Losing Students Without Losing Yourself

Youth Ministry in Motion Podcast Ep. 69

Show Notes

I just watched the season finale of The Walking Dead and it only confirmed that I may be the Morgan of Youth Ministry Apocalypse.

In the show, Morgan says, “First I lose people, then I lose myself.”

He simply means, “I try to protect people, but no matter how hard I try, I can’t protect everyone, change everyone, or save everyone.  When I lose one, I lose myself.”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone into an almost depressive like state after losing a kid from our youth ministry. I saw their potential. I wanted to go the distance with them through high school and maybe even college. But, for one reason or another

  • family leaves the church
  • kid finds another youth group
  • sin gobbles them up like zombies

It doesn’t matter the reason, it just sucks. It’s hard not to take any of it personally, but caring too much can be ultimately, unhealthy.

There is no way around this. Look how many Jesus “lost” or left him. Judas, Peter, the rich young ruler, nine of the ten lepers, the rest of the disciples, and a bunch of no names who said they’d follow Jesus but wouldn’t because they couldn’t let go of whatever was holding them back.

That is not to say that a kids or family is leaving Jesus just because they leave our church or  youth ministry. That’s just arrogant thinking.

We’re all going to lose student, for various reasons. If you have a small youth group this is even harder because you feel like you’re losing a part of yourself and you feel hope draining away.

I have run the gambit of emotions from sadness, to depression, to anger, it feels very much like the death process which denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

Denial – This cant be happening. I prayed. I invested.

Anger– God, this is your fault! Church, this is hour fault!

Bargaining – God, if you let them stay/bring them back I will…

Depression – This sucks. Ministry sucks. Teenagers suck. I suck.

Acceptance – I don’t know why this is happening, but it is. God, help me.

I have made a lot of kids leavings about me. Others have made it about me (It was your fault) and sometimes it was my fault. A bad decision or a bad attitude could have contributed to it. I’ve never gotten over the this process even after 30 years, but I have managed to put things in perspective so I can keep on moving forward.

These aren’t my kids

These are God’s kids. They are on loan to me for as long as He see fit. Yes, I have still have to do my best, but think there’s a providence in comings and goings. They are with me for a season, to do a work and then they are off.

They must grow

Students must grow. If I can’t help them get to where they need to be spiritually, relationally, etc. they must move on so they can. A few times I’ve asked students to share, with the rest of the youth,  why the were moving on. I thought this was healthy and gave the both the student and the group closure.

I have to grow 

I have to grow. I can’t be so dependent on a student that I forget the Lord. I’m not saying God purposely takes a kid out of my group to make me grow, but if it’s an idolatrous situation, God has no problem doing that. Most of the time though, when a kid leaves, for any reason, there is some reflection, prayer, and growth taking place in my life. Growth is a natural result of loss.

The ministry must change 

Every kid who leaves, leaves a whole. Sometimes a kid who leaves had an important role as a leader, tech person, etc. and, if you’re a small youth group,this is not an easy fix to replace. You are left hanging. So, you must either invest in another student and raise the up, if they have the inclination, or you must change the way you do things and sometimes it’s both.

This isn’t about me

In end, I have to say, this isn’t about me. Yes, I said above that sometimes it is, but most of the time, it is not. There are bigger things at play. God is moving, shifting, planting, and uprooting so He can accomplish His will.

To make it about me is super selfish, yet that is what I do. I work through my process and eventually come to my senses (like the prodigal son) and go home to my Father to heal up and get ready to start again.

The danger of all emotional attachments is that you’ll get hurt in the end. Ministry is often like that. Life is often like that. Jesus certainly felt it. Morgan’s choice, at the end of the episode was to leave, to walk away, to choose to be alone because losing people is just too hard. I feel you Morgan. I feel you.

But if I could tell Morgan anything I ‘d quote Alfred Lord Tennyson,

“It is better to have loved and lost, then never to have loved at all.”

We all  lose people, and yes, get lost in the process, sometimes, But don’t quit caring and don’t quit loving kids. Love is worth the hurt and, in the end, the only things that makes life worth living.

Can I ask you for a review? If you have enjoyed the podcast, would you consider giving me a review and a few stars over on iTunes? Thanks


Youth Ministry Round Up #7





Justin Bieber Led Worship at a Coachella Event

A Free, Just-As-Good, Alternative To Photoshop?

What To Do When Everything Is Changing (Good for businesses, good for youth ministries)


Great insight about being a surviving artist (KJ-52)

Losing Students Without Losing Yourself (Click here for the show notes)


Is your youth group dying from low expectation? Brian breaks down on why the cost of faith should be high.

