Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Ways To “Raise The Bar” In Your Youth Ministry


Pic source

Last night I got on a it of rant on Twitter. Part of it was reflection of my own status in life and part of it was my distaste for mediocrity in general.

Here is my rant from Twitter:

@paulturnertoo We should stop giving out attendance awards in elementary school because in real life, no one cares that you showed up for work consistently

@paulturnertoo Rant Continued: No one gets the “thanks for showing up and doing your job” award. No one wants to put “I’m consistent” on their resume.

@paulturnertoo Rant Continued Part 2: Instead, people should get awards for crazy ideas, failed projects, and irrational behavior that produces something.

Before we get to the top ten ways to “raise the bar” in your own ministry. Let me put my rant in context. Some Youth Pastors are happy if anyone shows up to a youth meeting (been there)  and we “award” kid with praise for their attendance. Nothing wrong with that on it’s face. For some kids, attendance IS a big deal. Some kids come from rough homes and some have never darkened a church door for which they do deserve some kudos. I do thank my group of kids from time to time for being there because they could be some where else, doing homework, at another youth group, etc.. At some point though, attendance is not enough for praise. Just showing up  is not enough.  I don’t think God applauds us for doing things He’s commanded us to do in the first place.

Jesus speaks of servants and duty when he says, “Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do?” So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’ ”

We have to get over thinking we are doing God a favor by just showing up. It’s arrogant. So, what can we do to raise the bar in our youth ministry?

1. Have a student of the month where you honor kids for “above the bar” behavior such as serving others , outstanding      attitudes, or Christian example. Choose a meeting where other kids can nominate someone and share why they deserve it. Take those three kids over a three month period and do something special for them like a dinner out, concert, etc.

2. Ask for greater commitment in their giving, service projects, and sharing their stories in Christ. Let’s not beg kids, let’s challenge them.

3. Dare them more. Kids love dares. they like to prove us wrong. Dare them to cross the line of mediocrity to achieve something great. I dared my kids during an outreach to give $50. if they did,  I would let them slime me. They gave and I got slimed. Funny thing though, offering was up the next three weeks because they knew then they could give more than they could be giving.

4. Provide leadership training. Whether this is taking kids to a conference or investing in a leadership team, lay out a path of achievement and growth that takes kids from attendance mode to investing mode.

5. Have a personal conversation with kids and challenge them to step up. Most kids are living well beneath their potential. I had a talk with a student on our worship team about him mumbling the worship lyrics and not engaging 100%. My talk was short, direct, and encouraging. The next time I heard him, he was clear, engaged, and loud. Don’t be afraid to have that talk.

6. Don’t be afraid to lose kids. I know, tough to say if you This is a personal philosophy I have and  it is one most would have to think and pray through before adopting it. If I am afraid of losing kids, our youth ministry will never become who they can be or supposed to be. I love our students, parents, and church and I do everything I can to keep those God has given me, but, I ultimately answer to the Lord.

7. Discipline those who are causing havoc. If kids do not think consequences are an option they will abuse the youth ministry and one day abuse the church for their own means. I have dealt with kids. lost kids, and God gave us the strength to rebuild and blessed us because we honored Him. Do everything possible to restore a kid and walk with them even if you have to disciplinary action. They may not like you at the time, but in time, they might respect you.

8. Stop doing everything. If you do not give your kids ownership of your program, you are ultimately hurting them. Give them small tasks, a servant board to choose from, a project board to post ideas. Start with a suggestion box and make sure to challenge kids to sign their name to their suggestion so you an follow u and challenge them to lead their suggestion.

9. Dream big and make it public. If you want to raise the bar as far as programing goes, make a challenge that will require the entire group and God himself to fulfill. Set an outrageous fundraising goal or a ridiculous amount of kids you’d like to take to camp. It does not matter if you fail, you moved the dial. If you succeed, the next time you dream big it won’t be so hard for them to have faith in God for it.

