex—and discovered there is no broadly shared consensus among American adults.

Half of U.S. adults (50%) agree strongly that “choosing not to have sex outside of marriage is healthy.” But generational differences are significant. Six in 10 Elders (59%) agree strongly with this statement, compared to 53 percent of Boomers, 49 percent of Gen-Xers and 43 percent of Millennials.

Practicing Christians (72%) are almost twice as likely as adults of no faith (38%) to say that choosing not to have sex outside marriage is a healthy choice. Women (56%) are more likely than men (43%) to hold this view. Compared to those who have never been married (41%), people who are married (53%) and, somewhat surprisingly, cohabitating adults (49%) are more likely to strongly agree with the statement.

It may be that these differences of opinion spring at least in part from confusion or ambivalence about the purpose of sex. When U.S. adults are asked to choose one or more phrases from a list of options that summarizes what sex is for, not everyone agrees.

Among all American adults, the most common answers given when asked about the purpose of sex were “to express intimacy between two people who love each other (63%), “to reproduce / to have children” (60%), and to connect with another person in an enjoyable way (45%).

There are disparities, for instance, between generational cohorts. Overall, Elders and Boomers tend to share a stronger consensus about the purpose of sex. That is, clear majorities among the older generations say sex is for procreation (79% Elders; 71% Boomers), expressing intimacy between two people who love each other (68% Elders; 73% Boomers) or uniting a man and woman in marriage (62% Elders; 50% Boomers).

The two younger adult generations are much less likely to embrace these traditional views of sex. Most Gen-Xers and Millennials continue to believe conventional ideas of sex: that it is to express intimacy between two people who love each other (57% Gen-Xers; 56% Millennials) or to procreate (52% Gen-Xers; 51% Millennials). However, the notion that it should unite a man and woman in marriage is endorsed by just one-third of Xers and Millennials.

Nearly half of younger generations say that sex is to connect with another person in an enjoyable way (44% Gen-Xers; 49% Millennials), though this sentiment is not much different from older adults. Notably, Millennials are much more likely than older adults to say the purpose of sex is self-expression and personal fulfillment (41%). Continue reading


Students Who Struggle With Sexual Identity by Tyson Howells


It’s a politically charged topic.

In fact, many churches don’t know how to handle it. If you haven’t encountered the issue yet, you will.

I’m sure you have already guessed what I am talking about. Let me ask you a question. What do you do when you have a student that is confused with their sexual identity?

Here are 5 attitudes to have.

  1. Be Firm

When you read this first heading, you might think I am saying, take a firm stand against homosexuality.  In fact, this is not what I am saying.

You need to take a firm stand that you will not make or listen to any jokes about sexual identity.  There needs to be a safe culture that is created in your youth ministry.  Students MUST know that they will not be laughed at for the struggles that they are wrestling through.

  1. Be Open

Make it clear to your students that sexual identity is not an untouchable topic.  In fact, it is the opposite.  You are very willing to talk about sexual identity in a respectful, honest and open way.

  1. Be Clear

This is me being clear.  Lust is lust.  I do not care if it is heterosexual, homosexual or bisexual lust.  Lust is lust.

We must be true to scripture and treat someone who struggles with heterosexual lust the same as some who struggles with homosexual lust.

  1. Be Focused

We spend WAY too much time focusing on what society says.  I really do not care what society has to say about things like masculinity and femininity.

Our first question must be, “what does God say on these issues”.  We must be youth leaders that find our guidance in scripture.

  1. Be Realistic

I have shocking news for you.  You are not God.  For some of you, this might be a surprise.  Since you are not God you cannot control or force anyone to change.  Your job is to listen, learn, advise, teach, seek to understand and even persuade students.

Be realistic and know what you can and cannot accomplish.


The Future Career You Should Be Preparing Your Students For by Andrew McPeak


A few weeks ago, I was speaking to a group of high school seniors at a leadership and life skills development program. The subject of the day was becoming “career ready,” and I made a conscious choice to diverge from the given curriculum for the day (which was only written a few years ago) because it was simply outdated. I scrapped the lesson on “16 career categories” and instead led a discussion about freelance culture, networking, and the shifting job landscape. I know the path these students are about to walk all too well. It’s my story, and chances are, it’s about to be your young adult’s story, too.

According to a 2015 independent study from the Freelancers Union and Upwork, “Nearly 54 million Americans — 34% of workers — have done freelance work in the past year … [which] is 700,000 more freelancers in the workforce than last year.” In fact, it is estimated that a full 15% (up from 5% in 2005) of the U.S. workforce are pursuing temporary positions (such freelancing, retainers, temping, etc.) instead of full time work. In terms of entrepreneurship, it is estimated that there have been “just over half a million (530,000) new business owners [starting out every] month” in 2015. At the same time, unemployment has hit Millennials hard, with a reported 44% of college graduates in their 20s still stuck in minimum wage positions.

So what does this all mean? Forbes contributor Ashley Stahl puts it simply: out of mere ignorance, our Boomer and Gen X parents and mentors have “lied to [us by continuing to assume that] working hard and getting a solid education [still] necessarily leads to career success, or even a decent-paying job.”

If this comes off to you as a little harsh or overstated, please give me the grace to pause and say that this has been my exact experience. My peers and I were told something about our futures, sometimes subtly and sometimes frankly, that ended up being completely untrue.

I got a degree in liberal arts in 2011 from a small private college, and unfortunately, I was completely unprepared for the job market. It was tough: I was one of the lucky ones who was able to survive on my own, managing not to have to return to my parents house after graduation (though I still relied on them financially for several years).