Great YG Countdown rom Delmar Peet

Real Doctor Reacts To The Good Doctor (TV Show) This would make a good parody video of a “Real” Christian Watching A “Fake” Christian and commentating.

What Does It Mean To YOU?

“When you enter the land which the LORD will give you, as He has promised, you shall observe this rite. “And when your children say to you, ‘What does this rite mean to you?’ you shall say, ‘It is a Passover sacrifice to the LORD who passed over the houses of the sons of Israel in Egypt when He smote the Egyptians, but spared our homes.'” And the people bowed low and worshiped.…
Exodus 12:25-27

You know when you’e looking for one verse, and then you cross reference it and find another amazing verse? I love when that happens. The verse above is what I found and I passed it on to my parents and invited them to ask themselves deeper questions in response to their kids questions.

If you have kids, you know they ask us many questions, “Why is the sky blue?” “Why do Zebras, have stripes” “Are we there yet?” . It seems like a never ending stream of questions.

When they are older, the questions get a little harder “Why did so and so have to die?” What am I supposed to with my life?” and so on.

In-between the easy and the hard questions, they may ask you about your faith, “What does this rite mean to you?”

“Why do we go to church/Sunday school?”

“Why do we worship?”

“Why is the Bible important?”

Really, what they are asking is, “why is it important to you?”

Our student are out extended kids. They have questions too. But, they don’t necessarily want to know what the Bible says, they want to know what you say. That want a human answer not a Bible App answer. They want to know why ____________________ is important to YOU.

We can explain in very broad terms, such ‘That’s just what we do”

That’s cheating. Now’s a good time to examine why you do what you do. Why do YOU read your Bible? Why do YOU worship as you do? Why do YOU believe Jesus is God’s son? Why is communion important to YOU? Why is church important to YOU? and a dozen more. It’s a good idea to make a list of possible questions and write out your answers.

Youth Workers, you’re students may also have some questions about why you do what you do and why do you do it that way.

Why do you preach this way? Program this way? Lead this way?

Your kids deserve some deeper answers of why you’re doing what your doing and why you’re leading them the way you are.

Take some time, ask yourself some big WHY? questions so when kids ask you why is sharing Christ with others important to YOU? Why is camp important to  YOU? They deserve a little more than, “I’ve always done it this way.”

Who knows, maybe you don’t have a good reasons and you find that you can change, try something different and change your youth ministry’s course in the process.

Youth Ministry Round Up #6


Almost every successful person begins with two beliefs: the future can be better than the present and I have the power to make it so. – Psychology Living


The Importance of “Hey, I miss you!” 

Christian group asks Netflix to pull ’13 Reasons Why’ after teen suicides

The Spiritual Practice of Humor 

Tipping Points In Spiritual Formation


The Longer Haul: What to do with busy teens


Great series on Christian basics through drawing.

This is a fanatic testimony about acceptance and influence from a Youtube Creator. Pay attention youth workers, because they are paying attention to you.

Anyone else struggle with this? Fun opener for youth group.

My first live stream in a long time: Wednesdays at One

Six Simple Truths of Communication Every Pastor Should Follow


Youth Ministry in Motion Podcast Episode 68

Show Notes

I was listening to one of my favorite new podcasts, Everything Happens with Kate Bowler (Teacher at Duke Divinity School)  with one of my favorite actors, Alan Alda (M.A.S.H, Same Time Next Year, and The Four Seasons).

Alan is on the show to discuss the training he does with doctors on how to improve their communication skills with patients. Often doctors offer bad news in harsh ways. They lack empathy and can be very cold in their approach to what should be an intimate and caring moment between two human beings.

I see this kind of practice as no different as when youth workers, pastors, bosses, etc. are talking with, well, anyone. Us youth workers, especially when we’re younger, can be so impetuous and full of spunk (also read as: CRAP) that we think we know everything and are better speakers than listeners.

Think of all the times a pastor has to communicate where it matters how they communicate

  • when someone comes in for counseling for addiction
  • when someone receives bad news at the doctors
  • when there’s a sensitive meeting about church members
  • dealing with death and dying

Whether we’re “experts” because we have a degree or because we’ve simply been doing pastoral work a long time, we should always evaluate our communication skills. We, like doctors, have to deliver bad news,

You can ‘t go on the trip because…

You have to step down because…

We have to have a talk about…

Your soul is in trouble….