10. Raise the bar in your personal life. I like to pick up people on the side of the road, hitchhikers and such. Why? Because it’s out of my comfort zone. I give away money I do not have because I want to live a great life of faith. If you want your kids to raise the bar, we must raise the bar in our own lives, always having a story to tell them about how God is working in our lives.

How about you? How are you raising the bar in your youth ministry?








Youth Ministry Nirvana


I experienced a moment yesterday at church that had me thinking I was having an out of body experience, a glimpse of Youth Ministry Nirvana. I was shutting down the church, as I normally do, checking doors, clicking lights etc. and as I walked into the sanctuary I saw a group of young adults and students practicing a drama for Easter. I did not even know they were going to have a youth drama for Easter. My first reaction was to ask what they were doing and why didn’t anyone tell me. They didn’t ask my advice, they didn’t ask me to help, they didn’t need me. Then I heard a voice inside tell me to “leave it alone, walk away.” I asked one of the parents, who was actually in the drama, to shut off lights, etc and she happily agreed, but that was just the beginning of the journey through my “third heaven”.

I headed toward the youth room and I waled into another heavenly moment. I have an awesome young lady who work swith our worship band and they happen to have practice that this day. Instead of everyone going home after church she hung out in the youth room, along with a few students and a parent, and they were playing Apples to Apples. No one told her to do that, she just did it. I came over to the table and greeted everyone and my young leader gave me an unexpected side hug, and then I left. I left the youth room to them. They did not need me. Community was happening and I did not have to instigate it or lead it. What did I do next? I left. I went home and took a nap.

I got home and told my wife and she said, “Maybe what you’ve been doing (teaching, saying, training) is paying off.” This unexpected moment was a blessing from God, and all I had to do to enjoy it was to get out of the way and keep walking. I should do more of that.

What’s your youth ministry nirvana?

Have you experienced it?

Tell me in the comments below.

Maybe Our Best Work Is Yet To Come



The Thriller by Hal Lasko. You can buy a print by clicking HERE

I had a momentary existential crisis watching the video below and thought I’d tap out a few thoughts.

We all are trying to put our best work out there no matter what age we are.  The video below features Hal Lasko. Hal is an artist and after his eyesight was diminished and he could no longer paint; his grand kids bought him a computer and introduced him to Microsoft Paint. He not only continues to paint at 97 years old, but is pushing forward with possibly his best work to come. One thing Hal says in the video challenged me,  “I have patience. You have to have patience to create art”. This is one of the many things I lack but is sorely needed if I  or anyone else wants to create good art.

I am a Pastor, so I paint using my words, both spoken and written. I have yet to achieve anything close to what Hal has done in my field, but I am not so much competing with Hal as much as I am competing with my own time line. Hal is 97 and is producing great work. I am 46 and am producing slightly better than average work. Maybe time and patience is all I need to produce what I want to produce. or maybe that’s an excuse for why I am not producing my best stuff now (If I just had more time, more..etc.) .

And maybe you’re like me. Frustrated and bored with waiting. Maybe I am a frustrated artist trying to rush to  paint my best stuff now rather than be patient with the life process; but my hope is that, like Hal, my best work is yet to come.

Are you doing your best work now? If not, why not?

What are you waiting on?

What are the “right circumstances” you need to produce what you know is your best/


6 Ways To Do Safe Youth Ministry



Do you remember Gus Griswald  (Griswold) from the cartoon Recess? Gus was a worry worry wart of sorts. In one episode he earned the nick-name Safety Man from the kindergarteners he had to watch during the recess time. Gus spent the whole episode saving the kindergartners from stuff kids do and a few hairy situations. In another episode, Gus wants to get rid of all germs, preaching about their dangers, and wears a has-mat suit. Safety Man is a great moniker if you are taking care of small children but not such a great nick name if you’re a Youth Pastor, or a Christian.