In the last few years, this conversation has come up many times with my friends. The experience most of Generation Y shares is that many of our colleges were not aware of the current job landscape when we were being instructed, so we left prepared for a job market that had all but evaporated five to ten years before. This is not to fault our collegiate institutions or our instructors. We are, rather, in the middle of an unprecedented shift in the area of career.

When we recorded a podcast a few months ago with Brad Lominick (a leadership thinker and writer), he called the current career landscape a “gig economy”. Most successful creatives are not being hired with W-2s and benefits. Instead, these folks are being hired for a “gig” and then moving along to the next one. To support this shift, there are massive freelancing websites like Upwork and Fiverr that allow for gig workers to find paid work without needing to leave their living room. While some are forced into this work by unemployment or eradication of entire industries by technology, others are consciously choosing this life because of the freedom it affords them.

Four Pieces of Advice for Students

Here are a few things you need to know to help prepare your young adults for this new career world.
  1. If your child is interested in a “traditional” field like medicine, law, or education, not much about these career paths has changed. Perhaps the only thing to consider here is how the fields are changing. As an example, while the path for medicine has changed very little in recent years, the jobs available has. The medical field forecasts needing more and more Physician’s Assistants than MDs in future years. Check this list of future Millennial job paths to see where your child’s idea for their future is lining up with open positions.
  2. Success in the “freelance” world requires the values and skills of entrepreneurship, even for non-entrepreneurs. Freelance workers are effectively selling themselves for every single project, so the skills they will need are those most often associated with that of an entrepreneur. Skills like sales, networking, task management, financial management, branding, marketing, and communication are a staple for any freelancer, even if their field of influence has nothing to do with these kinds of skills.
  3. Learning to multitask will be the greatest challenge for “1099 employees” of the future.Most freelancers are required to work on projects, while still drumming up new business once their current work is complete. On top of this, freelancers have to manage their own finances and keep track of taxes, deductions, healthcare, and savings for retirement all on their own.
  4. Your kids will likely have 2-4 jobs at the same time. Most of the careers of the future will not switch out 1 job for freelancing. The major shift is that each person’s day-to-day work will look differently from everyone else. I have friends who work part-time in the mornings, run a non-profit in the afternoons, and weekends, and Kickstart music or art projects online in their spare time.

Can I make a prediction here? These hybrid careers will be the new normal within a decade. Depending on what you do now, this may be harder or easier to imagine, but mark my words: this change is coming. Are you preparing your students and children for it?


An Impossibly Large List of Youth Ministry Resolutions by Kurt Johnston


“Shoot for the moon, and you just might hit the street light!”

I’m not sure where I first heard it, but that pithy little quote has served me well over the years. I think it’s a  perfect reminder for all of us as we head into a new year of ministry.  A new year brings a new opportunity to set goals, make changes, try new things and shoot for the moon! So in that spirit I offer my impossibly large list of youth ministry resolutions for 2016.

I, Kurt Johnston, resolve to….

  • Quit calling students in my youth group “dude!” (guys) and “friend!” (girls) and actually do the tough work of learning names.
  • Pay attention to my youth ministry budget. It’s not big, but it deserves being stewarded well.
  • Send handwritten notes and birthday cards to my volunteers.
  • Quit comparing my youth ministry space to the kid’s ministry space.
  • Quit comparing my ministry schedule to the Worship Pastor’s.
  • Be a more open listener to criticism.
  • Catch people on my team doing something good and acknowledge it in front of others.
  • Spend more time at the feet of Jesus.
  • Worship during the adult church service instead of being critical of it.
  • Spend time with my heroes and mentors.
  • Be a more intentional mentor to others.
  • Graciously adhere to church policies, especially the ones that make no sense to me.
  • Pray for my pastor.
  • Offer to help a ministry other than my own.
  • Leave every part of the church our youth ministry touches better than we found it.
  • Say “yes” to at least one ridiculous request my senior pastor makes that everybody else avoids…take one for the team.

For me, that list feels like a moon shot. Some may wonder why it’s even worth making a list of resolutions I know I’ll never fulfill.

But I think sometimes hitting the street light feels pretty good.


3 Essential Youth Ministry Prayers by Theresa Mazza


It’s here. 2016 is calling out to us. Every new year inspires us to be who God has created us to be in a more committed and faithful way. We all hope to rise above our failures and to enjoy even the smallest victories throughout the new year. I do believe in New Year’s resolutions. I believe they focus us and give us something to aim for.

Kurt’s post from last week inspired me. Immediately, I connected to three of the things he listed:

Be a more open listener to criticism.
Spend more time at the feet of Jesus.
Be a more intentional mentor to others.

I will commit to these three things and every time I remember them I will also remember three prayers. The truth in my life is that resolutions without devotion to prayer are as useless as a car without tires. Year after year I’ve committed to resolutions like I commit to a new diet. I will myself to reach new goals. Here’s the problem-I’m not that good. I’m undisciplined and better at starting things than finishing things. If I don’t reach a goal I will live, try again next year. But I can not live without prayer. So I resolve to pray. I will keep my list of resolutions on the wall and these prayers in my heart: 3 prayers to pray over and over again in 2016…

Lord, give me eyes to see the unloved. With your sight I will see and serve the one who feels invisible. With your sight I will see and love the person who feels unseen and unloved. Take off my blindfolds and fill me with the courage to love.

Loving God, help me see you in the face and heart of every student, every parent, every person you place in front of me today. When I see you I will embrace you and serve you. Humble me Lord so that my pride will not keep me from recognizing you.


Holy Spirit guide me. Speak to me in every moment. Love through me in every moment. In every moment draw me closer to you and let me know your love that I might love others as you love me.

May our prayers give us the strength and courage to reach our resolutions and may our resolutions keep us more committed than ever to go to God in prayer.