Not even three minutes into the podcast, Alan Alda offers a simple recipe for good communication based on the acting skill called improve. These are massive lessons all ministers in all positions, should learn when communicating with their the congregation, students, their spouses and pretty much everyone else.

The Essence of improve

focus on the other person

Listen intently, make eye contact, watch their body language.

the other person come first

Wait for cues or permission to interject, don’t interrupt. Our opinion may be different, but it’s not more important than the other persons opinion.

make your partner look good

How can I speak to empower the other person? How can avoid tearing anyone down and still making my point. Don’t degrade the other person to make ourselves look good.

become partners in communication

Approach every conversation as a partnership. You are both trying to achieve something, work together to help each other share what is really important to them

don’t deny your partner

Let them have their say. Let the other person “beat around the bush” a little until they are comfortable getting to the point. Don’t deny the other person your empathy and care no matter how difficult the subject.

You don’t have a target of communication, you have a partner in communication.

We do not speak at people, we speak with people. People are not targets for our information, they are partners in developing a conversation around what both of us want to talk about.

Scripture exhorts us to,

Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. Colossians 4;6

Conversation – words, speech, divine utterances (aren’t they all?)

Full of grace – disposed to, inclined, favorable towards, leaning towards to share (listen more talk less, less judgement more empathy)

Seasoned with salt – God preserving and seasoning a believer as they grow (Seek each others growth, and to preserve one another dignity)

Take a moment and ask yourself,

How much of my last conversation was filled with grace and seasoned with salt?

Was the person I was talking with a “target” of my information or. a partner in our communication?

We can, and should, always improve in our communication with others, especially to those whom we are making life long followers of Jesus.


You might also be interested in my take on Improvisational Youth Ministry 

You can also watch the podcast as I share live on the Youth Ministry in Motion Facebook Page, come join us.


The Importance of “Hey! I Missed You”

I love telling kids I miss them. Now, I don’t necessarily like that kids were missing from the event or meeting but I love to tell them that I missed them. I know how it makes me feel when someone misses me. They are saying, “You are valuable. You presence is important and we know when it is not among us.”

If you are not telling kids they are missed, shame on you. You’re missing an opportunity to affirm a kids existence. You can take this to the next level.

I do my best to text parents the next day to let them know I missed their kids. I also tell them in person and they know me well enough that I’m not making a big deal about attendance. I am telling them that I value their kids. I have an opportunity to tell parents that I value what their kids bring to the youth meeting/ministry

Presence – They make a difference in our group

Leadership – Their example/influence makes a difference.

Servanthood– They offer their gift of practicality and helps.

Voice – They add value to our worship and ministry time

Compassion – They have open hearts and welcoming arms

Communicating with parents about the value of their children, to you, the ministry, and the world, is just as powerful as telling the kids themselves.

It’s a lonely world. Kids need to hear it. Parents need to hear it. You need to hear it. “Hey! I missed you.”

For more on the loneliness epidemic, listen to my interview with Tim Eldred: Alone Sucks


Youth Ministry Round Up #5


I just like this photo: So many lessons.


More People Likely To Divorce After Watching Porn, Study Says

How I Plan Curriculum – Heather Lea Campbell

How I Write A Sermon Series 

Mother Allegedly Uses Tazer To Wake Up Son For Church


This Week In Youth Ministry Podcast 


I check out my friend Boo’s Youth Room. Your not gonna believe what he has.

Work hard and you’ll get your shot – The Emergency Goalie

How Often Should Your Church Be Posting on Social Media?

Youth Ministry Round Up #4


The Day My Church Died (As sad tale, but a reminder that even the most spiritual endeavors come to an end.

Relentlessly Poking The Revival Fires

The Problem of Watching Porn and Playing Video Games – For Girls 


Ministry Zoo Podcast 


You Should Try- Great advice from Leslie Odom

Logic is a super popular rapper. Your kids know him. You should too.

If your kids love soccer, this could be fun around World Cup time.

This is a fun game. The channel is filled with great icebreakers, games, etc. The game even comes with a pdf that you can download HERE

Relentlessly Poking The Revival Fire

This is my ninth, and final, post in my series 9 WaysTo Dynamically Revive Your Youth Ministry. You can click here to start at the beginning.

When I give you ideas and tactics for reviving your youth ministry, I make some assumptions.

I assume you are praying. I assume you are taking care of your own soul, I assume you are passionate about what you do. I don’t think these are careless assumptions. These are, or should be, core beliefs for someone in our position.