In my younger days I told myself I wanted to be the “most dangerous” Youth Pastor ever. I wanted our youth group to be the “most dangerous” youth ministry in town. When I say dangerous I don’t mean it from the “putting my self or our kids in harms way” perspective; but dangerous in the spiritual sense. I wanted myself and our group to be dangerous to the devil and to conformity. I wanted us to represent the dangerous side of Jesus; to say what needed to be said and do what needed to be done without regard to our own personal “safety” or to what others might say about us. But youth ministry, life Christianity itself, has become safe.

In the discussions I have with youth pastors and I ask them what’s going on in their groups, they will tell me about all the programs and activities that are going on but nothing that says to me “Man, that is dangerous” . I am not saying that we should hand out scissors and have kids play tag. That’s a stupid kind of dangerous. Like the faction Dauntless from the book Divergent, I am not recommending we take needless risks that could get us in trouble or fired, although, if you are following Jesus this is not just a possibility but a reality. The kind of dangerous I am talking about involves becoming more like the Jesus of scripture and less like other youth groups. But, if you want to play it safe, let me offer you six ways to do it.

1. Do what every one expects of you and no more. (Stay within your job description)

2. Hang out with only the cool kids (even though it’s the sick who need a doctor, but who wants to get sick right? )

3. Create perfectly safe meetings that produce desired results (leave nothing to the Holy Spirit, He will really screw things up)

4. Don’t go any where or do anything that would risk your reputation.(Missions trips? Too far and cost too much money. Let’s play Dodgeball instead)

5.  For God’s sake don’t ask kids to follow Jesus, just ask them to believe in God and come to church every week.

6.  Preach about daring stuff from the Bible but never plan any of those things into your programming. (What are your crazy? Parents would eat you alive.)

That’s a good start. But I bet you could add to it. Finish the sentence, “If you want to have a safe you ministry….”

Looking forward to hearing your answers.

Life Hack: Learning To Waste Time Better


Mini wastepaper basket

My morning is simple. I have a cup of coffee, I read my Bible and/or devotion book, I write or blog for about an hour, and then I get my rear end in gear. Today I screwed all that up. I wasted time and I thrilled to report that I think I should waste more of it. What made this emotionally teetering rock tumble? Jerry Seinfeld.

I saw there was Super Bowl ad I missed with Jerry Seinfeld and Jason Alexander reprising their roles from the T.V show Seinfeld. I was a fan so I had to check it out. I checked it out but what I discovered was that that this super bowl commercial was actually a short run of episodes of a show called Comedians In A Car Getting Coffee hosted by Jerry Seinfeld on My clicking addiction kicked in and I was off watching more episodes. Here is the episode where my wasting time epiphany descended like manna from heaven

From Crackle: Larry David: Larry Eats A Pancake

This was not a waste of time for me, in fact it was the opposite, this was a soul energizer.

I am a tightly wound person. Everyone I know would tell you that. I structure my my life in a way that maximizes moments and my eyes are always on the horizon.  I am always thinking and people who are not always thinking, planning, and having anxiety attacks about the future bother me. Do they not know time is slipping away?

I sat and watched Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David talk, eat, drink coffee and talk about  life and here is why I need to waste more time

( No bullet points, it’s a radical move for me)

I need closer friends who like to waste time. I need friends who are not too busy to get coffee and talk about nothing, not ministry, not business, not what’s next. I want coffee to be an episode of Jerry Seinfeld, a coffee about nothing.

I need to waste time so I can laugh more at stuff that doesn’t matter. Life is occasionally grim and I need a place where I can laugh and waste time and get some perspective.

I need to relax. Can my life be that important? Can anything be that important. I live life at Defcon 5 all the time and it’s killing me. I have learn to relax and let go of some things or I am going to freak out or worse I will become like some older Pastor’s I know who are stressed out about everything and not enjoying the latter years of their life.

I need to recharge my batteries. I can’t do that when every part of my life is sucking away at me. Doing nothing means I am leaving room for something to enter in a new idea, an encouraging word from God,  or a funny video that turns into  blog post.

If you think wasting time is a waste of time, let me offer some scientific proof found in these articles

Go Ahead: Wasting Time Is Good For You

If You Are Reading This To Waste Time, Good Job!

I know the sacred scripture says “Redeem the time for the days are evil.’ but what if wasting it from time to time was redemptive for our own souls? I know many a man who spent their time saving the whole world and lost their own soul. May be they should have “wasted” some time on themselves and saved a few in the end.

If you want to waste some time in the future, hit me up.

Do you waste too much time? How?

Should you be wasting more time? How can you do this responsibly (or not)





99% of Youth Workers Don’t Have This


Don’t have a youth group over 12 kids.

Don’t have a blog.

Don’t have 5,000 follower on Twitter or even a Twitter account.

Don’t have awesome facilitates.

Don’t have a budget.

Don’t play the guitar or any instrument for that matter.

Don’t have a web store with products to sell.

Are over the age of 40.

Are not professional youth workers. (They are part time and/or bi-vocational)

They might have one volunteer helping them  (if that)

They are the unsung and the unnoticed.

They will never get an award on earth for the service but watch out when they get to heaven!

They will never have an article in a magazine.

They haven’t written a book, let alone a bestseller. They will never write a book at all (but they probably should)

They don’t host conferences.

They don’t host online schools or mentor groups.

They pray like it’s completely up to God and work like it’s completely up to them.

They just love Jesus and love kids.

THAT”S what makes them GREAT youth workers.

If you are one of these, 99%. Thank you for all you do. You are Epic, you are good enough, and God’s love shines down upon you. You are effective in your own way and are making a difference in the lives of your students. You are second to none.

And those of us in the 1%, who have all that other crap, should serve the 99%

– With an attitude of humility

– Thank them profusely for their service

– Pray for and encourage them whenever possible


– Help them anyway we can to build the Kingdom of God right where they are

Thus endeth my rant.










I Have A Dream For My Youth Ministry

dream part 2

Happy Martin Luther King Day to you. On this day we remember not only a great speech but a better dream. MLK’s  speech was not a list of How To’s or upcoming events MLK wanted to have in order to enact a civil rights law. He shared his dream and that’s all it took. If I am going to see any of my dreams come true for our youth ministry I need to be less of a planner and more of a dreamer when it comes to communication.

This quote from this article made me come back to the fact that plans don’t excite people, dreams do.

“He gave the I have a dream speech, not the I have a plan speech” Simon Sinek

So, if you allow me , I’d like to articulate my dreams for our youth ministry and maybe while reading you’ll find a dream of your own.

I dream of authentic worship; unprovoked, zero hyped, an all out love fest of God. I want our services to be Christ-centric not entertainment based. I’d love to see students who, through the Holy Spirit, come to an altar with out me asking but because they feel the need to repent, be empowered, seek answers, or just get closer to The One who loves them most. I dream of a band who is less interested in getting the music set right and more interested in leading their peers to the throne room of God.

I dream of students reaching out to their friends, not just to invite them to church but to lead them to Christ, their Christ, The One who saved them. I desire students to be aware, as their adolescent development will allow, on the spiritual condition of others. I’d love to hear testimonies of how they prayed with someone in their school for healing, salvation, and deliverance. I’d love to see Facebook status’ that read “I told my friend about Jesus today and they are now a follower of Christ. ”

I dream of students who love God’s word more than X-Box, food, sex, YouTube, and texting. I want to see a hunger in students to know the God of scripture and not just a few verses that will carry them through the day. I want them to see the Bible as the greatest story ever told and not just the story that gets preached to them every week. I want them to see it as a reliable guide and not a book of rules to follow. I’d love to see them launch their own small groups where they read and study God’s word without me launching it, promoting it, or leading it.

I dream of students who will lead our services and not be spectators. I have a dream that every leadership opportunity I offer on our ILead Station (formerly the Endeavor Board) will be taken and used including preaching the Word from time to time. I dream of students who don’t have to be asked to do anything but realize their small part contributes to the edification of the whole. I dream of a group of students transforming into the Body of Christ.