If all the above is happening (not perfectly all them) and heading in the right direction, then our role is to poke the fires.

This is also called stoking the fire. By definition, stoking the fire means to poke a fire and fuel it so that it burns higher. In the case of a camp fire we move the wood around so that oxygen and can get in and we add wood when the fire gets low.

These are all tangible effort. If we are praying then God is listening. What Neds to be done is the work. Look at Elijah,

Elijah took twelve stones according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of the LORD had come, saying, “Israel shall be your name.” So with the stones he built an altar in the name of the LORD, and he made a trench around the altar, large enough to hold two measures of seed. Then he arranged the wood and cut the ox in pieces and laid it on the wood.        I Kings 18: 31-33

Like Eliajah, we have to build the altar, lay the stones, get the wood, cut up the sacrifice. If Elijah does not of this, God does not answer by fire. This is not about working harder, longer hours; this about making preparations for God to answer our call.

Elijah dug trenches because he was one upping the prophets of Baal. Their God did not answer at all. Elijah essentially said, “Hold my beer”. He embarrassed the prophets of Baal by adding water to the sacrifice. Not only would God anger by fire, but he can even set a wet sacrifice aflame.

I don’t think we should be so brazen as to our water over our sacrifice. The wood in many youth groups are already wet making it hard to start a fire at all. Our kids are soaked with the world and water logged with cares and worries.

So, how do we poke the fires?

First, watch for the flicker.

It’s hard, sometimes, to get youth genuinely excited about the things of God, but I always watch for the flicker. I feel like I am trying to start a fire in a hurricane and my match keeps going out. I have to remind myself, It’s God’s job to answer by fire, not me. I watch for the spark and the flicker.

So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. I Corinthians 3:7

We build, we prepare, God brings the fire.

Next, add a log to the fire 

When I do see the flicker, I hurry and grab some kindling, not a big log. I don’t throw a ton of responsibility on a kid the minute they sense the Holy Spirit working in them. I take small steps, twig by twig I feed the flame.

I find out what they are good at and then try to match it with something in our youth ministry. If I cannot find a place for them to serve I create a place for them to serve no matter what they can do. The flame builds a little hire.

Finally, poke it here and there

I watch there fire closely. I watch for the winds of doubt and the flood discouragement that may try to extinguish the flame of faith. I poke the fire with relationship, with encouragement, with affirmation, and with motivation.

If there is more than one flicker I band those logs together so they feed off one another. I poke the fire even more making sure there is room to breath and experience God. Then, I work and I wait to see what happens next.

Like fire building, reviving a youth ministry is a slow process. The fire may never get as hot or as high as we like it, but we should always be grateful their is a fire at all.

I hope you enjoyed the series, and if you did, leave a comment. Be sure to sign up for the Fresh Impact Newsletter to receive more ideas, resources, and strategies.



Letting Parents Power Your Youth Youth Ministry

This is my eighth post in my series The 9 Dynamic Ways To Revive Your Youth Ministry. You can start the series HERE 

I can remember a parent coming to me with a concern that middle school girls (of which she had one) was not getting enough attention. I responded,  as I always do, with, “So what you’re saying is, you have a burden for middle school girls and you’d like to help out?” She agreed and taught middle school for about six weeks. I give her a ton of credit and she brought a new energy to the ministry.

Whenever I can get a parent to participate, it changes the dynamics of the group, mostly for the better. There have been those times where that’s not the case, but I’ve had more positive experiences than negative.

When parents participate, they lend their power, their gifting, their authority and their fun side. Yes, their fun. Some of these parents can be fun. They’re the cool parent everyone likes.  Sadly, many of these “cool” parents bale because they don’t want to infringe upon their kids need to be autonomous.

I think parents can make great team leaders, game leaders, and goodwill ambassadors for the youth ministry. Now, it gets a bit hairy if you ask that parent to lead a small group on sex with their kid in the room.  I avoid that at all costs, but overall, parents are just people. It’s our paranoia that gets the better of us in believing parents want nothing more than to be a nuisance and a pain.

We shouldn’t fear parents, we should embrace them. I have an open room policy where parents can come watch what we do any time they want. I Facebook live many of our meetings so parents can go back and watch them later.

One of the many dangers of distancing parents is that we lose perspective. We think we’re the man (or woman) with a plan and these parents will just mess it up. Forging positive bonds with parents can give our youth ministry the much needed boost it needs. Give it a try.

One more post, the last in this series, Relentlessly Poking The Revival Fire