I have a dream of families being restored like Ezekiel’s dream of dry bones. I dream of working with them to see their families reflect the glory of God. I have a dream of whole families seeing their lives as missional rather than a day to day hassle. I dream of mom’s and dad’s who see the youth ministry as more than baby sitting but an equipping center to help their kids become all Christ has called them to be. I dream of seeing them as prayer partners and visionaries to reach other families in our community who desperately need the love and grace of God.

I dream of students whose passions and dreams move from mundane to miraculous.

I dream of a youth ministry known for it’s love not it’s lock ins. It passion not it’s programs. It’s faith not it’s fellowship.

These are big dreams, not on par with trying to end inequality as Dr, Martin Luther King eventually did, but my dream is no less valuable, no less daunting, and no less impossible with God’s help.

How how can I help you reach your dream or put your dream in motion?

Your Turn:

What are you dreaming about your youth ministry?

How are you communicating that dream to your students, parents, and pastor?



Pray Like You Have A Kidney Stone



When the pain hit at 3:00 a.m. I thought I was dreaming about the time this girl kicked me in the groin in 5th grade. It was during recess and… o.k. that’s another post. I was not dreaming. I was in pain. I thought this pain felt familiar but I was not sure until went through a check-list of other things : hernia (no),  pulled muscle (no)  appendicitis (maybe, but no) it was a kidney stone. Let me just say that, a kidney stone will test your manhood and faith. I lasted four hours before I staggered into the ER at St. Vincents hospital. I was immediately escorted to a wheelchair and all I wanted was for the pain to stop. A single request. I wanted anything that would stop the pain, drugs, a hammer, whatever. I left the E.R. with my manhood shattered and broken., but I left with my faith in tact and a new appreciation for prayer, not just any prayer, but persistent prayer.

I am a professional prayer-er. I pray with kids at the altar, I pray at weddings, baptisms, and church pot lucks. I pray all the time but they are high and lofty prayers. I pray, the moment is over , and I move on. That is not persistent prayer because none of those events involved pain in my nether regions, throwing up, or the desire to die. I did not scream out, OH God! OH God! Oh God! PLEASE BLESS THIS FOOD!! PLEASE!” I don’t think the blessing of the meal requires this kind of persistent prayer unless you’re a middle school student in the cafeteria, but there are times when we need to cry out to God and be persistent in our prayers if we are to see anything happen.

Consider the parable Jesus told about the widow and the judge.

Also [Jesus] told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not to [a]turn coward (faint, lose heart, and give up). Luke 18:1

Nothing will turn you into a coward like a kidney stone, but nothing will make you prayer persistently like kidney stone. Metaphorically, the kidney stone  is our burden. It is the thing we cannot shake. It could be

– the salvation of a loved one

– a healing, your own or someone elses

– a problem or challenge that needs to be overcome

Persistent prayer is something that you cannot let go of or it will not let go of you. The widow had a spiritual kidney stone. She wanted relief, she wanted justice and she would not back down or back away until she got it for herself or someone she knew. If I had sensed that the nurses were ignoring me, they weren’t, I would have cried out louder like the widow:

 “And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, Protect and defend and give me justice against my adversary.” Luke 18:3

I understand that I cannot badger God against His will. God answers all prayers with yes, no, or wait and I am willing to accept any answer He gives, but I cannot stop praying until I sense where God is leading. I also think God looks at the passion level of my prayer.

16 Confess your trespasses[a] to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. James 5:16

My wife knew I was passionate about getting rid of my kidney stone. The hospital staff could see the intensity with which I wanted relief and they wanted to give it to me or else they would see me cry and whimper for hours. Once again, I cannot cry-baby an answer out of God and I don’t have to. He wants to answer my prayer more than I want Him to answer it but I also want to show Him I am dead serious about what I am asking Him for. Persistent prayer says, “God, I am not going away until I get an answer even if the answer is no.” But, look at what the judge said,

For a while he refused but finally said to himself, I don’t fear God or respect people, but I will give this widow justice because she keeps bothering me. Otherwise, there will be no end to her coming here and embarrassing me.” Luke 18:4

The judge gave in because the woman was relentless and, I think, the judge found a way, a loophole within the measure of the law to grant her request. Jesus called the judge unjust. We don’t know why he was unjust but it’s possible he did the widow wrong on purpose or maybe he owed someone a favor; whatever the reason he was fearful of having any of his “business” further exposed and be embarrassed by this woman.

Jesus goes on to say,

Won’t God provide justice to his chosen people who cry out to him day and night? Will he be slow to help them? I tell you, he will give them justice quickly. Luke 18: 7, 8

God can give us justice. God is a righteous judge, but my role is to be persistent and wait. Pray and wait. I had no control over my kidney stone. That stone had to pass and I had to wait for it to do it’s thing. If I am not passionate about what I am praying for, I don’ t know if anyone should grant my request, let alone God. Passionate, persistent prayer is what tells us our pain index is a on 1-10 scale. Passion communicated how desperately in need of relief I was to those nurses.  I told the nurse I was an 8 and that told them I needed pain meds NOW! Passionate, persistent prayers let us and God know we are in serious need.

When the stone passed and my crying stopped. The pain was over and I offered God, the nurses and the makers of drugs a sincere thank you. This episode of my life showed me I need to step up my prayer life from a 1 to an 8. I want relief physically, emotionally, spiritually, and professionally. I need to pray always and not quit until “it” passes and God lays something else on my heart. I get it God. Pray like I have a kidney stone. Lesson learned.

What is the pain index of your prayer life on a scale of a 1-10? Is this reflected in your prayer life?

Would you describe your prayer life as persistent and passionate? What will it take to get it there? Hopefully not a kidney stone.

I’d love your comments, especially if you’ve had a kidney stone.








Playing The “What If” Game


What If 16 cover

I love stories. More than I love to see good stories portrayed in the movies or even reading good stories in a book, I enjoy creating my own stories. I just like to make stuff up or take someone else’s story and riff on it and take it to unimaginable places. Some of my favorite comics were a series called What If, as in the graphic above. The comic basically challenged our logical way of things. Wolverine vs Conan? What an epic battle.

My story is pretty average, unless I start to “What If” it.

What if I my dad had not died when I was young?

What if my birth parents decided to keep me?

What if I had never moved to Florida where I received Christ at a Christian Camp, met my wife, and continue speak at for the past 12 years?

Alternative story lines mess with us. In pop culture it’s called fan fiction. Fan Fiction are stories by fans about popular t.v. shows , books, movies, etc and they write on going stories using very familiar characters. Alternate history can be fun and mind blowing but it can also be scary.

What if I have that affair?

What if I say what I really think?

What if I quit the ministry? What would I do? Who would I be?

All of these What If’s get the imagination rolling in good and bad ways.

My guess is, all our story were made increasingly better when we encountered the Savior. For the disciples, I bet it was like half and half for them. They liked the miracles and being associated with Jesus but I bet that all came into question when that story turned into storms on the sea or feeling threatened by the Pharisees.

If you are reading this, you have a story. If you don’t like the way your story is going, good news, you’re breathing, it can change, it will change. Keep moving forward with Christ and let the story unfold. If we’ll stay with Jesus all the way to the end of our story I know the ending will be totally worth it.

What’s the scariest What If you can ask yourself?

What is the coolest result of asking yourself What if?

Have you ever changed the course of life by asking What If?





That Thing You Do




That thing you do, your job, school, whatever,

that thing that

frustrates you

irritates you

sucks the life from you

is just that, a thing.

It’s the thing you do on way to the thing God is preparing.

It’s not the thing.

the thing that

excites you

energizes you

challenges you

But THAT THING is coming!

Next time you are down about that thing you do, remember, it’s not THE THING, it’s just the thing you’re doing until God opens the door to the next thing. His thing.